From local show to London leader: 30 years of London Art Fair


20 March 2018

Founded with a handful of exhibitors back in Thatcher’s shoulder pad clad Britain, the London Art Fair has blossomed into a cherished annual fixture of the London art scene.

Since its inception in 1989 LAF has expanded to fill its long-term home at Islington’s Business Design Centre, attracting thousands of collectors, visitors, and galleries on the hunt for intelligent and original work.

Now considered one of London’s leading platforms for modern and contemporary art, the Fair’s 2018 incarnation – which ran from 16 – 21 January – drew 131 different exhibitors from 18 different countries.

Sales were strong across all mediums including painting, photography, prints and applied arts, with Plinth selling out of limited edition works by Louise Bourgeois and Royal Academician Richard Wilson.

Notble sales included a Grayson Perry embroidery sold by Castlegate House Gallery for £45,000; a Picasso drawing sold by Gormleys Fine Art for £52,000; and an Eduardo Paolozzi bronze sold by Piano Nobile for £165,000.

Galleries specialising in Modern British art – for which the Fair is best known -reported very healthy sales, particularly to British and London-based international collectors.

Younger collectors were out in force snapping up street art and irreverent work by The Connor Brothers, but the Fair’s broad and engaging content also attracted curators of established public and private institutions including the British Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art.

The diversity of its audience is one of the many reasons exhibitors return to the event year after year with some, such as Glasgow Print Studio, having been involved  in every single show right from the start. However, the star of the show is the art and its creators, many of whom go on to achieve great things.

Over the last thirty years the Fair has played host to acclaimed artists early in their career as well as established names, with Chris Ofili and Jenny Saville awarded ‘rising star’ awards at the 1996 edition. London Art Fair continues to provide a platform for exceptional early-career artists, offering collectors the chance to invest in the stars of the future.

In celebration of the Fair’s 30th birthday, London Art Fair collaborated with Museum Partner Art UK to stage the initiative’s first ever exhibition. Prominently displayed inside the main pavilion entrance, Art of the Nation – Five Artists Choose invited five leading contemporary artists – Sonia Boyce, Mat Collishaw, Haroon Mirza, Oscar Murillo and Rose Wylie – to choose their favourite artworks from the nation’s public art collections. Visitors enjoyed a diverse selection of works – including an impressive large-scale painting by Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid – which offered insights into the artists’ creative inspiration, and celebrated the quality of the UK’s regional collections.

Sarah Monk, Fair Director, said: “Over the last thirty years London Art Fair has continued to evolve in order to stay relevant and continue attracting, and exciting, collectors and visitors. Whilst we still provide a home for outstanding Modern British art, we have embraced an increasingly international and contemporary outlook, with new galleries from around the world expanding our offer and reach. What unites our galleries is an emphasis on excellence, whether it originates in the 20th or 21st century.

“This anniversary edition was a fantastic celebration of the confidence and heritage of the Fair whilst also being a clear marker of intent for the future. We look forward to building on the great strength and success of this edition. This year we have proved that London continues to be open for business, whilst our curated spaces Dialogues and Photo50 have demonstrated that international collaboration is still very much alive and well in the art world.”

Javier Pes, UK Editor of artnet News said: “[London Art Fair] has kept dealers and collectors coming back over the past 30 years by staying put in the calendar and its forever home..but is has also moved with the times, embracing edgy contemporary art and offering subsidized booths to international galleries looking to get a foothold in the British market.”

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