London’s Art Scene Hits Its Summer Frenzy

Originally published in New York Times International on 16th June, 2016 .

London’s Art Scene Hits Its Summer Frenzy

LONDON — It’s almost summer in London, the season when things happen mostly outdoors. But there is also a fierce fight for attention indoors, as the city’s museums, galleries and seasonal fairs work to lure art lovers — and buyers — inside.

Tate Modern promises a strong kickoff to the season on June 17, with the opening of a new building and three days of events. On the first night, open late, curators aged 15 to 25 will show their vision of the future. Throughout the weekend, the gallery’s staff will be leading 10-minute tours of their favorite pieces of the museum’s well-known collection.

The summer’s buzzwords are clearly new, young and emerging. After a winter of skyrocketing prices fueled by sales of trophy artworks, and revelations in the Panama Papers of the way the superrich build their collections, London’s niche fairs and galleries are turning to new art for new buyers.

Art16, in its fourth year, has gained a reputation for treading off the beaten path and bringing together young contemporary artists and their galleries from around the world at its temporary home in the Olympia exhibition center in Kensington.

Alongside established names, the fair invited galleries not yet seen in London or little known internationally.

Among this year’s exhibitors from May 20 to 22 was Valerie Kabov, a French art historian who founded the First Floor Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2009, with the idea of giving local artists a new platform. She has been traveling with their art internationally ever since.

“We don’t have a local market in Zimbabwe, so if we don’t travel we don’t sell,” she said at her booth showing works by Wycliffe Mundopa and Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude, ranging in price from 2,000 to 2,500 pounds, around $3,000 to $3,600.


Both artists use loud and vivid colors to chronicle the lives of the most underprivileged communities in Zimbabwe. As in Mr. Mundopa’s “Girl With a Dog,” the hues that convey joy at first sight draw the viewer’s attention to painful realities: in this case, growing up as a woman on the margins of society.

“This fair is important because it is democratic,” said Ms. Kabov, who sold to two new collectors before the last day. “For us to be playing into the hands of the 1 percent would be almost indecent.” Other events she had attended include Berliner Liste, an annual fair in the German capital that features moderately priced contemporary artworks, starting at 500 euros, or $555.

Nathan Clements-Gillespie, director of Art16, said the event had built a local following of young professionals in the well-to-do Kensington area, on the venue’s doorstep. The fair, he said, aimed to connect this public with galleries around the world in a single space each year.

“We are there to make that bridge and help them find the right work that they love and start to grow their collection,” he said.

Art16, like the fairs that will follow this summer, is designed to blend entertainment with art deals, and to appeal both to art lovers and collectors. For £75 the organizers this year offered a personalized tour of the fair, to introduce newcomers to collecting.

And reaching new audiences comes with new platforms, like the photo-sharing app Instagram, which has become a digital space of choice for art dealers. “If somebody really cares about the fair and wants to engage with the fair, then we’re there,” Mr. Clements-Gillespie said, referring to Instagram and pointing to his smartphone.

Browsing Instagram can also help map the highlights of the 50 or so galleries in St. James’s and Mayfair that will team up for a fourth year for London Art Week, from July 1 to 8. The event is popular with collectors and museum representatives, who last year bought work valued at more than £1 million.

This year the art week will welcome under its umbrella newcomers like the gallery Lullo-Pampoulides, whose inaugural exhibition will be unveiled on July 1. “Classicism Reimagined: Master Paintings and Sculptures 1700 — Circa 1950” will show how classical masterpieces influenced early modern art. It will also give the public a taste of this new space, which aims to dust off the idea of collecting classical art.

Andreas Pampoulides, co-owner of the gallery, promised to present works for a wide range of prices, to encourage young buyers to start a collection.

“You need to get rid of that stuffy old sensation that you have when walking into a gallery,” he said, adding that browsers as well as buyers were welcome at his booth.

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