Fairs United Kingdom

Art London loses high-profile galleries

Visitor numbers down 10%, but lower-level sales still steady

London. The loss of several big-name galleries seriously hit Art London, now in its 11th edition and held at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, from 8-12 October. Over the past two years show organiser Ralph Ward-Jackson has witnessed high-profile galleries including Agnew’s, the Fine Art Society, Marlborough, Waterhouse & Dodd and Jonathan Clark pull from the event. There were 63 galleries present—a drop of 18 exhibitors from last year—and visitor numbers were down 10% on 2008, at 14,500.

“A lot of art dealers are asking themselves at which fairs they’ve met new clients,” said Simon Edsor, director of the Fine Art Society. “It’s not simply about whether we turn a profit at a particular show, although we didn’t at Art London last year. We see fairs as part of our advertising strategy.”

Art London needed big West End dealers to bring in influential clients; without their blue-chip works it lost punch. “I hope we can get the big dealers back—the whole event has not had as much oomph,” said one exhibitor. The fair arguably suffered from too much competition, coming so soon after the 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College (17-20 September), which many Modern British dealers regard as being the most important of the year, and ending just before Frieze week (15-18 October).

Though many exhibitors reported slower sales, for others it was an opportunity to shine. The Albemarle Gallery reported a turnover of £300,000 thanks to a two-man exhibition of painter Luciano Ventrone and sculptor Bruce Denny. Ventrone’s recent hyper-real paintings Senza Risposte and Sulla Soglia del Giorno went for £45,000 each, along with several lower-priced still-lifes. Four of Denny’s small figural nude bronzes made between £6,500 and £9,750.

“We sell nice, banker-type, middle class art”, said Matthew Hall of Panter & Hall. “This year we are the only gallery offering this kind of work, so we’ve cleaned up.” He reported sales of 37 paintings, with a turnover of £101,000. The most expensive sale was Mark Demsteader’s Ciprana, 2009, which made £10,000, although the majority of works were under £5,000.

The bull and horse paintings by Michael J. Austin at Jonathan Cooper were spot-on for Chelsea’s weekend country-dwellers’ tastes. Four large canvases sold in the £12,000-£17,000 bracket, including Head II, 2009, at £15,000. At the other end of the scale were Justine Smith’s zeitgeisty A Bigger Bang—Black prints in an edition of 40, seven of which went for £1,590 apiece at John Iddon Fine Art, who said they “mainly sold to bankers”.

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