In the 1960s a cosmopolitan collector friend of my father who had fallen on hard times took salaried employment with a Bond Street gallery. When asked how he was adapting to his new life, he replied serenely: ‘In the art world, there are the crooks and the supercrooks. I’m with the supercrooks.’
Today, he might not have found the transition so smooth. In the past ten years the art business has changed almost beyond recognition, especially in the field of contemporary art. The model of the contemporary art dealer is now closer to a market trader than a supercrook thanks to the boom in art fairs, which has shifted the action from the hush of the private gallery to the hubbub of the marketplace.
This year, London will host no fewer than 16 fairs dealing to differing degrees in contemporary art. Next week the pioneering London Art Fair celebrates its 16th birthday at the Business Design Centre in Islington (14–18 January), followed by The Art on Paper Fair — now six years old — at the Royal College of Art (29 January to 1 February). In February, Collect, the Crafts Council’s new international contemporary applied-arts fair, makes its début at the V&A (20–24 February), and in March the Affordable Art Fair makes its spring appearance in Battersea Park (18–21 March).
April sees the return of the Chelsea Art Fair to Chelsea Old Town Hall and the London Original Print Fair to the Royal Academy at its new Burlington Gardens space (both 22–25 April), also the venue for the brand-new Photo-London Fair (20–23 May), following the spring Battersea Contemporary Art Fair — for artist-exhibitors — at Battersea Arts Centre (14–16 May). In June ArtLONDON is back at Burton’s Court, St Leonard’s Terrace, Chelsea (9–13 June).