“We’ve not done virtual rooms because everyone else is doing that,” says Isobel Dennis, director of the Crafts Council’s annual fair, Collect. She has, however, moved the London event online and, from 26 February until 2 March, 32 galleries will be showcased on the council’s “enhanced, ramped-up” website – as well as on digital selling platform Artsy (where pieces can be bought until 24 March). It may not be the “whole celebration and the champagne”, says Dennis, but she hopes it will still see “everyone getting excited – and spending their money”.
After all, the past year has dealt a financial blow to most galleries. Last September, a report by art economist Clare McAndrew (published by Art Basel and UBS) revealed that on average gallery sales dropped 36 per cent in the first six months of 2020 compared with the previous year. On the flip side, sales at Artsy surged – up 150 per cent, with interest in ceramics and textiles (whose tactility usually means buyers like to see them in person) increasing by 109 and 95 per cent respectively.
Buoyed by such a change in behaviours, Dennis details plans for intimate Zoom gallery viewings and a series of online talks. As for the eclectic array of objects, here are some of the best to scroll to.
The material that emerged as a trend at Collect 2020 continues to inspire. The colourful confections offered by Edinburgh’s Gallery Ten stand out – from the stacks of crackled hand-blown glass by Edmond Byrne (from £3,350) to the playful combinations of shapes and textures by Juli Bolaños-Durman (from £4,500). “She’s using glass in such a different way,” says Dennis of the Edinburgh-based Costa Rican artist, whose Wild Flowers compositions are made from discarded glass embellished with hand-cut details.
At London Glassblowing, art-glass pioneer Peter Layton is handing the reins over to a new generation: his daughter Sophie, who will be debuting her glass work at Collect (from £750). She developed a practice as a printmaker, and her vibrant abstract imagery is here caught, captivatingly, within clear sculptural forms.
And then there’s Dutch maker Maarten Vrolijk, whose large, shapely Sakura vessels (from €9,000, from Galerie Scène Ouverte) are daubed with coloured-glass pieces in the same ways as “spots of paint”, he says. “The sharp shards change during the heating process into smooth and soft glass-stones – almost like gemstones, shiny and touchable.”
“Textiles have a real cut-through online, because they work two-dimensionally,” says Dennis. “The pieces from Dovecot Studios are really good examples.” These include a large tufted wool rug created from a painting by British artist Kurt Jackson (£18,000) – a moody, smoky night-time scene of the oil refinery in the Scottish town of Grangemouth. There’s also a textile translation of one of Garry Fabian Miller’s “camera-less” photographs created directly on photographic paper, As the White Light Fuses the Green Air, Midwinter (POA) – a tapestry that resembles an abstract painting, its woven texture only revealed up close.
Visual deception is explored by other makers – and is magnified by the online lens. Simone Pheulpin’s large all-white triptych (€70,000, from Maison Parisienne), for instance, appears at first to be a series of ceramic wall panels but is in fact constructed in cotton that has been intricately folded and pinned. At Ting-Ying Gallery, the feathery and delicate Bi-Valve sculpture by Helen O’Shea (£2,200) looks like it’s covered in a multitude of silk petals, when they are actually cut from a more prosaic material – recycled plastic milk bottles.
The Crafts Council Collection Award in association with Brookfield Properties also highlights the textile trend. Last year’s winner, Matt Smith, works predominantly in ceramics, but the new works he’s showing at Cynthia Corbett Gallery are fabric-based – found tapestries reworked with abstract patterns around the original stitched figures (from £2,000). On this year’s shortlist is British textile artist Anna Ray, whose large-scale soft sculptures include Margate Knot, a wall of 2,000 rainbow-hued sewn-fabric elements; at Collect is Weave, a smaller piece made up of entwined loops (£18,000, from House on Mars).
“This is one of my favourite pieces,” says Dennis, pointing to Nico Conti’s digitally printed matt-black clay vessel that nods to the intricacy of 18th-century Sèvres porcelain, but in contemporary, pixelated form (£1,600, from Alveston Fine Arts). “Sometimes when you see 3D printing it looks quite clunky, but Nico’s pieces have such elegance.”
The edit of ceramics ranges from such cutting-edge techniques to the stately celadon vases of Korean “Master Hand” Kim Seyong (from £16,400, from Icheon Ceramic by Han Collection) to the bright, bold and slightly bonkers forms of Franco-Beninese ceramicist King Houndekpinkou (from £2,700, from 50 Golborne). A highlight for pottery fans will no doubt be the talk on 26 February by Kenyan-born British studio potter Magdalene Odundo, whose curvy, burnished vessels hold the auction record for a living ceramist after one sold for £200,000 last November.
“A lot of the pieces we’ve noticed coming through are quite gentle and soft, quite sombre in tone,” concludes Dennis. But her final favourite is anything but subdued: a pair of fantastical, spot-speckled animals by Korean designer Ahryun Lee ($6,000, from J Lohmann). “I just think these are fab. When you see something as joyful as these, you think, ‘This is what we need right now.’”
26 February–2 March, craftscouncil.org.uk/collect-art-fair
Get alerts on Visual Arts when a new story is published