London Art Fair 2019 – In conversation with Sarah Monk and Kiki Mazzucchelli

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

What’s the role of an art fair? Who are the new collectors and buyers? How is the art market changing with new import/export policies and what’s the importance of collaborations? Combat Art Review met the London Art Fair director Sarah Monk and the 2019 curator for Dialogues Kiki Mazzucchelli.

London Art Fair director Sarah Monk

Carolina Rapezzi: Going beyond the concept of an art fair as a commercial and cultural event, what is the role of an art fair in a panorama where large scale exhibitions and art fairs have become more alike? And how’s the fair changed from a curatorial point of view?

Sarah Monk: LAF is very fortunate and very proud of its heritage, this year it’s the 31st edition and I think we have managed to sustain ourselves by continuing to evolve and reflects what’s happening in the market in terms of what artists are producing, the media they are using, and equally the trends and points of interest, amongst buyers, visitors and collectors as well.

We want to feed the appetite and the trends that are emerging from the market and at the same time support, encourage and enable a new generation of buyers and visitors to come through the fair. We have an incredibly loyal group of galleries and visitors returning every year, but our lifeblood is also dependent on new springing galleries. There is a desire to discover something new and, going beyond the commercial concept of an art fair and its role of matching artists with buyers, it is also necessary to create interesting and innovative programmes: talks and discussions, tours and performances are part of London Art Fair to stimulate the audience to engage in different discourses, to pick up sort of political, social and economic commentaries, which are happening alongside the art world.

Another important section of the fair from a curatorial point of view is the Museum Partnership that we introduced six years ago and that allow us to shine a spot light on a different public museum from the UK a year, bringing highlights of their permanent collections to the fair. This gives us the priviledge of hosting a museum exhibition within a commercial environment of an art fair, but also highlight the importance of collecting, as a way of securing work for a broader public to enjoy over time.

CR: At your 6th year as London Art Fair director, you have been a fundamental part of the fair evolution, focusing on cultural exchange, collaborations and Dialogues, indeed, the feature you launched when you started as director. What has been achieved so far and what would you like to achieve in the future?

SM: One of the main characteristcs of the fair is that over its history the fair has become a much more international and contemporary art fair. This was instigated when we launched Art Projects 15 years ago, section of the fair where we really wanted to support and encourage the most interesting contemporary emerging galleries to be part of the fair and present their artists, either with solo shows or group exhibitions. We understood that from a fair prospective, the finances of being able to be part in a major fair are often quite prohibitive for younger galleries. So we wanted smaller galleries to be able to come to London and start appearing and showing with us and, at the same time, to support and subsidise their stand cost so that they did not have to make any compromises on the ambition of their presentations and allow these galleries and artists to fully realize their own practice, staying true to that and introducing their audience to them. I inititated Dialogues in 2014 to look beyond a sense of collaborations in terms of presentations, but today it is also important to create platforms for exchange in terms of relationships. Thinking about an international gallery that is coming into London, introducing their artists to the audience for the first time, as a fair, we feel the responsability of creating partnerships to help and support them through that process. As part of this collaboration we pair these galleries with UK galleries, these are then able to support them introducing them to their local circle of collectors. Visitors coming to the fair can enjoy the dialogue, the similarities and the differences between these galleries. And because of the incredibile selection of fairs across the globe that the visitors can choose from every year, there is an absolute need for fairs to continue to look at infinitive ways for galleries to present themselves and for visitors to be presented with different considerations and to see different juxtapositions between artists and galleries because it is a richer experience to have.

Work by Larry Achiampong, part of Photo50 at London Art Fair 2018. Photo credit - Mark Cocksedge

CR: Who are the collectors in 2019?

