Somerset House hosts this year’s Collect: The Design Edit picks highlights from its array of contemporary international craft and design.
The International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design
Somerset House, London
27th February – 1st March 2020
FOR THE PAST ten years, Collect, London’s international art fair for modern craft and design, established by the Crafts Council in 2004, has made its temporary home inside the restrained interior of the Saatchi Gallery. The 2020 edition however is being held at Somerset House, William Chambers’s neoclassical masterpiece on the north bank of the River Thames. “Somerset House is the right cultural fit and environment to be holding Collect,” says Fair Director Isobel Dennis, “allowing exhibitors to contextualise and curate modern craft and design against a backdrop of 18th century architecture.”
It is an exciting development and an indication of Collect’s growing confidence and reputation. This is the only gallery-presented fair in the world to champion craft in a fine art context and – thanks to the selectors’ requirement that 80% of the work on sale must have been made in the last five years – it is one of the best places to discover new work. As final preparations begin, Charlotte Abrahams talks to some of the participating galleries about who and what to look out for.
Founded 30 years ago by the Royal Warrant Holders Association, QEST (the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) is making its Collect debut with an exhibition examining the support they give to artists exploring innovation and excellence within craft traditions. “QEST is often wrongly thought of as only supporting traditional craft,” says CEO Deborah Pocock, “so we see this as a chance to redress the balance.” One of those boundary-pushing artists is the emerging glass maker Kaja Upelj, whose work questions our perceptions of the materiality of glass. Her iridescent, seemingly fluid ‘Subtle Flow’ series, which has grown out of her research into the way chemicals react with hot glass, will be showing for the first time since her 2018 MA exhibition at the Royal College of Art.
Subtle Flow by Kaja Upelj, glass, 2019, group of three £2,700 +VAT
Paper artist Cecilia Levy is one of seven artists showing with this Stockholm-based forum for Swedish contemporary craft. Levy, who creates papier mâché sculptural objects using paper carefully sourced from old books, is a well-established artist with work in the Swedish National Museum, but this is the first time she has come to Collect. Alongside pieces from her ‘Medicinal Plant’ series will be her exquisite, playful paper recreations of everyday objects – tea sets complete with pots and strainers and a seven-piece mocca set titled ‘Longing’. “Papier mâché is an old technique, but in Cecilia’s work it meets the modern world,” says Widell Project’s founder Boel Widell Henrikson. “There is a lovely familiarity about her pieces that draws people in.”
‘Longing’ by Cecilia Levy, old book pages, wheat starch paste, 2020, £900; ‘Pasque Flower’, Medicinal Plant Series by Cecilia Levy, old book pages, wheat starch paste, Styrofoam, aluminium wire, concrete base, 2019, £1,500
Craft Scotland, the national development agency for craft, will be presenting work by eight Scotland-based makers working in silver & gold, wood, weave, metal and ceramics. Collect newcomer Mella Shaw’s ‘Janus Forms’ are handmade from clay so technically fall into the latter category, but their unique surface patina (formed as result of smoke-firing the highly polished clay) means that they could be bronze. You have to touch them to be sure. “Mella’s work is centred around reoccurring themes of balance, tipping points, and thresholds,” says Craft Scotland’s Director Irene Kernan. “The ‘Janus Forms’ are ceramic objects which have two faces in perfect balance. They are meditative objects that are made to be handled.”
‘Janus Forms’ by Mella Shaw, clay, 2019/2020, set of two (large and small), £850; set of three (medium to small), £1,050; set of five (large to small), £1,400
Gallery Sklo is Korea’s first, and only, contemporary glass art gallery. A regular at fairs in Asia and the United States, this is the first time Sklo has come to Europe. “The gallery is based on two major philosophies – specialisation and building a solid identity based on unrivalled expertise in glass art,” says its Director Hyojung Kim. Among the highlights will be a series of silhouettes of flower buds and seeds by Joon-Yong Kim. A LOEWE Craft Prize finalist in 2018, Joon-Yong works with a technique he calls ‘cast blowing’ (he begins by blowing the molten glass then cuts, engraves and polishes the work once it has gone cold) to create pieces that, as Hyojung says, “challenge the classic theme of ‘container’ and guide us to the beauty of the glass itself.”
