I thought I would write a few sentences about the phenomenon of ceramic and other art and craft ‘fairs’. I have attended a few of these, not too many as it’s easy to become overwhelmed, but they can be a good way of seeing lots of work in one place. This is particularly useful if you live in a part of the country where ceramic artists’ studios and exhibitions of ceramics are few and far between.
It was great fun to go to Collect on 1 March- to talk to artists and gallerists, to meet up with Katie Spragg, who showed her work in my opening exhibition in Norwich, and to experience the diversity of ceramic and other contemporary craft practices. There is a huge buzz around ceramics at the moment and artists are pushing the boundaries of the material and really considering what is possible technically. There is also a great deal of thought going into the relationship of an artist’s work to the history of design, to studio pottery (especially relevant for British ceramics) and to fine art and more conceptual ways of working. This is very exciting and it made me think about the sorts of work that I want to support and showcase. I was like a kid in the proverbial sweetshop- but it helped me to think about my own ‘taste’ and how this relates to what I show in the gallery and what visitors would like to see in Norwich.
The fairs seem to divide into two types: the gallery led fair, such as Collect, and the artist led fair such as the Oxford Ceramics fair. The artist led fairs tend to be dominated by slightly more traditional and on the whole functional work, having grown out of the studio pottery tradition, though this is changing and I have heard that these fairs are becoming more competitive to show at. The gallery led fair, on the other hand, shows more fine art influenced work, often in a smarter venue and the individual stands tend to be more carefully curated. So these two types of fairs serve slightly different purposes, attracting different audiences, and it’s useful to be aware of this when deciding which fairs to go to. Collect is very high end, dominated by established galleries and with prices to match. Having said that, all the gallerists I talked to were very keen to engage with the public and share their expertise- it was nowhere near as intimidating as say, Frieze. There were also a few international galleries and these were particularly interesting as the work shown gave a flavour of craft (mostly ceramic but also glass, jewellery and wood) practice in that country that one would certainly not get an opportunity to see otherwise.
So I will continue to go to the fairs, but I have yet find one that I would actually like to participate in. Maybe one day I will, but for now I am very happy to just visit in search of inspiration and ideas.