London Art Fair 2014: A Metamorphosis Of Maturity And Sophistication

It may be January, cold and wet but it is business as usual at Upper St for The London Art Fair, a consistently strong fair, which kicks off the season. This year is no exception and in fact the fair has reached a high level of maturity and sophistication, whilst giving a platform to exciting young emerging galleries.

This point is perfectly illustrated by the museum partnership with The Hepworth Wakefield, (see photo) whose area on the left hand side when one entered was a real treat. I have always adored Hepworth and many of the St. Ives School, so it was great to have an opportunity to see fine work that didn’t have a price tag.

One of the standout booths’ of the fair was opposite this display – Jack Bell. Jack is one the current crop of hot, young dealers who started showing African art, prior to it becoming fashionable (there is even a new art fair during Frieze at Somerset House dedicated to it now). His booth was exceptional and very exciting of note were paintings by Aboudia. (see photo) Next to him was Charlie Smith, again an excellent showing of quality work with an emphasis on painting and fine drawing, I was particularly liked the work of Eric Manigaud, Dominic Shepherd, John Stark and Hugh Mendes’ newsworthy paintings of Nelson Mandela (photo below). In that section, I must give a mention to Union Gallery, which had a very interesting installation piece by a Korean artist called Soon Kah Kwon.

Up in the main fair, I was pleased to see fine examples of British Modernism, the ‘take home’ pieces for my money (or lack of it) would be the Ivon Hitchens at Austin/Desmond Fine Art and over at Osborne Samuel they had an incredible Hepworth sculpture entitled Six Forms on a Circle, which did of course have a hefty price tag. Art First also presents an historical survey of works by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham from the 1940’s – 1990’s.

Elsewhere, there were strong prints to be found at Sims Reed, Paul Stopler and TAG Fine Art.  For accessible ‘name branded’ work, you could do a lot worse than taking home a classic British Pop print by Sir Peter Blake or Richard Hamilton. For contemporary British Pop, there is always a Hirst print, although I fear that the market might be a touch flooded with his material. For fun and lively contemporary prints TAG Fine Arts delivers.

Upstairs in the balcony section, the galleries in the main tend to offer up conservative representational work. Urban art gets a look in with Jealous Gallery and some of their prints brought a smile to my face. Good photography was to be found at the ‘hardest working’ woman in the art business – Cynthia Corbett, who also had an interesting portrait, in an updated Alice Neel style by the Venezuelan artist Rudolfo Villaplana. (photo above) Mark Jason Gallery had a cool piece by Scott Alger.

Project Spaces is where the work is fresh and urgent. Galleries here would not be out of place at Frieze and I’m sure they have ambitions to achieve that goal. Standout booths for me included Patrick Heide (Saad Qureshi and Sarah Bridgland), Limoncello (loved Cornelia Baltes work), Isis Gallery (in particular the work of Harry Adams), Seventeen and Tryon St who had a fascinating series of photographs by Ra di Martino who had revisited decaying film set such as Stars Wars, playing with the notion of cultural memory.

Ceri Hand Gallery with the installation by Hannah Knox (photo above) for the best overall presented booth in this section. White walls had been replaced by colourful patterning, creating a vital backdrop for the other exhibiting artists. Ceri Hand Gallery has a first rate programme with a recent sell out show of Charlie Billingham’s work. Other fair artists include Henny Acloque and Grant Foster. The Catilin Prize stand also offers outstanding work from recent graduate programmes in the UK.

Elsewhere in the area was Photo 50 curated by Charlie Fellowes and Jeremy Epstein of the first rate Edel Assanti gallery, who will be showing Gordon Cheung at the forthcoming Art 14 fair, something to look forward to next month. And Pryle Behrman delivered an innovative film programme, this year which included a screening of Sarah Pucill’s Magic Mirror as well as work by The Arka Group and John Costi.

Words: Ben Austin © Artlyst 2014 Photo © Artlyst 2014

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