The pandemic, spiralling exhibiting costs and Brexit have posed problems for the most established of art fairs over the past few years, but 2023 sees renewed participation and eagerness for Collect, the international fair for contemporary craft and design, which returns to Somerset House this weekend (3-5 March) for its 19th edition, with 40 galleries presenting works by more than 400 makers.
Last year, the fair welcomed more than 9,000 visitors, despite the lingering effects of the pandemic. This year, visitor figures are expected to far exceed that. Director Isobel Dennis notes how the fair is “welcoming all our internationals back”—both in terms of exhibitors and collectors. “There’s a real richness back in the building. And we are pretty much back up to pre-pandemic gallery numbers,” she adds, noting how a number of participants are returning from South Korea and other parts of East Asia.
Expect a rich diversity of materials, from jewellery to ceramics as well as textiles and glass—markets which have seen considerable growth in recent years.
Here we pick five artists to look out for at the fair this year:
Hyesook Choi, Gallery Sklo
Creating luxury items such as Chanel handbags out of the fragile medium of glass, the Korean artist Hyesook Choi addresses concepts of modern beauty and the effects these social pressures have on young women. As she puts it: “Women have turned to materialistic goods, especially purses and high heels, to satisfy the artificial ideal of beauty. It has resulted in women becoming more obsessed with the way they look […] leading them to spend more time and money to acquire the products for their external beauty in order to enhance their self-esteem and to increase their confidence.” A Relic from the Early 21st Century Purse 9 (2022) is priced at £5,600 with Gallery Sklo.
Samuel Nnorom, Gallery REVEL
Inspired as a child playing with fabrics and threads in his mother’s tailoring workshop, the Nigerian-born artist Samuel Nnorom is known for his huge bubbled works made from colourful Ankara wax fabric, a cloth chiefly found in West Africa. Stitched together, the bubbles are said to represent the fabric of society or social structures—constructs Nnorom intends the viewer to interrogate and dismantle. Much of the materials Nnorom uses are recycled: bits of fabric collected from tailors’ workshops or waste foam from furniture shops. Growth Amidst Storm (2022) is available for £6,900 from the French Gallery REVEL, which opened in 2021 and collaborates with emerging artists, designers and architects from or living in the Global South.
Alice Kettle, Candida Stevens Gallery
Alice Kettle first studied painting at Reading University, but after graduating took evening classes in embroidery before studying fashion and textiles to PhD level. Known for her large-scale works that mix hand stitching with mechanical embroidery, Kettle uses textiles as a way of examining the medium’s complex history in relation to gender and homemaking, as well as issues concerning the environment. Kettle is the winner of this year’s Brookfield Properties Craft Award, which awards the equivalent of £60,000 to UK-based artists. Star Flowers (2021), priced at £26,000 with Candida Stevens Gallery, will now enter the Craft Council’s national collection along with two other pieces.
Pengfei Zhu, BR Gallery
There is a great deal of focus on ceramics when it comes to East Asian practices, but there is a long tradition of metalworking in China—something BR Gallery aims to shine a spotlight on. Among others, the gallery is showing pieces by Pengfei Zhu, whose practice is purely metal-based and whose works veer between fine art and functional objects that can be worn. Enjoy the Meal (2022), for example, is priced at £1,800 for the set. Of her presentation at Collect, Sally Li, the founder and director of BR Gallery, says in a statement: “Our exhibition seeks on the one hand to showcase the long tradition of metalworking in China, while embracing more contemporary interpretations, be they conceptual, a reinterpretation of traditional craft culture or keenly mapping materiality’s agency and relations in today’s rapidly changing society. Above all, we aim to show the unique appeal of metal-based art, [and] elevate this discipline within contemporary visual culture.”
Bruce McLean, 1882
The British artist Bruce McLean first began creating his body of work, Garden Ware, in 2017 in collaboration with the Stoke-on-Trent pottery and design studio 1882. Originally inspired by the light and forms in his garden in Menorca, each piece is thrown and hand-painted. Trained as a fine artist, McLean soon earned himself a dare-devil reputation for rejecting the views on sculpture of his tutors, who included Anthony Caro. Not long after, when he was just 27, McLean became the youngest artist ever to be offered an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, but opted for a one-day retrospective instead. At Collect, pieces from McLean’s Garden Ware series start at £3,500.