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Decidedly Art Week: An Eye on The West

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Decidedly Art Week: An Eye on The West
Hassan Hajjaj, "Against Nature," 2015, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. 

While Singapore was in the midst of celebrating the much-anticipated Singapore Art Week at its various prominent locations, London’s busy art scene kick-started the year as the 27th edition of the London Art Fair opened its doors on 21 January 2015. 

Running for almost 30 years, the London Art Fair was the first fair in London that prompted all subsequent blockbuster art fairs in the art hub (including the much-acclaimed Frieze). Yet this fair is resilient, and its art appealing to many, so it continues its legacy year in and year out with engaging works and a few dusty booths. 

Well-known for presenting a wide range of modern and contemporary British art, the fair this year offered two new sections: Photo 50 and Art Projects. These were by far the fair’s most absorbing components, where the audience was confronted with conceptually elaborated works and engaging aesthetics. 

In Photo 50, Hassan Hajjaj’s attractive installation Against Nature stood out. Mounted as a teahouse with stools and tables, the installation was a room – complete with wallpaper – decorated with intriguing portrait photographs on the walls. Hassan Hajjaj, who was born in Morocco and grew up in London, skillfully achieved a blend of traditional Moroccan and pop culture. Bright candy colors covered the whole room, as fashion logos intertwined with images of everyday people taken by the artist in the streets of Marrakesh. 

Against Nature, a statement-like installation, was refreshing in the context of the fair, which, despite the numerous booths, offered a rather monotonous art repertoire.

Another engaging work, in the Art Projects section, was Maugham by Amba Sayal-Bennett presented by WW Contemporary Art. Magnified structural drawings were projected on the gallery wall invading the space with light and geometry. Upon closer inspection, however, one would realize that these overwhelming architectural forms were actually made of several sketches all produced in a very small scale. The artist in her practice departs from familiar elements of everyday life and manipulates them to be reused as ‘words’ in her own visual lexicon.

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Amba Sayal-Bennett, Maugham, 2015, overhead projector, acetate-drawing prints, tape, foam, mount board, paper, 1.65x1.85.2.63m. Image courtesy of WW Contemporary Art and the artist

 

With a show of hands of 128 galleries the fair is said to have been successful in terms of transactions conducted in loco and art sold to new and seasoned collectors and art aficionados. 

All in all, the fair, having taken place in a magnificent Art Deco building in east London, was compact and lively; but in a city like London, where cutting-edge art is a priority, one would expect more zest in the art on offer and a greater degree of curiosity towards countries, artists and practices not uniquely focused on the Western horizon. 

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Fairgrounds at Business Design Center, London N1

 

A different scale and setting was offered by the ArtRooms art fair, held 23-26 January at the Melia White House Hotel in the Fitzrovia art district. 

The opening night was literally packed with collectors, art aficionados, habitues of art galleries and friends of the 96 independent artists that showed at the fair. 

Following the trend of art fairs conducted in hotels (but strangely completely new to London), ArtRooms took place in a prestigious hotel, in which the booths were hotel rooms reconfigured by the individual artists and/or galleries as compact exhibiting spaces.

With an astonishing variety of works and artists – considering this was the fair’s first edition (surely more to follow) – from the lobby to the star-like shape of corridors leading to the rooms, art was everywhere, deeply engrossing and refreshing.

The strategic decision to push for the hotel-format art fair was supported by the founders, Christina Cellini Antonini and Francesco Fanelli, whose intention was to promote art primarily by individual artists, with the exception of a few galleries, in a more intimate space, relatively independent of commercial constraints. 

Works ranging from full-scale installations to paintings, sculptures and digital works were featured in the domestic space of the rooms that facilitated impromptu dialogues between artists and the public. “this is a great opportunity to show art in an informal setting,” said Leandro Amstel Grasso, director and founder of Amstel Art Gallery, “the Fair it is casual and familiar, yet art is at the forefront.” Amstel Art Gallery, which will also be in the Hong Kong Art Fair in March, presented a variety of works by Italian artists, including Willow, former Geronimo Stillton cartoonist and now accomplished painter. 

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Willow, Community, 2012, acrylic, 200x200cm. Image courtesy of Amstel Art Gallery

 

Not lacking in zest and novelty, Willow’s bright works, crowded by little creatures pushing for their space on the densely populated canvases, were grabbing everyone’s attention for their peppy and uplifting emanation. 


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