“Fairtigue” is now a common ailment in the art world – that wan, bleary-eyed look seen on the faces of distraught collectors, dealers and art advisers as they struggle to squeeze in essential fairs on the jammed international art circuit. Now, another major new fair forms part of the crush: Art13 London launches at Olympia in the western enclaves of the capital next week (March 1-3) with about 130 galleries offering modern and contemporary art from Asia, Africa and the Middle East as well as western Europe and the Americas.
But this one already has a pedigree. Its founders are Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus, the duo who established Art HK: Hong Kong International Art fair in 2007, the leading contemporary art fair in the region. ArtHK was instrumental in transforming Hong Kong into a new art Mecca, helping dealers find a foothold in the potentially lucrative Asian markets (MCH Group, which owns Art Basel, bought a 60 per cent stake in Art HK in 2011). Etchells and Angus have since formed Art Fairs London Ltd, the company behind Art13 London.
Etchells says the team is drawing on the Chinese experience. “We always made sure that over 50 per cent of the galleries were Asia-based [at Art HK]. The positioning of Art13 is that it is a global art fair and we have ensured that a high percentage of galleries are truly international.”
The Art13 exhibitor list encompasses more than 30 countries from South Korea to South Africa, although galleries from the US and UK still make up 40 per cent of the main fair roster. Those numbers are not so different from Frieze London’s, which last year attracted dealerships from 35 countries, with 43 per cent at the main fair coming from the UK and US.
Art13’s selection, however, is top-heavy with mid-market dealers, an astute strategy on the part of the organisers, who have evidently signed up galleries keen to access the major market hub that is London (some will no doubt have also been rejected by Frieze London). Big-name, blue-chip dealers such as David Zwirner and Larry Gagosian are noticeably absent.
The Hungarian dealer Kálmán Makláry, who will offer works by the Korean contemporary artist Hur Kyung-Ae priced between €4,000 and €15,000, says that Frieze seems “impossible” to get into but that “Art13 could be the way to go.”
“Art13 is showing more galleries from outside the establishment,” says Melanie Gerlis, Europe art market editor at The Art Newspaper. “By focusing on a deeper geographic range of galleries and artists, Art13 has tapped into an under-represented market, where works are usually cheaper. It’s hard to know if there will be buyers at this level, but I know the fair’s organisers have worked hard to get international visitors in.”
But for all this talk of an all-inclusive platform, will anyone of note in the art world actually turn up? The guest list for a welcome dinner next week hosted by the fair sponsor, Citi Private Bank, certainly looks impressive, gathering private museum owners and directors from around the world: Dai Zhikang, owner of the Himalayas Art Museum in Shanghai, Miami collectors Don and Mera Rubell and the Greek industrialist Dakis Joannou have all RSVP-ed.
Timing, meanwhile, is crucial and, as the fair director Stephanie Dieckvoss points out, international collectors should warm to the March date, when people are not so exhausted (the Armory Show opens in New York on March 7, however, so US collectors may not be up to a London excursion, and Tefaf Maastricht, the grande dame of fairs, opens on March 15). Olympia, associated with more traditional events such as the International Fine Art & Antiques Fair, may be a west London backwater too far for some collectors. But art world stalwarts are nothing if not curious and will pop in out of curiosity; the real test comes with the second edition.
As the number of fairs balloons, there is also real concern that there is not enough good material to go round. Other new fairs due to launch this year include Paris Photo Los Angeles at the Paramount Picture Studios in April, the Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, opening on March 15, and Collective, a new design fair coinciding with Frieze New York in May. “Now that you have galleries expanding globally and art fairs every week, how are artists expected to just crank out works constantly?” asks the New York-based art adviser Lisa Schiff.
Dieckvoss does not seem unduly worried. “Many galleries will present focused stands with curated proposals,” she says. “We allow galleries to be experimental even in the top-quality range of works and therefore know we will see a lot of fresh works. Also, many galleries have never shown in Europe before so we hope that a lot of the art will be really new to us.”
Significantly, she dislikes the idea of single-artist stands, a trend at recent high-profile fairs. Although they will be permitted at Art13, Dieckvoss says they can mean “a huge financial risk” for galleries. “I have always been of the opinion that focusing on two or three artist presentations can be equally strong and engaging.” Stand fees are £350 per square metre in the main section (last year, Frieze London charged £352 per square metre for its prime spots).
A curated section of the fair, called London First, featuring 17 galleries under six years old, will include Jeddah’s Athr Gallery and Lawrie Shabibi of Dubai. The latter will show works by Shahpour Pouyan, ranging from the sculpture “Projectile 8” (2012, £15,500) to drawings starting at £650. “[London] is home to a lot of collectors who are not likely to come out to Dubai to see us,” says William Lawrie, the gallery founder.
Bringing younger dealers into the fold is now a familiar feature at high-end fairs (think of “Frame” at Frieze London). But Philip Dodd, chair of the Made in China agency and an advisory board member of the new fair, still thinks Art13 London will have the edge. “There well may be a fair fatigue but it is arguable that this is because you can see the same-ish galleries showing a not dissimilar range of artists in most fairs. What if there were a fair that showed good artists who don’t often feature in the other art fairs? What if you have a fair that is a one-stop-shop for the world?” His questions are pertinent; whether Art13 London can fulfil that ambitious brief remains to be seen.