SM: Our collectors are incredibly diverse, it’s reflective of the work on show. We have works from exceptional modern art to emerging contemporary works. The range in terms of age of visitors of London Art Fair is very varied. Certainly, in an increasing digital age, that allows the fair to go beyond the geographical location, we have a lot of international collectors and also, they are getting younger compare to seven years ago. But initiatives like the Museum Partner, with the presence of galleries representing british modern art, which is a very important part of our heritage, it means that we are still retailing to a more mature buyer. We then have collectors buying for themselves, equally, buying for institutions, for corporate collections; we are very close to the city and the financial heart of London, investors that are interested in buying something they are passionate about. But it’s our responsability to continue to acquire new collectors of art, to introduce them to our galleries, to find new relationships, invite that young collector coming to London Art Fair to buy a new piece of art.

CR: How do you think the art market will change with possible international changes in the import/export policies?

SM: For us the importance of collaborations, communication and exchange will remain really determining. London is still a major and global art center, still very much open for business for a lot of international gallleries. I think the only thing to do is to continue to be open to collaborations, to new ways of working together. Fairs are important spaces for works to be sold, but equally important spaces to have conversations about the challenges that the art world is facing.

Visitors at London Art Fair. Credit - Mark Cocksedge

Carolina Rapezzi: How are you finding this experience as curator for Dialogues? How do you create and build collaborations between galleries and artists?

Kiki Mazzucchelli: Dialogues has a different curator each year and it establishes a dialogue between pairs of galleries. Because of my envolvement with Latin American art, I have been working with Latin America art for more then 20 years, my proposal was to create this main dialogue between Latin American and European artists. The process is quite research intensive because being London Art Fair a commercial fair, it requires a different method of curating it, if we compare it to an institutional exhibition or to a commercial gallery. For a fair it really depends on the gallery to be up for it. There is a long process of research and negotiation; sometimes gallerists think that it is not the right time for a fair, they might have different committments and it takes a long time before finding the right pair. Then there is a combination of factors that can influence the choice, such as previous relationships with galleries or artists, galleries proposing artists or the other way round. Sometimes the fair has spontaneous applications of artists being interested in specific sections. In this case the fair sends me their proposals and, if I think they fit with the curatorial idea, I’ll invite them to partecipate. So it is the fair itself as well to help promoting the curatorial concept.

CR: Which common subjects have come out from this series of collaborations between Latin American and European artists?

KM: There is one thing that is quite strong, the idea of promoting female artists. This is now a global discussion, which is quite serious in Brazil because of the political situation, but it’s also on the world’s agenda. Painting has always been a very male domain because it’s probably one of the most valued art forms, painters make money. Even if I have to say that in Brazil the most valued painters are female, this is not so common in other parts of the world. In one of the pairings, there are two female painters, very young and promising female painters. One of them is Goia Mujalli, London based from some years, but originally from Rio de Janeiro. Her works are very abstract works, she draws the motives of her hometown Rio, with the lights and colours. But her painting is also very conceptual, with layers and refined techniques. The other one is a british artist, Rebecca Harper, very figurative works, depictions of contemporary social life, very traditional in the sense of painting tradition but also very contemporary. I find interesting the idea of demistifying this exotic image of Latin America because Latin America actually doesn’t exist, it’s a political, ideological construction. Every country is different, they have their own history, culture. What I wanted to do in a very simple way was to confront Rebecca and Goia, next to each other, hopefully people will look at these two artists, without too many preconceptions.

Rebecca Harper, Hanging By A Scaffold. Courtesy Anima Mund

CR: How do you think the art market will change with possible International changes in import/export policies?

KM: This is a big issue in Latin America because customs are very complicated and we have very old fashioned import/export policies on place. So it’s very hard to do business with Latin America countries. On the other hand, people are always more interested in finding new ways, especially young generations. Lot of people are now based abroad, artists can travel to different countries to produce work, with residencies for example, especially if we are talking about contemporary art.

CR: What’s your next project?

KM: In February I’m going to Mexico where I curate the solo project section of the fair Zonamaco, which is going to host 24 galleries. In March I have a very exciting project, as I’m very interesting in rewriting art history, expanding the canon of art history and I am organising the exhibition of this avant-guard artist from Brazil, Flávio de Carvalho, who is well known in Brazil, but almost unknown abroad. This is going to be his first solo exhibition outside the country. It’s interesting because he studied in England and he corresponded a lot with thinkers, artists from britain.

- Carolina Rapezzi