Interview with Sarah Monk on London Art Fair 2015 and the UK Art Market

Sarah Monk
(Image by Mark Cocksedge)


“The 27th edition of the London Art Fair, the UK’s premier Modern British and contemporary art fair, is set to take place at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London, from 21-25 January 2015. In 2015 the London Art Fair brings together 128 exhibitors including established UK-based Modern British and contemporary galleries, innovative emerging spaces, and international galleries from Milan, Paris, Toronto, and New York.

London Art Fair 2015 also features an exciting program of curated exhibitions, talks, tours, films, and performances. Highlights include an exhibition of key works from the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; international “Dialogues” section featuring works selected by Anna Colin, co-curator of the next British Art Show; and the Photo50: “Against Nature” exhibition of photographic installations, curated by Sheyi Bankale of Next Level Projects.

BLOUIN ARTINFO recently caught up with Sarah Monk, Director of London Art Fair, who took time out of her busy schedule to talk about the 27th edition of the Fair and the UK art market.

The focus of London Art Fair is Modern British and contemporary art. How does the focus of the fair position it in terms of its target market and its influence and impact in what is already a jam packed calendar of art fairs and buying opportunities for collectors and investors?

London continues to demonstrate its status as the capital of the Global art market, and London Art Fair seeks to reflect this vibrant art scene and its importance as a platform for artistic production, education and collecting.

We understand that collectors’ have increasingly diverse tastes and the Fair provides them with a unique overview of the art world and opportunity to engage with works from established UK-based Modern British and contemporary galleries right through to younger emerging spaces and artist collectives. I think it’s rare to find such a healthy dialogue between the Modern British tradition and what’s happening today.

Our public programme of talks, discussions and tours has also developed in a really interesting way to support the collectors and visitors to the Fair.  It gives us the opportunity to work collaboratively with a wide range of partners including Lund Humphries, John Jones, Photomonitor, Contemporary Art Society and The Arts Desk and key speakers such as Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A, Mary Rozell, author and Director of Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York, fashion design and sculptor Nicole Farhi and artist’s Jane and Louise Wilson.

The Fair continues to evolve in relation to the market it serves and in order to maintain its standing in an increasingly packed calendar of art fairs. We understand that both galleries and collectors’ have choices to make as to what Fairs they attend and in recent year’s we have focused on developing our offer for both, with new initiatives such as our museum partnership with Pallant House Gallery, Chichester and our ‘Dialogues’ section of Art Projects.

Rowntree Clark is presenting ‘Before the Biennale’ a curated stand of works by the five British artists who were selected to represent Britain at 1966 Venice Biennale, including Anthony Caro, Robyn Denny, Bernard and Harold Cohen and Richard Smith. As these artists were heralded back then,  we now  have Beers Contemporary presenting a curated selection of their global cast of young contemporary artists that are featured in ‘100 Painters of Tomorrow’ published by Thames and Hudson.

We work closely with our selection committee and exhibiting galleries to ensure the work on show is of the highest quality. We have also developed an extensive VIP Programme recognising that if people are in London during the Fair they can avail themselves of a host of benefits and opportunities arranged with our partners such as Tate Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Embassy of Brazil and Serpentine Galleries.

London Art Fair is one of the first fairs on the calendar for the year. How does this affect the way you approach the development and production of the fair? How do you make the most of being one of the first fairs of the year?

We have always enjoyed the opportunity of being able to launch the new season of art fairs and to help kick start the cultural year in London. Galleries welcome this opportunity to re-engage with their clients and discuss their future plans and we have a very loyal collector base who return year on year.

The proximity of the Fair to the City of London is helpful and our January timing coincides with bonus announcement and payments.

Planning for the next Fair starts immediately after each edition closes and the Fair itself provides a great opportunity to speak to our galleries, partners and audience to understand what they are prioritising in terms of their programming and acquisitions.

The “Dialogues” section in Art Projects at this year’s fair reflects the trend for both partnerships and collaborations. What does this suggest about the current direction of the global art scene?

In speaking to galleries we know they are increasingly seeking opportunities to show work internationally and we have certainly seen a rise in applications from outside of the UK with galleries looking for an established London platform; international exhibitors now account for 14% of the Fair’s content.

Galleries are also looking at collaborations and partnerships as an important means for them to extend their reach and develop new markets, as our survey this week shows.

‘Dialogues’, a new guest curated initiative, was launched in 2014 featuring invited UK and international galleries with collaborative presentations. This served as an interesting way to grow the international content within Art Projects and has acted as a stimulus for a spirit of collaboration manifest not just in the physical stand presentation but also philosophically through the conversations that occur between the galleries before, during and after the Fair. It’s always exciting to see how this evolves and what develops between these parties, initiating new projects and further collaborative opportunities.

What do the works/artists being exhibited at this year’s edition of London Art Fair reveal about current trends in the art market?

There is a continued interest in South American artists with both Rainhart Gallery (Brussels) and LAMB arts showcasing artists from this region.

The profile of photography continues to grow and the Fair has strong content from international photography dealers such as Hamburg Kennedy (New York) and Voies off (Arles), both joining the main Fair and Galerie Rothamel (Erfurt) and BREESE LITTLE (London) presenting two curated shows within Art Projects.

2015 has also seen an increase in the number of contemporary designer-makers being presented in a fine art context, including Joseph Walsh, whose exquisite woodwork is on show with Oliver Sears Gallery, Edmund de Waal’s ceramics at Crane Kalman Gallery and other leading ceramicists at Erskine, Hall & Coe.

An extended emphasis on Performance and Film reflects a growing interest in new forms of expression and engagement with these art forms and this year we have a number of performances taking place across the week  including a BINGO performance and

We provide a platform for such a breadth of work it’s hard to highlight other specific trends, but there is always a strong appetite amongst our audience for painting, sculpture and works on paper.

There is certainly a growing trend for art fairs to produce curated sections alongside the traditional commercial gallery stand format.  This not only helps break the pace up and enhance visitor experience but offers galleries the chance to show their artists in more of a critical exhibition context.

Photo 50, a guest-curated exhibition of contemporary photography featuring fifty works, is one of the main components of the fair. In 2014 art critic Jonathan Jones made the controversial statement that “Photography is not an art. It is a technology.” How does this year’s Photo 50 prove Jones wrong?

This year’s Photo50 shows photography being employed by artists as part of their more conceptual practice. It also forces us to look hard at the medium, moving us away from the ‘simple shot’ to consider the role of the photograph as document, sculpture and recorder of performance. Subjects become immersive, reflected in the print and the exhibition environment.

Where do you see the art market in the UK heading in 2015?

As the art world year opens in London, a survey of our exhibiting galleries reveals that they remain optimistic about the state of the economy and the prospects for the art market. It’s great to see the art world maintaining confidence at the start of 2015 and we’re looking forward to another successful Fair.

The Modern British market continues to perform well with strong auction sales in November for Edward Burrra, Paul Nash, Victor Pasmore, Barbara Hepworth and a record price for Roger Hilton – all artists significantly represented at the Fair. Works by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Lucian Freud all continue to feature in significant international sales – and Henry Moore is particularly visible at London Art Fair this year.”

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