London Art Fair, Islington

New year. New Art Fair.

Well not that new really, but you know what I mean. For many it’s a bit of a trek (me included) up to the Islington Design Centre, but it’s worth it when you get there; for the art, the people, and the free whisky (of which more later).

Oh My God…. this is the 25th year of the London Art Fair (LAF). How time flies when you’re hobnobbing with the artist-ocracy.

Funny thing is the LAF looks pretty much the same every year, just a few changes here and there and a little expansion up into the loftier parts of the building. Which is no bad thing. Who wants a fair that is a pain to get into, too busy, and just too full of itself (no names mentioned Frieze!!). The focus of course is on the upscale sounding ‘new and emerging artists’ which of course means a few you have heard of and many you haven’t.

So what did we get? 100 galleries and a smattering of publications, finance schemes, and 30 younger galleries in the Art Projects Section (upstairs). Up top there was also Photo50, a themed showcase of photographic work, some by some of our nations finest (see below).

The target audience of the show is the medium-price buyer and the average price of work is about £1,500. That said there is plenty of work going for £200- £500 as well as a few pieces at £15,000-plus.

What probably sells best is the named work – there was a fair few prints by Peter Blake and even an Andy Warhol for £14,000 (one of a series of 1000!). There was also a Bacon, Damien Hirst and a Banksy in evidence. In fact for Hirst -lovers (come on you know you are) there were numerous versions (in two dimensions) of that famous diamond skull which also famously hasn’t found a buyer yet. Looks like the Hirst factory has been on skull-making overtime.

One of my favourite prints was ‘Septarishi’ by Simon Patterson, the guy who delights wordplay lovers by taking the tube map and renaming the lines. Most of us are familiar with The Great Bear, this new version was commissioned by the London Transport Museum to celebrate London Underground’s 150th birthday, and jolly good it is too.

See some of the works on Design Week’s site.

Aside from the show there was a smattering of talks. I attended the talk titled ‘A Cyclical Poem’, which essentially was an introduction by curator Nick Hackworth (Director of the Paradise Row Gallery) to some of the photographers involved in the exhibition: Ian Beesley, Dorothy Bohm, Paul Hill, and Sirkaa-Liisa Konttinen.

The discussion was a delicious introduction into the methods of these four superb photographers, each fascinating in their own way. Beesley, who is a working class photographer par excellence, depicting the decline of traditional industry, told us about how he lets his subject decide how they want to be photographed. Hill who is more interested in creating a personal narrative talked about how he gradually developed his style using text within pictures and how he is relieved that art is finally accepting photography “about time too”. Bohm, who has been taking pictures for over 50 years gave us a feel for how photography is a life’s work and reminded us of the importance of being patient and finding the picture that you want to take; and finally Konttinen talked of her methods of working with people in their homes in sensitve ways – the techniques that allowed her to take such amazing photos of life on the famous Byker estate in Newcastle – surely one of the most iconic photographic documents of home life in the UK.

So the LAF hit the spot for yet another year. As for the whisky? That was Macallan, who kindly sponsored Photo50 and gave out copious samples while teaching us that matured whisky is not the be all and end all because Macallan focusses on the quality of the barrel made in Spain while adding sublimely delicious flavours…….. Well I’m not much a whisky bod, but it got me looking for my tartan and sporran in no time.

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