In Depth

Collect 2020: how to buy or commission modern craft and design

Isobel Dennis, fair director of Collect, on what you can see at this year’s craft fair - and how to acquire a work of your own

200214-collect-dam-top.jpg
 

Pangaean Zoology, by Steffen Dam, above, and a detail from Flowerblock, top

Collect 2020 features more than 400 artists. Do you see trends or shared characteristics in the work they are exhibiting?

The range of artists at the fair is huge - they span art jewellery, ceramic, fibre, furniture, glass, lacquer, gold/silversmithing, stone, textile, leather, paper, wood and a number of other newer/experimental materials. Where we will always have artists that work tirelessly to perfect their chosen material there seems to be an increasing body of artists and designers collaborating and experimenting with materials - learning from one another. Previewing at Collect 2020 is a collaboration between a master glass artist Edmond Byrne, who has been working with the celebrated metalsmith Adi Toch. Together they will present a series of metal sculptural forms containing molten glass.

There will be a strong international presence at Somerset House too. How does the approach to craft vary around the world? Are there distinct cultural traditions?

At this year’s fair we have artists from more than 25 nations from Sweden to Uganda to Japan. For many artists at the fair the traditions of their chosen material are a source of inspiration and reference. For example Ting Ying gallery (China/UK) presents Chinese and International artists that use the 14th-century porcelain Blanc de Chine as their starting point. You’ll also see distinct (ancient) forms such as the Korean moon jar kept alive and celebrated by contemporary potters.

Contemporary works in lacquer traditions from South Korea, China and Japan have been something we have seen more of in recent years. The 50 Golborne gallery, which focuses on works from Africa and its diaspora, will present tapestries by Sanaa Gatej in recycled paper that are produced by specially trained groups of Ugandan women (see Mutation, below left and Keeper of the Lake (Nalubaale), below right). And the Czech cast glass tradition is being reinterpreted by artists showing with Kuzebauch Gallery from Prague.

For those who are interested in investing in craft works, what factors should be considered, apart from the buyer’s personal taste? What questions would you ask before buying a piece?

The confidence in buying comes from the specialist expertise from our exhibiting galleries. Collectors or new buyers at Collect can expect our galleries to have in-depth knowledge about their artists, their ideas and their practice. Most of the artists showing at the fair will have works already in museum collections as well as an impressive list of exhibitions in their home country and abroad. But we also ask our galleries to introduce new talent and that’s exciting to see what they consider the next generation of collectable works.

Have some media performed better than others, in investment terms, or is value more a product of an individual artist’s reputation?

The market for contemporary ceramics particularly has boomed over the last decade, with Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips presenting contemporary ceramics. Six-figure prices for works by key figures, like Hans Coper and Lucie Rie, have helped to establish the studio pottery movement in the UK. At Collect we have seen an increase in the variety and ambition of works in clay. We now see more works with a complex narrative or really unusual surfaces as buyers are getting braver. At Collect people are interested in the artist’s reputation but they are also keen to be introduced to new artists just starting out or those from an international gallery they might not get a chance to visit.

Are many of the exhibiting artists open to producing work on commission? How does the commissioning process usually work?

The commissioning process varies hugely depending on the artist, how they work, what medium and scale. But the great thing about Collect is that we are dealing with artists working today and you get a chance to have a detailed dialogue. At Collect you could commission anything from a ring from a specialist jewellery gallery to a huge installation in glass for a corporate building.

What is your own experience of commissioning art?

The Crafts Council does not commission especially at the Fair but will often purchase for its own collection. With regard to special pieces at Collect itself, I have worked with galleries over the past couple of years to bring together special installations of work that has particularly stood out during the application process. These conversations develop and have produced some wonderful results. For this year we are working with UK-based gallery Cavaliero Finn to showcase a new hanging sculpture by Daniel Reynolds within the West Wing at Somerset House.

Incorporating the largest elements Reynolds has ever worked with, the artist’s dramatic, organic sculpture will be executed in his signature glass and ceramic. Rooted in his love of concrete architecture and inspired by mid-century British artists and architects such as Victor Pasmore, Reynolds’ installation will be created especially for the fair. The impressive piece – measuring 2.25x2.50m and weighing 18kg – will react to the breeze and changing light in the space for which it is designed.

 

From left: Zansetsu (Packsnow), Hayashi (Woodland) and Sekka (Snowflake), by Kazuhito Takadoi

Collect 2020 runs from 27 February to 1 March at Somerset House, London. For more information, see the Collect 2020 website

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