‘We’re very mindful that people have a little bit of digital fatigue,’ says Sarah Monk, who oversees London Art Fair as portfolio director at Upper Street Events. London Art Fair was the last major event of its kind to take place in the city before the pandemic struck in 2020 – and after the first wave of Covid-19, Monk and her team had been hopeful that for its 33rd edition the fair might return to the Business Design Centre in Islington this year. Then came new restrictions last autumn and conversations turned to how to make a virtue of a necessity.
Monk explains that the understanding of the virtual world that her team and the fair’s exhibitors have rapidly had to gain has led them to prioritise quality over quantity. Fifty galleries – down from more than 100 last year – have been invited for this digital edition (20–31 January) to present curated viewing rooms, with the focus on the best of modern and contemporary British art. Jenna Burling ham offers a compelling watercolour study of ambiguous Sea Objects (1947) by Graham Sutherland, while Osborne Samuel brings a fine acrylic study, Head of Man, by John Craxton from 1948. Two years earlier the artist had made his first visit to Crete, where he would spend much of the rest of his life – with one half of this figure’s face cast in deep shade, and the other bathed in bright light, it’s hard not to think of it as Craxton turning his back on British society for Arcadian climes.
The fair has added a few personal touches to the digital experience. As well as an online talks programme and interactive workshops, there are audio commentaries on selected works in the viewing rooms by dealers – an attempt, Monk says, to ensure that ‘the passion and expertise’ of gallerists is on hand as usual. The Platform section will also go ahead, with Candida Stevens returning to curate its second edition. The theme this year is ‘Folk Art’; writing about the subject in March, Stevens pointed to the links between ‘culture and community’ that are everywhere apparent in folk art traditions. Monk highlights the ‘added poignancy’ that the theme has acquired over the past year.
London Art Fair takes place online from 20–31 January.
From the January 2021 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.