VIP entrance to Art 13.
 Courtesy of Art13.

LONDON - If the success of a VIP fair opening reception is anything to go by, Art13 established its pedigree even before the doors opened to the general public. On Feb 27th, the Great Court of the British Museum played host to approximately 300 collectors, art lovers, overseas visitors, celebrity artists, industry personalities and private clients invited by Citi Private Bank.  A most elegant and well-managed event bode well for the line-up of activities that was to follow the next day: private collection visits, artist studio visits, panels and—of course—the VIP Fair preview at Olympia’s Grand Hall. Frankly apprehensive about the fair venue, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sweeping architecture worked well as a backdrop. The diversity of the audience was striking, and all manner of fair-goers—from the habitués to the neophyte—were to be seen in this truly multicultural mix of visitors. By 7 pm, the Grand Hall was heaving!

Inevitably and as expected for the first edition of a fair, some shortcomings could be pointed out but also some veritable successes were to be seen: the quality of work from Hong Kong and the Far East was immediately noticeable. Pearl Lam was showing striking works by Su Xiaobau, and the Korean galleries were packed. Whether sales were brisk is yet to be determined, but clearly the welcome was warm.

Jeffar Khaldi, Nabila Made Me Famous, 2013 at the Artspace exhibit at Art13.
Courtesy of ArtSpace Dubai.

For me, there was much to be noticed. The last time I saw such a plenitude of Middle Eastern art was at ArtDubai 2012, and the question arises as to whether Art13 will detract from the regional fairs. That said, it was fascinating to see ArtSpace showing a sexually-explicit work by Jeffar Khaldi which simply could not be shown in one of the Gulf venues – neither would works with strong political content and controversial elements. The polarisation of quality was more pronounced than at more established fairs, but the audience seemed to show a thirst for the new; how many of us have seen a range of art from the Philippines or Eastern Europe? Zena El Khalil’s rotating 4-metre tall ‘Allah’ in shiny glass tiles, Leila Shawa’s beautiful, decorated gun (a similar one to be sold at our Doha auction on April 22!), mesmerizing works by Troika at young Robin Katz’s gallery - were all attracting viewers. That these were shown alongside new work by the likes of Polly Morgan is testament to London as a truly global venue.

In a crowded line-up of fairs, Art13 seems to have found its niche.