Last weekend, the largest photography fair ever staged in London took place at Somerset House.The weekend event welcomed over 20,000 visitors to 70 international galleries exhibiting vintage and rare prints, and contemporary and new work by both established and emerging talent. Also included were 3 special exhibitions, installations in the courtyard, and a varied talks programme.
The Vernissage last Wednesday night, which had been scheduled on the same evening as the opening of Art15, was packed. An enthusiastic and clearly knowledgable crowd including Boris Johnson, David Bailey, Lily Allen and Simon Schama squeezed into the labyrinthine corridors of Somerset House, assuaging worries about the clash.
The layout and size of the fair was dictated by the building, it was in this that criticisms of the fair crept in. The quality of dealer was extremely high, with specialists such as Thomas Zander, Purdy Hicks, Ben Brown and Taka Ishii taking the larger rooms on the ground floor of the courtyard. Ben Burdett, creative director of ATLAS Gallery joked that it was as if the courtyard was the Atlantic, with Europe in the West wing, America in the East. The mezzanine was devoted to emerging dealers such as Roman Road, A.I and Ernst Hilger, and the first floor by contemporary galleries including Grimaldi Gavin, Flowers, Tristan Hoare and Hackelbury.
With such an established and successful fair as ParisPhoto relatively nearby, a further fair dedicated to specialist photography galleries could be seen to be a gamble. As international art fairs such as Masterpiece, PAD, Frieze and Frieze Masters take place in London annually, attending photography dealers have the opportunity to bring the medium to serious art collectors in juxtaposition with sculpture, painting, ceramics and furniture, and thus taking advantage of that art fair buzzword 'cross-collecting'.
However, if modern and contemporary art is the crucible of the current market and a preferred entry point for many emerging collectors, photography is an obvious way to own a big name artist for a fraction of the price of a painting or sculpture. As Georgina Adam mentioned in her review of the fair in the Financial Times, Photo London appears to plug a gap, finally bringing a large, international photography event to the capital. The post fair release by Camron PR reported strong sales which crossed all disciplines, with prices ranging from £61,000 (a William Ecclestone at Rose Gallery, Santa Monica) to £250 for a 10 print set by Sohei Nishino, as part of his Cities series.
The fair was also a catalyst for the opening of several large scale photography events in London, including exhibitions at the V&A, Whitechapen Gallery Tate and National Portrait Gallery, and specialist auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, suggesting that the fair has created a niche of itself that has been long awaited.
Ringing endorsements from participating dealers as to the quality of exhibitors, organisation of the fair and interesting mix of collectors suggest 2016 will be a highly anticipated event, if Candlestar can continue to improve the restrictions on the fair placed on it by the building itself.