Inside The London Art Fair With Sarah Monk

The London Art Fair returns for the 32nd year and we speak to director Sarah Monk to get the lowdown on what visitors can expect

With an abundance of galleries and a thriving creative scene, the UK capital is a mecca for art fanatics. The London Art Fair has become an annual draw for people looking to observe and collect art and we speak to director Sarah Monk to find out about the 2020 fair...

What is unique about the London Art Fair?
It’s rare to find an art fair that sets up such an exciting, genuine dialogue between the British tradition and what’s happening today. At London Art Fair, you’ll find new and emerging contemporary artists represented alongside exceptional work from major names in British art history, such as Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Bomberg. I’m very proud of the heritage of the fair (which returns this year for it’s 32nd edition) and I think we’ve managed to sustain ourselves by continuing to evolve and reflects what’s happening in the market in terms of what artists are producing, the media they are using, and equally the trends and points of interest, amongst buyers, visitors and collectors as well.

In three words, how would you describe the London Art Fair?
World-class, inspiring and a must-see.

What’s the most exciting thing about the 2020 London Art Fair?
It would be impossible to pick just one thing! We’ve got a really exciting programme of talks, tours, installations, performances lined up this year alongside a host of critically acclaimed curated sections. I’m particularly looking forward to the 2020 edition of Photo50, which is the Fair’s annual guest-curated photography exhibition. This year, the exhibition, titled ‘Occupy the Void’, will be curated by writer, collector and gallerist Laura Noble and will showcase artwork by women photographers aged over 50 (a demographic who are often overlooked in traditional art spaces). The exhibition will take a critical look at the cultural space that these photographers inhabit and provide them with the opportunity to challenge and reclaim that space.

What are the key themes of the 2020 Art Fair?
Some key themes to look out for at this year’s main Fair include gender identity and feminism, national identity and the link between nature and internal wellbeing. Some gallery highlights include a photographic series by titled Hellen van Meene presented by James Freeman Gallery, which will explore the often tense and ambiguous moment of transition between girlhood and womanhood. Meanwhile, CIRCLE Contemporary will be exhibiting work from artists living and working in rural areas, whose work outlines some of the restorative effects nature can have on us.

What mediums of art can visitors expect to see?
There will be a wide variety of mediums to see at this year’s Fair, including painting, sculpture, photography, print and video. Following last year’s focus on ceramics, we’ll be putting the medium of textile art in the spotlight this year with the latest edition of ‘Platform’. Platform will return with ‘Threading Forms’, curated by gallerist Candida Stevens, and will bring to the fore contemporary artists such as Alice Kettle, Jacy Wall and Julie Airy whose work embraces the full potential of thread as a beautiful and collectable artistic medium.

Can visitors buy artwork at the London Art Fair?
They can indeed! We nurture collecting at all levels, from prints and editions starting in the hundreds, to major works by internationally renowned artists. One of the real positives of a Fair environment is that you can allow a particular artist or artwork to leave an impression on you while you walk around. If you come across an artist you like, don’t be afraid to engage with the gallerist to find out more. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge, expertise and passion and they have brought the work to the fair to find a new home. Often the artists themselves are also present to speak about their work which can give such rich insight into their creative process and in acquiring their work you are equally investing in their practice.

Which stand would you recommend art novices don’t miss?
I’d definitely recommend that art novices check out Art Projects, which will feature eighteen galleries presenting cutting-edge contemporary artwork from across the globe. This section includes DAM Gallery, who will exhibit code-based art by a range of early pioneers and middle-generation digital artists, including Frieder Nake’s plotter drawings produced by an algorithm trained to draw lines at random (that will question the ‘clean’ digital aesthetic usually associated with the world of technology). Meanwhile ED CROSS FINE ART wil show work by Peruvian artist Cesar Cornejo, whose installation proposes a new kind of monument reflecting on the social reality of those living in shanty towns in Latin America. I recommend also visiting the Screening Room, an accompanying programme of collaborative video and new media initiatives. This year, ‘Playtime’, curated by Pryle Behrman, will explore the increasing commodification in our society and how this encroaches on our leisure time.

Where should an aesthete head?
Aesthetes should head to the specially designed pavilion space at the front of the fair, where Southampton City Art Gallery will present a selection of highlights from their extraordinary collection including Frank Auerbach, Gilbert & George and Walter Sickert. This will take place as part of the Fair’s annual Museum Partnership, which we introduced six years ago, allowing us to shine a spotlight on a different public museum from the UK each year. It gives us the privilege of hosting a museum exhibition within a commercial environment of an art fair, but also to draw attention to the importance of collecting as a way of securing work for a broader public to enjoy over time.

Who are the emerging artists of 2020?
Ones to watch this year include Kate Groobey, represented by Sim Smith, whose painted works question the patriarchal canon of art history, proposing an alternative history of painting that embraces ideas of female empowerment and sexuality. Over in Art Projects, there will be a number of emerging artists to look out for. Elizabeth Xi Bauer will exhibit work by three rising stars, Theodore Ereira-Guyer, Catalin Petrisor and Abraham Kritzman. Between them their work explores notions of place, memory, human history, personal history, mythical narratives and collective imagination through a range of techniques, such as printmaking, painting and drawing.

Who is your favourite artist right now?
I’ve been a big fan of Grayson Perry’s work for a while now and really admire the way in which, over the past few years, he’s ignited a national conversation about the meaning and value of contemporary art. There will be a strong selection of Grayson Perry’s artwork on display at this year’s Fair, including some unique ceramics from his early career offered by Castlegate House Gallery. Meanwhile, Gormley’s Fine Art and Raw Editions will showcase a number of Perry’s more contemporary prints.

Where is your favourite London gallery?
It would be impossible to pick just one! Some of my favourites from this year’s line-up for the Fair include Flowers Gallery, who will be exhibiting a selection of previously unseen etchings by prize-winning artist Ishbel Myerscough, Alan Wheatley Art, who will showcase a range of bright, expressive works by the Scottish painter, Alan Davie. who for over 50 years worked from his home and studio in my home town in Hertford and Jealous Gallery, whose presentation will include new limited edition works by David Shrigley.

What do you think about the art offering London has?
Despite the political uncertainty that the UK has faced in the past few years, I’m quite certain that London’s status as a global hub for art and culture will remain strong. Throughout its history, London Art Fair has continued to sustain its good health as a home for outstanding modern British art by reviewing and refreshing its offer in relation to the audience it serves. We’re really excited to have a diverse selection of galleries coming to London this year from countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy. This confirms that London is still a major art centre and still very much open for business for a lot of international galleries. In my mind, it’s important that we continue to collaborate, communicate and exchange both within the UK and internationally. Fairs are important spaces for art to be sold, but equally important spaces to have conversations about the challenges that the art world is facing.

How do you think social media has affected the world of art?
Social media has transformed the way in which we all communicate and has certainly had a huge impact on the art world. From the perspective of the fair, digital platforms have allowed us to expand our scope internationally and communicate with a much wider audience. It also means we’ve been able to attract a greater number of collectors and galleries from across the globe. However, even in this digital age, there is no substitute for the atmosphere and culture of dialogue and exchange created in the real life space of an art fair. Selling art is all about building genuine relationships; that’s why I’m quite certain that art fairs will remain fundamental assets within the world of art in future.

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