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14 Jan

The London Art Fair

London Art Fair

David Ummels and Jock Pettitt visited the London Art Fair in January, to gain inspiration and meet artists for potential future projects. Jock told us more.

David and I went to the London Art Fair, which is one of the more notable art fairs in the UK, on 17th and 18th January. David had been a couple of times before but it was my first visit – we went looking for new ideas, new artists, new projects and relationships.

To walk into the central hall of the Business Design Centre in Islington is immediately pretty impressive, a vaulted iron structure typical of many 1800s buildings. On the first day we did an extensive walk-through to soak it up. It was fascinating to see such a diverse range of art in one place, priced from a few hundred pounds to five-figure sums.

Jock Pettitt, Director at Art for Guernsey said:
There were works by household names such as Hockney, Freud, Picasso, Warhol and Chagall, mostly lithographs and printed editions rather than originals, alongside lesser known artists, with some really interesting works on display. There was sculpture, collage, ink, oil, silverpoint and etchings… it was really inspiring, but also massively overwhelming. I must have looked at 2000 artworks in the space of a few hours, and there were things that immediately resonated, but there was so much of it that it was like being punched by art!

We’ve got a curation plan for at least a year ahead, and ideas beyond that, so we were looking for artists who might fit our thinking, especially those who might respond well to the Turner project, and we met Merlyn Chesterman – who will be coming to Guernsey to respond to Turner’s work – in person. We already knew she was going to be there and Oleg Mikhailov had endorsed her work, so we had a very fruitful chat with her. She lives in Cornwall and loves the coast, and she clearly shares the kind of ideas and values that we have.

We also met with Rebecca Stevenson, a sculptor who recently completed a residency at the V&A Museum and who we hope will be involved with us in 2025 for a show. We also went to look at the work of Peter Mammes, one the artists featuring in the Channel Islands Contemporary Art Show. It was great to have the opportunity to say hello, put a face to the name or meet new people and then be able to pick up an email thread afterwards, knowing who each other is.

David wasn’t able to attend on the second day, so before I returned I knew I had to have a strategy. We have a Guernsey trees project in our curation diary for much later in the year, and we’re in dialogue with two or three artists for that. Going around the art fair looking for artists focused on landscapes and trees gave me a focal point, and I started to get a sense of the different ways one could approach that project. So that was really informative and inspiring, and I’m also very interested in developing a project on monuments and monoliths, so again I was looking with that in mind.

David and I have different tastes but we overlap on plenty. Looking back, I think it was the right thing to walk in with an open mind and just explore what was on show. We might find an artist or the seed of an idea for an exhibition or workshop. And like any industry, it’s always insightful to visit the trade shows and see what the leading edge is, what the prevailing themes are, who is coming through and to have conversations with your peers. I’d love to go to some of the others, like the Affordable Art Fair, because I think we might originate more up and coming artists somewhere like that, but the London Art Fair actually gave me a sense of yes, Art for Guernsey is up there, pushing boundaries a bit and in many respects reaching as high a bar as many on the London scene. I look forward to returning next year.

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