It now takes place in the Mall Galleries, following hot on the heels of Tribal Art London, and runs from September 13-17 after its former home, the Royal College of Art, became unavailable from last year.
Though they say it was initially a “shock” when the venue was lost, organisers Gay Hutson and Bunny Wynn have taken the turn of events in their stride. “With a new venue you start from scratch with contractors and so on, but there’s been nothing that’s fazed me yet,” says Hutson.
So few ready-made spaces are available in London for fairs (many such as BADA, LAPADA, Masterpiece operate out of purpose-built structures) that selecting a different location was straightforward because of the restricted options.
Now, Hutson reflects, between the year off and the new venue the event could benefit from the “curiosity factor” bringing in fresh visitors.
The Galleries offer a smaller space than the college and exhibitor numbers have been cut from 56 to 34.
Among those showing are Waterhouse & Dodd, Freya Mitton and Osborne Samuel, as well as Richard Green Gallery which is returning to the fair after some years away.
Regular exhibitor Christopher Kingzett reflects that in the past, change has benefited the fair, citing its brief move to the Commonwealth Institute in 2003, when he recalls a particularly strong edition.
The fair has, he adds, a strong brand in a successful area. “When it started, modern British art wasn’t such a hot area for collecting. But since then it’s shot up in interest. The fair can’t take all the credit, but it certainly is a factor.”
Particularly agreeable for Kingzett is that this year it has a more historic focus. In the latter days of the shows in the Royal College, some stands concentrated on 21st century and even contemporary art, but this year modern and post-war pieces will star – what Hutson calls “going back to the core” of the fair. But being focused does not mean there will be a narrow selection. David Archer of Austin/Desmond Fine Art, says the 20/21 BAF committee, of which he is a member, has trained some of its efforts on ensuring a good variety of works are displayed.
“When the fair started, modern British art wasn’t such a hot area for collecting. But since then it’s shot up in interest
At a lot of fairs I find there are many stands showing works by the same artists,” he says. “These shows should be educational, however. They should reintroduce works by people who have been out of the public eye for a number of years – not because that art stopped being good but because of the vagaries of fashion.”
For its part, Austin Desmond will bring works by artists such as Victor Pasmore and Eduardo Paolozzi as well as some early constructivist works. Elsewhere at the fair, pieces by artists such as David Bomberg, Terry Frost, Barbara Hepworth and LS Lowry will be on offer.
Since the last 20/21 BAF, auctions of collections featuring modern British art including those of David Bowie (at Sotheby’s), Richard Attenborough (at Bonhams) and Leslie Waddington (at Christie’s) have taken place.
Records have been set for artists such as Harold Gilman of Camden Town School and post-war St Ives school painter Peter Lanyon, as well as Frank Auerbach.
The fair is poised to capitalise on the state of the market. It is fairly exclusive at the moment, Archer adds. 20/21 BAF could help open the market to a wider collector base. Organisers and dealers alike seem focused on helping this market grow, picking up where the last fair left off.
The Mall Galleries is located on The Mall in London. It is primarily a contemporary art gallery operated by the Federation of British Artists, but the large, centrally located venue also hosts a variety of events and exhibitions including the two fairs in this weeks’ Dealers’ Diary, the 20/21 British Art Fair and Tribal Art London. mallgalleries.org.uk