It stands to reason that an event plugging the gap between January’s London Art Fair and March’s TEFAF in Maastricht might be ignored. But something had clearly gone very right at Art13 last year – Art14, its successor, was positively rammed on its opening night. The Great Hall of West Kensington’s Olympia complex was once again the venue, cramming in 180 galleries (a good 60 more than the inaugural fair managed).
As with any big art fair, it’s a mixed bag. The most obvious attractions are the 24 sculptures and installations lining the aisles. From internationally-celebrated figures like Yinka Shonibare and Ai Weiwei to a good number of young and virtually unknown artists, the line-up has been very well chosen. Of all of them, German-Egyptian artist Hoda Tawakol’s haemorrhoidal balloon sculpture is the one that sticks with me. I’ve no idea whether or not I like it, but it is impressive.
In the stands themselves, it’s difficult to know where to start. Middle Eastern artists are well represented, with the likes of Iraqi-born Hanaa Malallah, whose fascinating experiments with electric strip lights and charred calico deserve much greater attention, and the glossy but oddly disturbing photography of Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi providing highlights. There’s no shortage of the usual suspects, either – no bad thing, when this means another outing for Simon Roberts’ wonderful pier photography at the Flowers Gallery concession, but not so great when it comes to the sloganeering of Steve Lazarides’s offerings.
Of the newcomers, by far the most intriguing is South Korea’s Hanmi Gallery, who have recently opened a London base in a rickety Fitzrovia townhouse. Their stand is dominated by the work of young-ish Slade graduate Sungfeel Yun, whose bedazzling kinetic sculptures are little short of extraordinary. Yun manipulates materials such as magnets, ink, iron powder and copper to create one-off installations that, without even a suggestion of bombast, manage to be completely show-stopping. I doubted his work would stand up to the conditions of an art fair – I was absolutely wrong.
Despite the crowds in the gargantuan, barrel-roofed building, somehow Art14 feels quite a lot more forgiving than, say, Frieze or the London Art Fair. The exhibitors get a decent amount of space, which obviously has its benefits: ‘We didn’t sell much at the fair itself last year,’ one established London gallerist told me, ‘but there was a major spike in interest just after – not a coincidence, I don’t think.’
Perhaps this explains why so many foreign galleries, from 40-odd countries, have chosen Art14 as the venue for their first UK showing. Whatever the case, it looks like Art14 has set itself up as a permanent fixture on the London events calendar – can next year’s incarnation be any bigger?
Art14 is at the Olympia Grand until 2 March.
Art14: balancing acts (Niru Ratnam)
London Art Fair 2014 (Crystal Bennes)
Multiplied and Other Art Fairs 2013 (Digby Warde-Aldam)
PAD Art Fair 2013 (Digby Warde-Aldam)