Connect – The Independent Art Fair, a new event run solely by dealers, launches at the Mall Galleries in London this month.
The fully vetted event, which runs from January 29-February 2, is pitched as an ‘affordable, mid-point fair’, designed to fill the void left by the recent closure of events such as the Works on Paper Fair (which closed last year) and Art Antiques London (ceased in 2016).
With James Manning of Manning Fine Art and Anna Wakerley of Oriel Fine Art at the helm (both are also exhibiting), the independent event cuts out the ‘middleman’ of an external organiser – aiming at competitive prices for exhibitors and their buyers in turn – and focuses on works ranging in price from the low hundreds to five figures at the top end.
“There are fantastic images around for under £5000,” says exhibitor Matthew Hall of Panter & Hall. “People are recognising that having a good picture, even if it’s not by a major name, can be better than having a secondary piece by a famous figure.”
Among works the dealership offers, for example, is Portrait of a Woman by British artist Amy Millar Watt (1900-57). Though Watt is not necessarily a leading name in 20th century art, she was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy and a sketching companion of Alfred Munnings and his wife.
“In the case of this classic 20th century portrait, it’s lovely that there is a name attached but it’s such an image that it almost wouldn’t matter if it were unsigned,” Hall adds.
“Higher-end fairs need new and young collectors to come in and buy at events like this first
“The art market is growing, but it’s happening too quickly at the top. This fair is trying to be complementary to higher-end fairs such as Frieze Masters and Masterpiece. Those events need new and young collectors to come in and buy at events like this first.”
It is also an ideal occasion for London clients of art businesses based online to meet the dealers face to face.
Mark Ponting of Blondes Fine Art, for example, has many clients around south-east England but trades predominantly via his website.
He was attracted to the co-operative nature of Connect, adding that “it’s also a good fair for buyers and collectors because art will be good value”.
Among his offerings are sculptures selected from the collection of the family of David Wynne (1926-2014). These include his Charging Rhino in sterling silver, the artist’s personal copy of the 1997 sculpture.
Elsewhere, organiser Manning brings Strawberry Hill, Twickenham (1988), the last painting by British artist Julian Trevelyan (1910-88).
It shows the famous Gothic Revival villa in the artist’s signature dramatic palette.
Though painted on commission, Trevelyan’s wife, the artist Mary Fedden (1915-2012), loved the work so much she kept it and painted a replacement for the client – Trevelyan’s friend John Iddon, another dealer at the fair.
While many of the 34 exhibitors offer 20th century British works, some also have older art available (such as Elizabeth Harvey-Lee, who features a selection of Old Master prints) while others bring contemporary pieces.
“It has been difficult for dealers to find a platform for the ‘squeezed middle’,” says administrator and dealer Wakerley, adding that there has been plenty of enthusiasm and support in the lead-up to the event.
“So many can no longer afford to have a high-street gallery, which makes it difficult to have a window into the marketplace and to meet buyers. As art fairs have been contracting too, this is a chance to bring lovely, fresh, interesting stock at what we hope will be an accessible price range.”