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Collect 2019

The only gallery-presented art fair dedicated to modern craft and design.

Saatchi Gallery
28th February – 3rd March 2019

By Charlotte Abrahams / 1st May 2019

ONE OF ISOBEL Dennis’ first acts as new Fair director of Collect was to change the event’s strapline. Instead of being billed as London’s ‘International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects’, the 2019 edition declared itself to be an ‘International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design.’ “Collect has always been the only fair to champion craft in a fine art context,” Dennis explains, “but the boundaries between art, craft and design have become more blurred since its inception in 2004 – a merging of disciplines that’s being driven by the artists, makers and designers themselves – and I wanted to reflect that.”

She certainly achieved her aim. Collect 2019, which took over the Saatchi Gallery for five days earlier this month, was indeed a celebration of exquisitely made, highly creative and utterly beautiful contemporary things that defied easy classification.

The installations in the Gallery’s two central stairwells set the tone. ‘The Bird’, an interactive lighting device made from carbon fibre, plastic, wood and electrical parts, hung in one stairwell. Created by Korean robotics engineer Wonseok Jung, it enchanted visitors who glanced skywards with the slow mechanical movement of its wings. In the other stairwell, Ting-Ying Gallery presented a two-metre-high sculpture entitled ‘Gravity in Prayer’. Created by 23-year-old Chinese artist Wanying Liang (as part of her MA at Alfred University’s NYS College of Ceramics), it consists of an intricate white ceramic and glass replica of the bronze incense burners found in Chinese temples, surrounded by paper streamers suspended from the ceiling. “The work speaks of the Chinese funeral ceremony and, by making a space you can walk inside, Liang has created a ritualistic experience,” says the Gallery’s co-founder Peter Ting.

Wonseok Jung, ‘The Bird’, 2019

Wonseok Jung, ‘The Bird’, 2019

Collect 2019 was a celebration of exquisitely made, highly creative and utterly beautiful contemporary things

THE ESSENTIAL MATERIALITY of objects was a rich seam running through this year’s Collect, presented by the Crafts Council. Experimental Swedish artist Fredrik Nielsen creates glass sculptures, through a process of blowing and hot sculpting, which challenge the ideas of standard forms and reach out to alter the viewer’s expectations. For example, his ‘White Pearl Pitcher’ (showing with London glass gallery Vessel), has been coated with pearlescent car paint, a finish which creates an extraordinary depth of colour and makes the vessel appear molten. It does not look like glass, but it is a most eloquent evocation of glass.

 Fredrik Nielsen, ‘White Pearl Pitcher II’, 2018

Fredrik Nielsen, ‘White Pearl Pitcher II’, 2018
COURTESY: Vessel Gallery

Sarah Myerscough Gallery showed the charred black ‘Hack Chair II’ by London-based conceptual furniture designer Gareth Neal. A reinterpretation of a Georgian archetype, it has been carved – or ‘hacked’ – from green oak using a robotic six-axis CNC arm, and then hand-carved to reveal the unique surface of the wood with all its intriguing splits, glitches and growth rings.

Gareth Neil, ‘Hack Chair II’, 2019

Gareth Neil, ‘Hack Chair II’, 2019
COURTESY: Sarah Myerscough

Contemporary Applied Arts also exhibited work which showcased the natural beauty and aesthetic possibilities of oak. The ‘Francis Writing Desk’ by British furniture maker Hugh Miller is a small piece of architecture – rendered in English quarter sawn oak and finished with brass and a leather-lined drawer – in which the method of its making has become the decorative detail. Four wooden circles mark the point where the legs connect with the surface of the desk; dovetail joints ornament the edges. It is both a satisfyingly functional desk and a sculptural wooden objet d’art.

The essential materiality of objects was a rich seam running through this year’s Collect

Similarly blending form and function with an appreciation of material were Seoul-based artist Ok Kim’s ‘Merge Series’ of stools and side tables. Inspired by the stone stacks often found on Korea’s mountain passes, the stools and side tables are made of steel, which Kim then covers in layers and layers of ‘ott’, a traditional natural tree lacquer. The lacquering, sanding and polishing process is highly labour intensive (each piece takes three to five months to complete), but the results are luminous.

Ok Kim, ‘Merge Series’, 2018

Ok Kim, ‘Merge Series’, 2018

Ok Kim was represented at Collect by Mint, a central London interior design store specialising in one-off and limited edition furniture and objects. Mint’s founder, Lina Kanafani, sees her store’s presence at the Fair as evidence of that blurring of disciplines that Isobel Dennis has been so keen to champion. “Mint brings a new concept to the event by displaying exclusive furniture and unique design objects that highlight the craftsmanship involved in their making,” she says. “The selection of innovative and material-driven furniture showcases craft as the root of our collection.”

In all the excitement over the growth in what has traditionally been thought of as design at Collect, it is easy to overlook the fact that Dennis’ new strapline has also reclaimed the word ‘craft’. First tainted with the fusty legacy of craft fayres, and then debased by a sudden fashionability that saw the word applied to everything from cars to crisps, ‘craft’ as a descriptor has had a troubled history. But in its truest sense, the term speaks of works – both art and design – created through the magical trinity of head, heart and hand. This year’s Collect was brimful of such things.

Collect – the only gallery-presented art fair dedicated to modern craft and design

Article By

Charlotte Abrahams
Charlotte Abrahams is a writer and curator specialising in design and the applied arts. Her curating work includes the new design showcase Spotted at Top Drawer and exhibitions at the Geffrye Museum, Rodmarton Manor and The Wilson.