The annual event, usually held in The Royal Academy, hosts historic and Contemporary print dealers. Cancelled for the first time in more than 30 years, it has now opened online where offerings remain accessible until the end of May.
By running in a different format, director Helen Rosslyn told ATG, artists working with the large contingent of Contemporary galleries can launch new works as scheduled. Once the decision was made, the shift was straightforward.
She remains positive about the implications of the change – an almost universal attitude with event organisers currently making difficult decisions. For example, are the benefits of running online worth the risk of losing those collectors not yet comfortable using the internet?
“I suppose it will cut out a few,” she says. “But it will also encourage a few who wouldn’t come otherwise. We have a very loyal band of followers and we would expect them to follow it online.”
By running digitally rather than in a coveted piece of central London property, the fair has also increased its duration dramatically: from four days to a month.
LOPF Online hosts 51 exhibitors such as Marlborough Graphics, Peter Harrington and TAG Fine Arts, whose works are visible on individual pages. The site acts as a portal, so visitors will be directed to individual dealers for enquiries and transactions.
Part of the pleasure in browsing a fair can be the serendipitous discovery of a work from an unknown exhibitor or artist. To help capture that magic, LOPF offers a series of themed ‘Spotlight Exhibitions’ within the site. These bring together prints from different dealerships, grouping them by theme, such as Masters of Monochrome: A Wall of Black and White, Old Masters and newly published works.
The LOPF is in good company as it turns to an online alternative. Art Basel was among the first as the coronavirus crisis took off, followed by other big-hitters such as Frieze. Its Contemporary New York fair opens online later this week.
Last week, The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) launched a virtual book fair, for which each participant submitted three works not yet offered on the association’s website – a similar format, if smaller, to a fair the Antique Dealers’ Association of America ran last month.
New fair Eye of the Collector hosts its own set of online viewing rooms this month, presenting works from dealers such as Kallos Gallery, Michael Hoppen Gallery and Thomas Gibson Fine Art.
Organisers do not generally consider online platforms a complete substitute to a physical event. Many feel they are a cross between a short-term solution and a long-term opportunity for growth.
London Art Week (scheduled for July 3-10, normally the height of the London summer art season) is also going down the virtual route.
It usually takes place in Mayfair and St James’s with local and international dealers holding exhibitions in gallery spaces around the area.
Drawings dealer Stephen Ongpin, chairman of the event, told ATG: “I remain optimistic that there will be the chance to have gallery exhibitions in July, but I realised that, assuming freedom of movement is possible in July, we would be unlikely to have as many foreign participants or a lot of foreign clients.”
LAW’s solution has been the implementation of a platform dubbed LAW Digital.
The online version will give each dealer the chance to feature up to 25 works, and will also host viewing rooms curated by category, presenting works from various participants side by side. Podcasts, videos and editorial features are to be featured. Regular exhibitors include Trinity Fine Art, Colnaghi and Tomasso Brothers.
While some updates to the LAW website are permanent, Ongpin explains that the viewing rooms are only a temporary measure, “a way of maintaining an event that has a particular role to play”.
“This is not meant to replace our bread-and-butter exhibitions,” he says. “Come July 1, if freedom of movement is allowed, there is a core group of galleries that could put exhibitions up, but it will be a smaller more streamlined event.”
He adds: “We felt we were in a position to be quite flexible, unlike a fair which has a lot of overheads. It might be tough to have private views but it is easier to have social distancing when you are in your own gallery.”