Art15 London: Australians on the international circuit – Rachael Vance

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Installation view Art15, Olympia, 21-23 May 2015. Photo: Gar Powell-Evans

Art15 London’s third iteration ran over the bank holiday weekend in late May, coinciding with the inaugural Photo London art fair. Founded by Tim Etchells who established ART HK in 2006 (Now Art Basel Hong Kong), and Sydney Contemporary in 2013, this year’s edition was steered under the directorship of Kate Bryan. Formerly the Director of Contemporary Art at The Fine Art Society, London, Bryan’s Art15 appointment aimed to introduce a fresh perspective to a fair existing on the perimeters of the international circuit.

With the city already playing host to the renowned Frieze London art fair, the question on fair-goers’ lips was, “can the UK’s capital sustain another fair?” True to its claim as a boutique event with an international stance, Art15 attracted sizeable crowds throughout its duration. Under the vast steel concave roof of the Olympia exhibition centre in West Kensington, 134 galleries from 40 different countries were present – a reduced version Art14’s presentation of 180 galleries. As a consequence, the booths, divided into four sections (London First, Galleries, Emerge and Not For Profit), were spaciously positioned alongside various ‘Projects’ consisting of sculptures and installations throughout the venue. Project highlights included Janet Laurence’s mixed media display In the Afterlife of Plants (2015) comprising organic and man-made materials in collaboration with The Fine Art Society Contemporary (UK), and Rado Kirov’s (BG) three-metre mirrored stainless steel sculpture Cube (2014) presented by Albemarle Gallery (UK).

The fair’s international feel was due in part to two-thirds of galleries being based outside Britain and 36 based within Asia. Many exhibitors had multiple branches in Europe and Asia such as Rossi & Rossi (London/Hong Kong) with their ‘classical contemporary’ specialisation in Indian and Himalayan art, and ARNDT (Berlin/Singapore) with a focus on Southeast Asian contemporary art. Exhibitors from a diverse selection of countries such as Azerbaijan, Brazil, Bahrain, Israel, Qatar, Romania and Thailand, added to the global flavour.

A further distinguishing element of the fair was the introduction of a curated line-up of emerging international galleries – many of whom had never exhibited in London before. The curatorial directive extended to the Freedom Audit group exhibition. Curator Kathleen Soriano, former Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, conceived the show in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo events in Paris with a view to exploring notions of tolerance and freedom. Despite showing much promise, the exhibition unfortunately lacked a sense of cohesion, existing rather as an afterthought within the context of the fair.

In contrast, full points went to the In Conversations panel discussions as part of Art15’s program. Leading international collectors, journalists and private museum owners spoke about their positions within the arts industry while convening for the Global Private Museum Summit. A standout was the ‘What’s Shared; What’s Different?’ talk led by four female contemporary art museum owners: Wang Wei (Long Museum, China), Mera Rubell (Rubell Family Collection, USA), Gina Diez Barroso (Centro Mexico, Mexico) and Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Fondazione Sandretto, Italy). Uniquely, Art15 also acted as a platform for the newly established 100 Club, connecting 100 young art collectors under the age of 40.

There was a strong contingent of Australian galleries presenting Australian artists, who held their own within the fair. Dominik Mersch Gallery presented a suite of acrylic and mirror panels in a second appearance by Janet Laurence, Olsen Irwin exhibited a combination of paintings and sculptures by Stephen Ormandy and Louise Olsen, and Fehily Contemporary showed a very full solo presentation of acrylic and resin pieces by Kate Shaw.

A strong selection of expertly executed paintings by Juan Ford could be spotted at Galerie Du Monde (Hong Kong), two large-scale Ben Quilty paintings were also presented at Pearl Lam Galleries (Shanghai/Hong Kong/Singapore), and The Cat Street Gallery (Hong Kong) exhibited a colossal display of black and white editioned pigment prints by Joshua Yeldham, depicting his characteristic imagery of owls and mangrove trees.

Pitched as a fair that distinguishes itself by cornering a new level of the art market, the Art London fair series continues to develop its own identity. Although patchy in parts, Art15 London showed great potential and was well worth the visit.

Art16 London will take place from 19-22 May 2016 at Olympia, London, with a preview on 18 May; artfairslondon.com

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