The London Art Fair is taking place this week at the Business Design Centre, Islington, and claims to show 'the most exceptional modern and contemporary art of our time'. I found it to be a bland, unfriendly and utterly depressing experience.
Art market trends show us that more and more of us are choosing to discover and interact with artists and buy art online, by-passing entirely the traditional gallery system in the process. This is especially popular with younger collectors and those who feel intimated by an often elitist gallery environment. The Art Fair was for me a good example as to why so many galleries are increasingly becoming obsolete, failing to adapt and provide diverse audiences with a decent experience.
Where was the passion? where was the drive to share knowledge about the artists and their stories? where was the basic love of art?
Time after time, when I tried to briefly engage with staff and gallerists and ask simple questions about the works they were showing, I was met with clipped responses (if I was lucky) or stony silence. The general feeling I got was that I was intruding. Maybe I was not wearing the 'right' shoes or handbag or maybe the art world still has a 'woman problem' (and an even bigger 'woman with a foreign accent problem'...). Maybe I just did not look like the 'right' type of collector, critic, artist or simply human being. A lack of diversity was unfortunately all too evident, both in the staff and visitors to the event.
The art on display itself was very much focused on painting and drawing (don't get me wrong, as a painter I have nothing against this type of art practices per se) and many exhibitors seemed to have alsmost completely given video, installations and sculpture a miss. I realise it is easier to sale 2D work to collectors, but as a result it felt like a narrow representation of contemporary art practices.
Overall, there was no excitement to be found in these works, no sense of danger or fun or pain or urgency or rebellion or sex or death or rock'n'roll. Or any kind of messy but thrilling human emotion for that matter. Why so sanatized?
There are so many exciting artists out there, but sadly they were not on display at the Fair. A trawl through my Instagram page would give me a better selection of works at my fingertips any day of the week.
Still, a few highlights for me were the opportunity to see work by the ubiquitous Connor Brothers who always inject a sense of mischief and rebellion to the proceedings and the fact that a few galleries managed to show really interesting works, provide a good visitor experience and who happily shared their enthusiasm for their artists such as the bo.lee, SIM- SMITH, Charlie Smith, VAB and Arusha galleries
We will always need (good) galleries and nothing can beat seeing the art 'in the flesh', rather than just on a computer screeen but can we please remember that the world has changed and that collectors, art lovers and artists these days come in all shapes and sizes. High-time for the art world to deal with its diversity and inclusion problem too.
When I go to a gallery or to an art fair I don't want just a snooty salesman. I want someone who is passionate about what they are showing, knows their artists inside out and can somehow make me FEEL, BREATHE and LIVE the artwork. Not just poke vaguely at it to periodically check whether its increasingly rotting and bloated corpse is still showing signs of life before handing me a heafty invoice.
It is not just about the price tag, it is about selling me a story, a dream and a piece of your and the artist's passion. Oh and yes, it is also about learning to open your doors and welcome those who want to come in, without preconceived ideas or making them feel like you are doing them a favour just by letting them gaze at your masterpieces.