London's art fair for modern design and craft
Once again the world of craft and collectible design is gearing up to descend on the Saatchi Gallery for the 15th edition of Collect: The International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design (28 February – 3 March 2019). The revamped name and a host of features – including two conceptual stairwell installations – are down to new show director, Isobel Dennis, who comes to Collect via the Design Museum and graduate showcase New Designers. This year a mix of 40 UK and international galleries – some participating for the first time – will present and sell the work of artists from over 30 countries.
What is craft? It’s a really difficult thing to get people to understand. In this context, it's about making, obviously, but it's about that really deep knowledge of materials and how to use them
“One of the things that struck me, that I hadn’t appreciated in the many times I’d visited the fair, was that the galleries have to be displaying 70-80% of work that has been made in the last five years. That’s really critical and it is what sets Collect apart from any other art fair,” says Dennis, who explains that much of the work is commissioned exclusively by galleries for the fair. “It’s about living artists. It’s about that relationship to people. There will be some historic pieces to give it context and, of course, we allow that because craft goes across decades and centuries. But along with that is how artists now are not being pigeonholed as a designer or a fine artist or a craft person. Those boundaries are completely blurred,” she says.
Which leads to one of the big questions a fair like Collect raises: what exactly is craft in 2019? “It’s a really difficult thing to get people to understand. In this context, it’s about making, obviously, but it’s about that really deep knowledge of materials and how to use them. Then, also, the tools that come with it. It’s a deep artistic knowledge and it’s about that human empathy and the understanding of texture, and colour and scale,” says Dennis.
One of the most interesting aspects of Collect is seeing firsthand the way artists and galleries work together. “Whilst the artists get to be there because they are represented by galleries, the galleries are that wonderful part of the jigsaw of how craft gets out into the market. ” Dennis adds. “The commercial side is a huge part of it all because it is a selling fair…It’s not an exhibition that people just come along and go, “Oh, that’s pretty,” like a museum.”
This year 11 galleries participating for the first time have created a buzz including China Design Centre, which will present pieces by Wan Liya and Xiaodong Bian and New York gallery Hostler Burrows with a solo show of Finnish artist Kristina Riska.
Alongside the galleries, Collect Open will showcase craft-led installations of 15 individual artists including intricate tapestries by Katharine Swailes and, intriguingly, Mary O’Malley’s American-style BBQ dinner service made out of Ming Dynasty-inspired porcelain patterns.
A programme of talks will also be running throughout Collect, with a headline talk featuring LOEWE Craft Prize 2018 winner Jennifer Lee in conversation with V&A Museum Director of Collections, Antonia Boström on Saturday 2 March.