‘Golden Flower’ by Joon-Yong Kim, blown and coldworked glass, 2019, POA; ‘Sunset on the Flower’ by Joon-Yong Kim, blown and coldworked glass, 2019, POA
Lloyd Choi Gallery
Founded in 2019, South Korea’s Lloyd Choi Gallery will make its international launch at Collect. The gallery specialises in Korean studio ceramics by both emerging young talents and the country’s most pioneering established master craft artists, such as Lee Gee-Jo. Known for his radical ceramic sculptures, “Lee’s expressive, hand-built abstract works blur the boundaries between art, craft and design,” says the gallery’s eponymous director. A highlight for Collect will be his ‘Rectangular Ritual Vessel’, a rare early piece from his groundbreaking series of Ritual Vessels which hasn’t been shown in public for a decade. “This is the best example of the series,” says Choi. “It has the most complex structures – structures that are almost impossible to achieve – and includes the artist’s signature hand stitch marks on the bottom.”
‘Rectangular Ritual Vessel’ by Lee Gee-Jo, porcelain, 2009, £12,500 – £15,000
Gallery S O
Gallery S O is a Collect regular and this year, along with other new additions, they will be presenting work by their youngest name, Scottish artist, metalworker and poet Kathleen Reilly. Reilly focuses on the power of material and composition to shift entrenched understandings, reinventing the common place with elegant and often witty outcomes that can carry ambiguous functions: a crisp packet with a zip sewn in, for example, and a series of pieces called ‘Gran’s Plates’. Inspired by childhood memories of her grandmother’s house, these glass ‘plates’ act as a protective glaze for the pressed flowers and preserved butterflies cast in pewter alloy within. “Reilly is an incredibly talented up and coming artist,” says the gallery’s manager Katharina Dettar. “We truly love the way she sees the world and the poetical twists her pieces have, which clearly originate from everyday life.”
‘Gran’s Plate III’ by Kathleen Reilly, preserved butterflies, pressed Delphinium, pewter, lead and Bismuth Alloy, 2019, £1,000
The Gallery by SOIL
Making its first appearance at Collect, Hong Kong-based lacquer specialists The Gallery by SOIL will be showing work by Asian artists who blend the traditional with the contemporary to present this ancient craft in a modern context – artists such as Fang Laidong, who graduated from China’s South-Central University for Nationalities in 2019. “Fang’s works are always minimal, which highlights the beauty of their shape and form,” says the gallery’s Founder and Director Susanna Pang. At Collect, Fang will be showing a sensorily complex series of work titled ‘Vanity’.
Made using the ‘bodiless lacquer’ technique in which a clay or wood core is covered in layers of lacquer-soaked hemp and then removed once the hemp is dry to leave a hollow body, they are surprisingly lightweight and soft to the touch. They also smell wonderful thanks to the incense flowing through their centres. “The incense element of ‘Vanity’ is a chance to create a memorable spatial encounter with the art of lacquer,” says Pang.
‘Vanity-1’ by Fang Laidong, natural lacquer, hemp cloth, tile ash, gold, silver, raden, 2019, £3,980
Collect – the only gallery-presented art fair dedicated to modern craft and design.
Kaja Upelj – QEST scholar.
Cecilia Levy – Swedish paper artist.
Mella Shaw – artist/maker.
Gallery Sklo – the first, and only, art gallery in Korea specialising in contemporary glass sculptures and objects.
Lloyd Choi Gallery – a contemporary Korean art and design gallery specialised in Korean contemporary studio ceramic.
Gallery S O – explores the potentialities of the contemporary object and the interplay of function, form and concept.
The Gallery by SOIL – passionate about craft.