Online art forums like Etsy, Artsy and Artnet are showing incredible stats as the go-to place for art collection, if not for particularly imaginative site names. Yet, it is interesting to see 1:54 the Contemporary African Art Fair reclaim an even greater commitment to a ‘bricks and mortar’ experience in their events.
London’s iteration of the art fair, in a very mild October, was held at Somerset House, traversing both East and West wings of the 18th Century neoclassical building designed by William Chambers.
With the bookshop, bar and Forum taking upstairs spaces, the first thing that is apparent about this art fair is its intimacy.It looked and felt like walking around a large stately home or decent commercial premises, filled with contemporary art. Art fair imitating life.
1:54 have managed to find a great balance between the business of an art fair – keeping a range of gallerists and a balanced discussion programme, with a softer approach of viewing the works.
Whilst not all art bought is intended for domestic hanging – or even hanging at all – seeing works displayed on walls, with high ceilings, natural lighting, architectural detail, stately scale, all contributed to the works being seen in a best light.
It allowed galleries to present a combination of large and small works and to install in spaces conducive to their final resting place.
Galleries like Tiwani were able to hang a large-scale Francesco Vidal – hot on the heels of his show as part of the Venice Biennale, and his upcoming show, to get the work in full effect. And it was impressive.
And, by all accounts, it translated just as well into sales, not to mention a great opportunity for networking and discussion.
Room outside in the courtyard, or the relaxed setting of Fernandez & Wells’ cafe were all much nicer places to discuss work, catch up on connections or have a quiet minute to read emails.
Seasoned collectors and investors are accustomed to the cattle run of exhibition spaces and rarely stop for too long. Whether there is room for a coffee, or a quiet spot is likely a moot point on an in-an-out trip.
For those part of the wider art market, not to mention newer mid-range collectors, or those previously Eurocentric collectors being introduced to the richness of a fairly new African art market – the use of relatable space and considered architecture by 1:54 is a good one.