These days, art fairs are ten a penny. Standing out can be difficult, especially at this point in the summer season when Masterpiece looms large in London. Yet the inaugural edition of START Art Fair, currently taking over the Saatchi Gallery (26–29 June), is, according to the fair’s director Niru Ratnam, deliberately scheduled to coincide with its more established neighbour. It’s a very different focus here though as the Old Masters give way to the Bright Young Things. A brave move perhaps, but one that looks set to pay off.
Defined as a global art fair showcasing emerging artists and young galleries, START features 46 galleries from 21 countries, including Australia, Great Britain, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Myanmar, South Africa, Turkey and the US. START has its roots in the Prudential Global Eye Programme, established in 2008 by David and Serenella Ciclitira in collaboration with the Saatchi Gallery as a means of promoting emerging art in Asia – previous projects include spotlights on Korea (2009–12), Indonesia (2011) and Hong Kong (2013).
As Ratnam points out, START consequently marks a natural next step, with this display drawing on relationships built up through Global Eye. The strong Asian flavour also signals the wider interest in that continent’s emerging art scene, and indicates the fair’s desire to align such burgeoning art markets with more established art centres, particularly London. This international snapshot also affords vast opportunities for collectors and indeed, Ratnam is keen to stress the potential for new discoveries. In an increasingly borderless contemporary art world, START offers some means of navigation.
In choosing to present a select number of galleries, START doesn’t feel much like a fair. This has a lot to do with it being installed in the elegant spaces of the Saatchi Gallery rather than a custom-built tent, but it also says something about the event’s spacious display and thoughtful curatorial direction. There’s a diverse and strong selection of works on show. Yay! Gallery, based in Azerbaijan, shows vivid metallic prints by Nazrin Mammadova. Entitled Alti Agach Series (2014), these are made from plexiglass and mounted on holographic paper, giving these rocky landscapes of the Caucus Mountains a flat, glittery, all-surface quality.
Similarly striking are powerful performative photographs by Dubai artist CHOKRA and South Africa-based Mohau Modisakeng, on show at Kashya Hildebrand and Brundyn+ respectively. Also worth visiting is a special project organised by The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and presented by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood. The mesmerising works on show have been translated from sound into pattern, and draw upon geometry, mathematics and Islamic art. If this first edition is anything to go by, this is only the start…