What does it mean when the British Art Fair (BAF) and The Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair, two fixtures in London’s autumn calendar, both launch Contemporary sections a week apart?
BAF runs from September 29-October 2 at Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, and the Decorative fair from October 4-9 at Battersea Evolution.
BAF has not run in person since 2019 and earlier this year was added to Ramsay Fair’s bulging portfolio of mainly-Contemporary events. Though more recent art was welcomed under Robert and Johnny Sandelson, the previous owners of the fair, this edition’s Solo Contemporary adds a new twist. Each of the 10 participating galleries, including Bermondsey Project Space, Patrick Heide Contemporary Art and Jealous Gallery, shows the work of only one artist.
According to founding director Gay Hutson, the move reflects the ethos of the fair from its earliest days in 1988, “to promote the most talented British artists of its time, most of whom apart from Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth were unknown and undervalued on the international market”.
Nevertheless, Solo Contemporary is billed as the ‘brainchild’ of new owner Will Ramsay, whose comfort zone is the Contemporary market. His other fairs include Affordable Art Fair and VOLTA. He was also co-founder of Art Hong Kong which became Art Basel Hong Kong.
It is probably not a sign that the fair will swing fully to the primary market.
Now is an appealing time for – if not reinvention – rethinking. Covid restrictions are still close enough that fairs such as BAF are on a first postlockdown run, but distant enough that moneyed collectors can be counted on to show up and buy. Both events and dealers are working to find their sweet spots in the market again, and new elements could bring in new buyers and raise awareness of the fair.
Zavier Ellis, curator of Solo Contemporary says he is “keen to emphasise the shifting parameters of what a gallery is, particularly in the post-Covid era”.
And there is continuing commitment to 20th century works. At the time of buying the fair Ramsay told ATG: “Modern British art has always been a strong part of the market and it has got stronger. It will continue to be good. We will try to bring a new generation of collector to Modern British art.”
Elsewhere around the fair, much will be familiar. Exhibitors include Christopher Kingzett Fine Art, Browse & Darby and Haynes Fine Art.
Robert Sandelson remains involved on the fair’s advisory committee, along with Peter Osborne of Osborne Samuel, Richard Selby of The Redfern Gallery, Robert Travers of Piano Nobile, Jenna Burlingham of Jenna Burlingham Fine Art, Simon Hilton of Simon Hilton Art and Colin Gleadell.
Other new elements this year include three special exhibitions: one of paintings by the Scottish artist and writer William Johnstone (1897- 1981), works by graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy and a selection of works from The Ingram Collection chosen by its director Jo Baring.
Like BAF, Battersea is grouping contemporary specialists together, organising the six exhibitors on the mezzanine level. Eventually, based on the available space, it could host up to 10 dealers. This year they include Cavaliero Finn, 155a Gallery and MadeinBritaly.
Despite a general dateline of 1979, later and Contemporary pieces do show up in the wider fair. However, the new section makes a point of current works and suggests that the fair could be a one-stop-shop for the private buyers and interior designers who shop alongside collectors.
Fair director Jane Juran called it the “perfect time” to introduce the contemporary section: “There has been such an increased interest in and understanding of the finest artisanship in contemporary design items among the general public in recent years.”
A specially styled display near the entrance capitalises on the fresh section, demonstrating how contemporary items can coexist in an interior with vintage or antique items sourced from around the fair.
There are 135 exhibitors ranged around the ground floor including Ian Shaw of Tribal Art & Textiles, Mark Goodger and S & S Timms and John Barkes as well as newcomers such as Japanese works of art specialist Laura Bordignon, King George Antiques, and Peter Last with antique and decorative picture frames.
Visitors will also have a chance to try out the new restaurant and bar Bacus.
Also changed for this edition is the ticketing system. There is now free daily entry after 4pm. Other tickets (which include free re-entry) can be pre-purchased online, or admission can be paid for on arrival.