Interview with London Art Fair’s Sarah Monk

Sarah Monk (pictured) is Director of London Art Fair, which returns for its highly anticipated 31st edition on 16 – 20 January 2019, with a preview evening on 15 January.

Featuring over 130 leading galleries from around the world, the Fair’s extensive gallery line up will showcase a diverse cross-section of exceptional modern and contemporary art from emerging talent to established art world favourites.
The Fair will also provide insights into innovative curatorial concepts in contemporary art through the critically acclaimed curated sections: Art Projects, and Photo50 and a programme of exhibitions, talks, tours, installations and interactive performance.

We spoke to Sarah as she prepares for the fair next month.

What should people know about the history of the Fair and its evolution over the years?

We were founded in 1989 by London’s Business Design Centre in Islington – where the Fair still takes place today – with the aim of providing a space to showcase the most exceptional modern and contemporary art of our time, to discover and to buy. We launched with just 36 UK galleries (some of whom still exhibit today) and have grown steadily over the following years; at our most recent edition in January 2018 we welcomed around 130 galleries and 20,000 attendees.

Whilst we still provide a home for outstanding modern British art, we have embraced an increasingly international and contemporary outlook, with new galleries from around the world expanding our offer and reach – these now make up 18% of our exhibitors, and continue to grow.

We nurture collecting at all levels, from prints and editions starting in the hundreds, to major works by internationally renowned artists such as Grayson Perry, Eduardo Paolozzi, Edward Burra and Picasso.

We provide a platform for nurturing talent too, and have played host to acclaimed artists early in their career as well as established names, with Chris Ofili and Jenny Saville awarded ‘rising star’ awards at the 1996 edition.

How can first-time visitors orient themselves once they arrive at the venue?

I would encourage collectors to start their relationship with the Fair and our galleries in advance of their visit. (Advice that is echoed by Artsy).

Visitors are able to preview the artists and works galleries will be showing at the Fair online from late October giving them an opportunity to prepare for their visit and research any new artists they might be interested in.

Visiting the Fair obviously gives collectors the opportunity to view an enormous selection of work under one roof. We work hard to create an environment which is welcoming and supportive to collectors at all levels, alongside a thoughtfully selected presentation of exceptional art.

Galleries are there to provide as much information as a collector needs to help inform their purchase and Sotheby’s Institute of Art will also offer daily tours to help navigate the Fair with different highlights including photography, contemporary art, prints, Modern British and emerging markets.

Who and what are you most excited about presenting at the 2019 Fair?

We’ve always enjoyed our position of being able to launch the new season of art fairs and to help kick start the cultural year for the galleries and collectors who attend. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with people and reinvigorate with exceptional art after the winter break.

Throughout its history and often challenging market conditions, the Fair has continued to sustain its good health by continuing to review and refresh its offer in relation to the audience it serves. The rigorous selection process that each gallery application must undergo ensures that the Fair maintains the best of its longstanding exhibitors whilst seeking to introduce the strongest new gallery content which in turn allows us to engage new audiences and collectors.

This year is no exception, with new exhibitors allowing for exciting new discoveries representing Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Lithuania, Argentina.

Since 2014, we have also selected a regional museum partner to work with each year, who creates a unique exhibition that enables our visitors to experience the heritage, quality and significance of the UK’s most important regional collections. For the 2019 Fair we are partnering with the award-winning Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, home to an acclaimed collection of nearly 5,000 artworks. The Living Collection – will showcase Towner’s rich heritage of collecting, exhibiting and championing contemporary art for almost a century.

You’ve introduced performance art and initiatives that offer a sense of the unexpected, such as Dialogues, where artists collaborate with galleries within the Fair space. How has this influenced the atmosphere?

London Art Fair continues to celebrate its heritage whilst also embracing change and disruption. We know that our audience seeks innovative and interactive ways to engage with art and to that end we strive to provide a space for art that represents the current scene and enables new dialogues to take place. 

Our Art Projects section now in its 15th year, was established to offer younger galleries a subsidised platform to enable them to participate in a commercial art fair but still to be bold and brave in their presentations and champion the most exciting new talent.

Art Projects has become increasingly international in both content and outlook and in 2014 we introduced Dialogues as a new initiative encouraging new forms of presentation intended to foster gallery relationships on a global scale with pairs of galleries invited to display their artists in conversation with one another.

Kiki Mazzucchelli, curates Dialogues for 2019, which focuses on the various correspondences between the work of contemporary artists from Latin America and Europe.

What will first-timers get from the curated programme of talks?

Whether you’re an art connoisseur or just culturally curious – London Art Fair is a fantastic place to learn about art and our public programme of talks, discussions and tours proves a major draw to visitors, giving context to the art on show, provoking thought and stimulating debate. Partners this year include Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Iniva, Gasworks, Apollo magazine, Photoworks and The Photographers Gallery.

With themes including ‘Gallerists on collecting emerging artists’, ‘What’s new in the gallery and museum model’ and ’10 years from Lehmans – How Finance has shaped the world of art’ – come with an open mind and prepare to have it broadened.  All talks are free to attend with your Fair admission ticket.

What do visitors need to know about Own Art?

Own Art is an amazing scheme and plays a huge role in not just the Fair but the entire art ecosystem, by supporting artists to make a living and enabling both new and more established buyers to start or develop their collections.

Through our partnership with Own Art, the scheme is available at all 130 galleries taking part in the Fair, including our international exhibitors meaning visitors can take advantage of snapping up a work by an amazing new discovery and spread the cost of the artwork over 10 months, completely interest-free.

How should people approach exhibitor galleries when they see something they like?

All our exhibiting galleries go through a rigorous application process meaning you can trust us to bring you a thoughtfully selected presentation of exceptional art and an experience to match – whether you’re looking to grow your existing collection or buy your first work.

One of the real positives of a Fair environment is that you can allow a particular artist or artwork to leave an impression on you while you walk around. If you come across an artist you like, don’t be afraid to engage with the gallerist to find out more. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge, expertise and passion and they have brought the work to the Fair to find a new home.

Often the artists themselves are also present to speak about their work which can give such rich insight into their creative process and in acquiring their work you are equally investing in their practice.

How do you recommend people build relationships with galleries they meet at the Fair?

Art fairs like London Art Fair are uniquely placed to bring together galleries, artists, curators, collectors, critics and enthusiasts for a short period of time under the same roof. This results in a creative exchange and collaboration that can be lost in other contexts for buying art.

Selling art is all about building relationships, and the rising popularity of art fairs is primarily fuelled by galleries wanting to forge new connections with potential new buyers and patrons of their artists. 


All about

Book your place on an Own Art tour – free with your London Art Fair ticket

Register to attend the ‘How to be an Early Patron: Emerging Artists and Going Beyond the Art Market’ talk on 19 January – free with your London Art Fair ticket

List of Exhibiting Galleries at London Art Fair