The ambitious decision to launch a new art air in London may have seemed, err, too ambitious at first, and the timing, risky (it opened just days before New York’s Armory Show) but a visit to Art13 London at Olympia Grand Hall last weekend soon made it clear that the art world is big enough for more fairs. In fact, visiting the new fair was a fresh and well-needed reminder that the art world does indeed extend beyond Power lists and mega names, and that interesting art is also being made in places far way from art-centric metropolis. In short, if you were looking to discover new artists, Art 13 London was the place to do it.
That is not to say that the fair lacked major names. A large-scale aluminium and copper wire piece by El Anatsui (October Gallery) was hanging above the entrance to the hall as part of the Projects programme, which included some 20 captivating works by artists young and established, from Lithuania to Ghana, Indonesia to Lebanon. Another attraction was Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi’s new work “Boat”, (Pearl Lam Galleries) made out of thousands of paper sheets, and exhibited in London for the first time. Galleries reported good sales, and the opening saw some familiar faces and serious collectors, although some of the most recognizable ones – the Rubells, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and Sydney Picasso – had all been cleverly linked to the fair, either as members of the advisory board or speakers on Art13 London’s extensive talks programme.
Among some of the delightful discoveries to be made at the fair was Jack Bell gallery’s programme, which is dedicated to contemporary African art, and which showed a strong solo booth display by Benin photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou. A further discovery was the work of young Kazakhstan-born Erbossyn Meldibekov (Rossi Rossi Gallery) who showed a photographic series in the form of a family album. Digging up old family photos, mostly taken before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Meldibekov returned to where the photos had been originally taken, with the family members depicted in them, and re-enacted the scenes. This simple investigation achieves great impact: almost all of the old images include a monumental statue of Lenin in the background, whereas the ones taken recently not only show traces left by the removal of such markers, they also expose a deep-seated tendency towards the monumental, as new buildings and sculptures erected follow the same aesthetic.
Asia as well as the Middle East and the Gulf regions were exceptionally well-represented at the fair. Showing as part of the “London First” section at Art13, which features young galleries, were Dubai-based Lawrie Shabibi gallery, who showed works by Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan and American artist Asad Faulwell (and which reportedly found “good homes”), and Athr gallery from Saudi Arabia, with a strong solo presentation by Hazem Harb. Maya El Khalil, Athr gallery director also discussed the emergence of a contemporary art scene in the Gulf region at the art fair’s final panel conversation. Having an international platform like Art13 in London is crucial to the work of many galleries like hers. Art13 London might just be the fair that many in the art world have been waiting for.