Kicking off the calendar of high-end art fairs of 2020, Collect is still London’s only fair of contemporary craft and design presented by gallerists.
This year, it’s moved from the Saatchi Gallery to its new home in the softer and more decorative venue of Somerset House, swapping stark white walls for the charm of 18th-century rooms with picture windows looking onto the Thames.
“I loved the idea of setting the fair within interiors,” says Isobel Dennis, Collect fair director. “And Somerset House is in a very cultural area near the South Bank and City, with beautiful wooden floors, high ceilings, fireplaces and daylight.”
Whether we’re buying or browsing, Collect is a chance for us to see more than 400 artists under one roof, with half the gallerists from Europe and, increasingly, Asia. It’s what all good fairs are about – pulling in the best from far and wide to a single venue.
Most works have been created in the past five years, and some commissioned especially for the fair. “Collectors and buyers are always super excited about seeing new work and getting it before anyone else,” Dennis says.
Most of us have fallen for the cuteness of a hand-thrown ceramic at one fair or another, but for those with a few thousand to invest in the perfect objet, the art-craft market is a huge draw.
Interest is such that Collect is up there as a more approachable alternative to Frieze, but you don’t have to know the finer points of art history to feel comfortable browsing.
“Collect has been such a pioneering fair for so many years pushing craft at this level that we’re now seeing this spill out into some of the other fine-art fairs,” Dennis says. “Our artists and galleries are now courted by the other international fairs.”
Collect has always been known for its ceramics and glass, but there’s a contemporary cross-section of materials – art-jewellery, textiles, paper, Japanese lacquer, silverwork.
“We start at about £1,000, way up to £150,000, but people can obtain something really stunning for under £10,000,” Dennis says. As experts, the gallerists are happy to talk about investment values.
There’s a global interest in glass techniques right now, and in glass as sculpture.
“Steffan Dam’s work is unbelievable,” Dennis says. “The Cabinet of Curiosities looks as though jellyfish and unusual creatures have been encapsulated in glass, but he lets hot glass move up within the cylindrical cases; I genuinely don’t know how he does it. It’s extraordinary in the detail of how you control the material’s behaviour.”
This is true also of Alexandra Muresan’s glass sculptures, where she pushes hot glass through chicken wire to create unique dynamic effects. Bethany Wood mimics artists’ brushstrokes to add colour to glass to imbue it with an oil-painting quality.
The Japanese artist Kazuhito Takadoi, who exhibits statement pieces in natural materials, was a finalist in last year’s Loewe Craft Prize.
“If people are a bit nervous about buying, here’s someone with the endorsement of a big credible fashion brand,” Dennis says. “It will be a feast this year.”
Collect, the international art fair for modern craft and design, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2 (collect2020.org.uk); February 27 to March 1 (preview February 26); £23.