London Art Week — works ancient and modern, digital and for real
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The organisers of London Art Week (LAW) have come up with some innovative ideas to keep the event’s format fresh. For this year’s iteration running over a fortnight from July 2, more than 40 galleries across Mayfair, St James’s and elsewhere in the capital have organised exhibitions, talks and special events both digitally and in real life. The aim is to shine a light on art from antiquity to the present day, with a focus on Renaissance, Baroque, classical and modern works.
This year, two new initiatives will strengthen the hybrid platform. Arturo Galansino, director-general of Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, will curate an online show under the theme “Revolution and Renewal”, featuring one work drawn from each participant. Johnny van Haeften gallery has, for instance, put forward “Noli me tangere” by Jan Brueghel the Younger (late 1630s, priced at £175,000).
“This is entirely based on works and objects provided by the LAW exhibitors; the theme is ours but the choice is Arturo’s,” says participating gallerist and chair of LAW, Stephen Ongpin. “We wanted a platform that ties in with the 5,000 years of art history represented by our exhibitors.”
The second new venture is a week-long LAW “showcase” exhibition at the gallery hub Cromwell Place located in South Kensington. “Each exhibitor will contribute one work that effectively sums up what they do. The idea is to reach out to the people who live in that area, encouraging them to come and see the mothership galleries in Mayfair,” Ongpin adds. The new satellite show could also “attract a different and younger crowd”.
Ongpin is so taken with Cromwell Place, he plans to open his own exhibition there at the same time, comprising 19th- and 20th-century landscape drawings and watercolours by artists such as Paul Cézanne and Lucian Freud. This will coincide with his usual London Art Week show in his St James’s gallery (Stephen Ongpin Fine Art), focused on drawings dating from around 1520 to 1988 with artists including John Robert Cozens and Frank Auerbach.
This year is evidently different in the wake of the pandemic, says Ongpin. During a normal London summer, numerous US collectors and curators would make the pilgrimage. “We’ll probably have fewer American visitors. What we can do is continue to show the art market in London in the best possible light,” Ongpin says.
The UK art market is clearly going through a difficult patch in the wake of Brexit and Covid-19. “I don’t think we’ll have a sense of how Brexit has really affected the London art market for another two or three years because the pandemic skews everything. I’m optimistic, though. There is this underlying sense from collectors, dealers and museum curators that they’re all passionately invested in the markets which our exhibitors represent, such as my field of drawings. Events like London Art Week can certainly help to scratch that itch,” he adds.
The collective aspect is a boon as dealers try to negotiate the “new normal”. “This is part of the road map to normality, our spaces are not only commercial, students and collectors visit us to learn more about pieces, often to see museum-level works, and speak to us about their passions,” says Flo Horswell of Sladmore gallery, which is showing sculptural works depicting animals dating back three centuries by artists such as Rembrandt Bugatti and Sophie Dickens in an exhibition titled In the Summertime — Country Life ~ Wildlife ~ Sporting Life.
There are other collegiate gallery events centred on London’s traditional blue-chip art district — so how does London Art Week differ? “It has never been a marketing exercise; it is a unique collaboration by some of the world’s best galleries dealing in art from antiquity to the 20th century that presents, free of charge, symposiums, openings, talks and the chance to speak to some of the best dealers and experts in the world,” says Andreas Pampoulides, co-founder of Lullo Pampoulides gallery.
Accessing such specialists is a huge draw. “London Art Week is the ideal platform because we can discuss works of art with curators, collectors and other enthusiasts in the gallery,” says Rachel Elwes of Ben Elwes Fine Art (the gallery does not participate in any art fairs).
The week is also about bringing to the fore important new art historical discoveries via scholarly research. Ben Elwes Fine Art has built its special LAW exhibition Literary Women: Writers and Revolutionaries around a Carrera marble bust depicting the Victorian writer and nurse Jessie White Mario (1832-1906), who played an instrumental role in the unification of Italy in 1871; the bust is attributed to the American sculptor Margaret Foley (1827-1877). The gallery will also present a recently discovered 1965 self-portrait of the late novelist Beryl Bainbridge with her children.
Lullo Pampoulides gallery is showing a self-portrait by a French painter called Ernestine Darbour, which was painted in 1894 (“Self-portrait, aged 22, holding a palette and a lily”, £38,000). “Part of our gallery’s ethos is to show great art even if it is by relatively unknown artists. Darbour either wasn’t prolific or, being a female artist, wasn’t as well documented or collected as her male counterparts,” says Andreas Pampoulides.
Other talking points include a “lost portrait” by the 16th-century Venetian artist Tintoretto, available with Benappi Fine Art gallery. “Portrait of a Young Man” is characteristic of Tintoretto’s work in the 1560s, combining intensity of expression and compositional poise, writes the Italian scholar Vittoria Romani. The work is available for a “six-figure sum”, the gallery says.
LAW has always been a magnet for museum curators, fostering important art world collaborations. “Many are not aware of the very positive relationships shared by curators and dealers through events such as these,” says Elwes. London’s National Gallery and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, are among the institutions that have acquired works from the gallery.
Tomasso gallery will present Baroque: Ancient to Early Modern in collaboration with Galerie Chenel of Paris, reflecting the international reach of LAW. Fascinating items on offer include a 17th-century French bronze of the Infant Hercules wrestling a snake, a piece that belonged to a Russian family of Imperial diplomats (Tomasso).
“We want to focus on the Baroque as an artistic vocabulary, not as a period, which opens up the possibility of a dialogue between ancient and early modern art,” says Emanuela Tarizzo, director of Tomasso gallery. The event might even tempt a new generation of connoisseurs. “We are trying to encourage collectors that might not traditionally look at pre-contemporary art; London Art Week offers a great initial portal,” adds Tarizzo.
Florrie Evans, director of the Fine Art Society and a LAW newcomer, echoes this sentiment. “It’s our hope that London Art Week will provide some cross-pollination with collectors who perhaps have a core Old Master interest, but may be curious to dip their toes into our particular aesthetic,” she says.
In its new Carnaby Street base, the gallery will show a selection of ceramics by the South African potter Hylton Nel alongside a group of paintings by the British Surrealist John Armstrong (1893-1973), drawn from a single-owner collection. “We will also present an important late-period still-life by the great Jewish artist, Mark Gertler (1891-1939),” Evans says.
“London Art Week gives us the opportunity to work collaboratively with our colleagues in the trade, to feel part of an artistic tidal wave, ready to wow collectors and enthusiasts with the joy of a full-on art fest,” she concludes.
July 2-16, londonartweek.co.uk