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Collect 2022: A review

Anya Cooklin-Lofting | 16 Mar 2022

       

Design journalist Anya Cooklin-Lofting explores the successes of Collect as it celebrates its 18th anniversary and returns to Somerset House


Each year, an international audience of art collectors, consultants, interior designers, architects and corporate buyers flocks to Somerset House to peruse the latest and greatest output from a global set of prestigious galleries, gathered and arranged for Collect. So seriously is the fair taken by the artistic community that it also attracts curators and representatives from museums looking for works for their collections. A record number of sales were made to historic institutions at the fair’s last physical iteration in 2020; 13 works were acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, four works sold to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and two now belong to the National Museums of Northern Ireland.

This year, for what is Collect’s 18th iteration, the fair is taking a hybrid form across physical and digital gallery space. This is the first time Collect has straddled the two realms, having only existed physically, or as per the restrictions in 2021, solely digitally. Despite the digital successes of last year’s approach, for 2022, Somerset House’s rooms, corridors and stairwells are once again filled with such stuff as dreams are made on, and complemented with digital content for further-flung patrons of craft.

Somerset House, photo credit Cristina Schek

Its online arm is hosted by Artsy, a New York-based art brokerage. According to the platform, 2021 was actually the best-performing year for the fair to date in terms of traffic to exhibitor pages. This has to do with digital buying trends. The 2021 Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report shows that the pandemic significantly accelerated the growth of online art marketplaces. It found that the art market more than doubled from $6bn in 2019 to $12.4bn in 2020, and what’s more, that online art sales more than doubled in value year on year, making up a quarter of the art market in the first year of the pandemic. Artsy revealed that a staggering 6,000 attendees joined from across the world for Collect’s 2021 virtual programme of live events and talks that were recorded and are now available via the Crafts Council YouTube channel. It’s unsurprising, then, that Collect has adopted this more liminal approach for 2022.

Collect is produced by the Crafts Council, a national charity for craft that encourages public engagement and contribution to craft in all forms, as well as promoting galleries specialising in collectable craft around the world. It aims to increase levels of education and participation to grow the craft market and create a more inclusive, open craft sector. In some ways, the Crafts Council, which celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year, and all it stands for is more relevant than ever. Market reporting, including the 2020 Market for Craft Report, highlighted an increasing desire to purchase objects of design that show markers of integrity, provenance and authenticity. Apparently, the consumer is more drawn to the handmade and artisanal, looking to support emerging talent and invest in pieces by some of the more established names in craft.

Generally, in conversations about design and innovation, ‘craft’ is often considered shorthand for sustainability and ethical consumerism. The Art Basel and UBS Global report highlights short and longer-term predictions around this association, noting that lasting consumer interest will be defined by a stricter commitment to high quality, sustainable pieces, evidenced in responsible purchasing habits that promote diversity and equality. Now, though, we are driven to purchase pieces that fund support small or local businesses, curating a more thoughtful home environment, especially as we lean into this merging of our personal and professional lives with flexible working. The 2020 Art Market Report found that there is an increased appetite for handcrafted items that generate meaningful interactions with the owners or viewers of such works.

Crucible by Max Bainbridge

This rings particularly true in light of this year’s fair. A prevailing theme amongst the installations and booths at Collect was one of meaningful domestic embellishment. Enhanced (as the work shown at Somerset House always is) by each room’s residential proportions, the pieces were given the space to interact with their contexts; the cornicing and original fireplaces provided a to-scale sense of how these collections might assimilate into the home. Forest & Found artist, Max Bainbridge, showed his series of wooden vessels, Crucibles (2022), lined up along the mantlepiece of Jaggedart’s space. Each unique, vase-like structure bore characterful undulations, cracks and veins around its rims, united with its group only by the rounded, uniform bases shared by the seven works.

jaggedart at Collect 2022

Sarah Myerscough Gallery’s nature//nurture collection is another great example. The gallery’s artists and makers sought to re-conceptualise what it means to be in touch with the natural world through works in grasses, wood, jute, sisal, willow and stone. Gareth Neal’s SIO2 FLAT VESSEL (LARGE) (2020), for instance, is a ridged, black silica vase, positioned artfully within a panelled arch, an architectural detail in the gallery’s allotted square footage. Its elongated middle stretches pleasingly between the jambs, filling the negative space in much the same way as it might in the home. Curling willow baskets by Joe Hogan and majestic, gnarled wooden sculptures from Eleanor Lakelin coalesced in the understated room, writhing on their plinths and inhabiting the space in an intuitive and completely liveable way.

Sarah Myerscough Gallery at Collect 2022

Similarly, the ceramic and aluminium sculptures of Finnish artist Marianne Huotari for Officine Saffi have a naturalness about them that exudes residential compatibility. The artist is best known for her wall-hung rugs that play on the qualities of crafted work against organic forms. In the rather delightfully named Juhlista Juopuneet (Tipsy and Dazzled by Festivities) (2021), a cascading mass of colour and texture pours from the wall resembling at once tropical plumage, a coral reef and the patchwork of life in the canopy of a high tree, laden with fruit and fauna. Much like Neal, Hogan and Lakelin’s work, there is a sense of presence about this piece that both chimes and contrasts with its context, resulting in work that feels at once natural and jarring in the familiar rooms of Somerset House.

Juhlista Juopuneet by Marianne Huotari

Alongside Huotari, many of the makers showing at Collect this year could be said to be subverting the natural world through allusions to shapes, colours and textures found in nature. Works by Ikuko Iwamoto and Matthew Chambers, both from Cavaliero Finn, are definitive examples of this; the first explores the way the representation of the microscopic world can evoke feelings both of awe and repulsion, while the latter delivers heavily stylised, ceramic impressions of flowers in bud.

Time Rock Stack by Dawn Bendick 

Danish artist, Steffen Dam’s works in glass are some of the most memorable instances of the reinterpretation of the natural world. Approaching Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections’ space (as guests are so compelled to by the unmissable Time Rock Stack installation by Dawn Bendick, another of the gallery’s most popular names), one is drawn immediately to a glowing wall-hung cabinet filled with what appear to be rows of test tubes containing preserved creatures and plants. It is Dam’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a creation of blown and cast glass in a backlit, elmwood cabinet; a mesmerising display of completely contrived ‘clinical samples’ of strange amoeba and subaqueous forms. His imagined specimens forecast fictional evolutionary paths from their box that, naturally, the former tool manufacturer made himself.

Cabinet of Curiosities by Steffen Dam

So too does Toni Losey, a ceramic sculptor, interpret the natural world in her own way. Her imagined earthenware life forms, shown with Pik’d Gallery, echo the London Design Museum’s 2020 Beazley Design of the Year winner, the 3D graphic of the coronavirus particle by medical illustrator, Dan Higgins. Dottie (2022), Losey’s many-legged creature with a peach-like, furry skin and various white dots about her limbs and protrusions, looks at once rather charming and particularly dangerous; she is a trigger for the fear we have acquired in the wake of the more mainstream understanding of the menace of mutation.

Dottie by Toni Losey

This year, the work at Collect, perhaps unfairly, was interpreted almost solely through the prism of our collective trauma of the pandemic. Snippets of conversation overheard in the sprawling corridors of Somerset House hinted at relief, at the pleasures of congregating physically once again. However, art and contemporary design serve as both records of our times and markers for the state of the cultural conversation, and much of the work shown this year was created under strict governmental restrictions. While many pieces appeared to develop ideas of the biological unknown, others embodied an almost pious offering of natural, earth-friendly oblations to our suffering world. The overarching message was one of deep, deep fear and insatiable curiosity. 

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