START Art Fair (until 13 September) director Niru Ratnam was literally coming up roses yesterday. He welcomed preview visitors while immersed in the ever-shifting digital blooms created by Tokyo-based collective teamLab, which was one of the most popular—and Instagrammed—projects of the fair. And he had a lot to smile about, with plaudits rolling in for the second edition of this 47-gallery fair that lives up to the much bandied term “boutique” by comfortably occupying three floors of the elegantly neutral retail-ish Saatchi Gallery spaces. But START is rarely bland and genuinely lives up to the well-worn “global” label. There are galleries from Bogotá to Budapest via Colombo and Cape Town, Jeddah, Lagos, Riga and Seoul, which combine a high level of quality with some genuine surprises.
High points include a combination of vintage Czech and Slovak conceptual art at Bratislava’s Soda Gallery; the disquietingly manipulated vintage photographs of Lucia Tallova; a giant, coiling graphite drawing by young Iranian Farhad Gavzan on Tehran’s Dastan Basement space; and some haunting little figurative paintings from young Georgian artist Maka Batiashvili on Project ArtBeat from Tbilisi. Art from Asia is a START speciality. Notable shows include a specially organised exhibition of radical work from Singapore; Osage Gallery’s particularly beautiful solo stand of Au Hoi Lam’s meditative riffs on language and font; Bae Jin Sik’s monolithic cement and glass heads from South Korea; and Sri Lankan Pala Pothupitiye at Colombo’s Hempel Galleries presenting finely wrought sculptural weapons that tap into the history of violence on the island.
Nearer to home, Peckham-based Arcadia Missa explore post-internet gender politics. One of the fair’s strongest and most disquieting statements is Italian-Eritrean Aida Silvestri—at London’s Roman Road Gallery—who literally traces the traumatic route taken by Eritrean refugees who have travelled illegally to the UK in lines stitched across their blurred faces. Is there room for another art fair in London? In the case of START, the answer has to be a resounding YES!