Aurella Yussuf, second year BA (hons) History of Design Culture and Society student, describes her experiences at Art 13, a new London art fair, in March 2013.
A new addition to the art fair circuit, Art13’s press promised a departure from the regular scene. According to their website it would present ‘a truly global perspective’, showcasing art from 1945 to the present day. Admittedly, these sorts of events only register on the periphery of my art world radar, being that the academic interests of an average (read: impoverished) art and design history student and the pecuniary interests of the dealers in the commercial art market have seemingly little in common. However, a timely encounter with a social media giveaway put me in the possession of VIP entry to Art13, as opposed to regular entry, which went for £16 per person, per day. Was this a chance to mingle with the glitterati of the art world? Not quite. The majority of the VIP events had been fully booked months in advance (presumably by those who had actually purchased their tickets). Nonetheless, students love a freebie, so I made the most of the three-day entry that my ticket provided.
My previous, albeit limited, art fair experiences have been somewhat paradoxical – the events can be elitist in atmosphere, yet still give the impression of being at some sort of trade show. Upon entering Kensington Olympia, however, it was immediately apparent that, in spite of its commercial motivations, this was indeed an art exhibition. Entertainment seemed to be the principal intention, with a young, trendy crowd (and reportedly boy-band members) in attendance. Individual gallery areas varied in size and layout, seemingly in no particular order, with a great deal of space provided to mingle, to drink champagne or coffee (whichever was more appropriate) and to take in the works. Many of these were interactive installations, which did not appear to be associated with any particular dealers and seemed instead to function only for visitors’ amusement. The catalogue would later tell me that these ‘projects’ were indeed intended to ‘enhance the multi-sensory experience of visiting the fair.’
Visually speaking, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui’s enormous wall hanging In the world but don’t know the world was spectacular, but was draped so far above the doorway that it was only particularly noticeable when leaving. Constructed of discarded bottle caps it takes on the appearance of a rich, luxurious tapestry. In my opinion the distance made it difficult for the viewer to really connect with the associative possibilities that close inspection of the work could convey. As far as interaction went, South African sculptor Roelof Louw’s Pyramid of Oranges, was the clear leader. This conceptual sculpture was inspired by Covent Garden fruit market and requires the participation of the audience. Displayed at floor level without any barriers, visitors – many of whom were children – were invited to take an orange and by doing so change the shape of the sculpture. Elitist this was not.
What struck me most about Art13 was the strong emphasis on selling work by artists from Asia and the Middle East, indicating a growing interest in art from these regions. It was refreshing to see these artists represented by their regional galleries, not only by established European dealers searching for the latest trend. Chinese artist Su Xiaobai’s unmissable large scale panels layered with paint dominated the view as one entered the exhibition hall. South Africa’s strong photographic culture was represented by Zwelethu Mthethwa, and there were a smattering of other global works, but the Far and Middle East were the stars of the fair, with both regions also featured in the discussion series. Unfortunately, I felt that these talks fell flat and lacked critical depth, which is perhaps unsurprising, since the panels were dominated by private collectors who may be more interested in profit than critique.
Overall, Art13 was thoroughly enjoyable and I appreciated the inclusive atmosphere even if, as a student, I was not the intended audience of art dealer or collector. It was refreshing to see such an international market represented, and felt less alienating than other similar events. It will certainly be interesting to see if it manages to retain this uniquely friendly and youthful feel in years to come.