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by Mary Barone
|The night of Jan. 19 was definitely swinging in London, at least on the art and design front.
Lucky were those who count themselves as official "Friends of the Royal Academy" -- it costs £40 a year -- for they were invited to a special preview of the eagerly awaited "Monet in the 20th Century" exhibition. Then again, maybe not, as the museum was ill-equipped to handle the resulting stampede, and many were turned away.
Despite this bit of bad luck, everyone says the show is absolutely stunning. Ticket sales over the 12-week run are expected to reach 500,000, at a record cost of £9 for a full-price pass.
Those turned away could have ventured down to the Design Museum for the opening of "Modern Britain 1929-1939." Or they could have gone across the Thames for the premiere of Art99, London's own little art fair. Presided over by Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, together with former Eurythmics star Dave Stewart, the gala opening was held in part to raise money for the Serpentine Gallery.
The fair is an exclusive platform for UK galleries. Participants included Marlborough Fine Art, Long & Rye, Jill George, Flowers East, White Cube, Alan Cristea, Michael Hue-Williams and Agnews.
In addition, Art99 featured "Start," a 500-square-meter exhibition of young artists sponsored by Bloomberg News. With this method, the fair included some of Britain's cutting-edge galleries -- Asprey Jacques Contemporary Art, Jibby Beane, Duncan Cargill Gallery, Laurent Delaye Gallery, Eagle Gallery, Marlene Elene, Eric Franck Fine Art, Laure Genillard Gallery, Francis Graham-Dixon, Hales Gallery, Lotta Hammer, Kerlin Gallery, Andrew Mummery, Rubicon Gallery and Anthony Wilkinson Gallery.
As one might expect, the 90 exhibitors offered works ranging in price from £50 to £150,000. Among the usual young British suspects were Tracy Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood and Damien Hirst. Another rising star, Tomoko Takanashi, is one of Charles Saatchi's "New Neurotic Realists," and currently has installed a sprawling roomful of miscellaneous junk at the Saatchi Gallery. At Art99 Takanashi made a smaller piece -- a table littered with mobile phones, plastic toys and a remote control toy crane. This work was sold in advance of the opening by the Hales Gallery.
Jay Jopling's White Cube would not give me any sales data, though Damien Hirst's "spin" painting in the booth was removed on the third day and replaced with a "door" by Gary Hume. Someone at the gallery did speak in support of the fair and promised to come back next year. "It's a good way to let the greater public know what we're up to."
Marlborough brought a particularly intense pastel by Paula Rego. Called Untitled #3 (1998-99), the work shows a woman in an anguished state, lying spread eagle on a leather chaise with her legs propped up on what looks like a crouched figure cloaked in dark fabric. A woman's wristwatch lies on the floor. The room looks like a psychoanalyst's office. The work is one of several on abortion that Rego will be showing at Marlborough in Madrid, opening on Feb. 13. The artist decided to call the series "Untitled" since it will be shown in a predominately Catholic country. The work at the fair, which was on paper mounted on aluminum, was priced at around £60,000.
At Richard Salmon Gallery, an early Gilbert & George titled Mouth (1983) sold for around £40,000. It's a great photomontage piece and the only one where Gilbert & George are not photographed but painted. It's reproduced in the book The Complete Pictures. Also at RS was a work by the late Derek Jarman (he died of AIDS) entitled Blood (1992). Jarman wanted to use his own blood but after learning that the agricultural board would require him to boil it seven times, like any good artist he went out instead and bought a can of red paint. The work, oil paint on photocopy on linen, was priced in the mid- £20,000 range.
As for the younger galleries participating in "First," Paul Hedge of Hales Gallery said that sales were very brisk -- he sold just about everything he had in his booth, including eight works by Jonathan Callan, an artist with a mad obsession for tearing and perforating old maps and photographs and reinventing them as 3-D wall hangings. Hedge sold two works by Andrew Bick, modestly sized wax-on-wood paintings with underdrawings in felt tip pen and acrylic paint. Bick was short-listed for the 1998 Jerwood Painting Prize and the John Moores Painting Prize. His work sells between £1,500- £2,500. He will have his solo debut this April at the Liebman & Magnan Gallery in New York's Chelsea art district. A lot of foreign buyers were at the fair, Hedge said, and he sold mainly to Swiss, Norwegians and French collectors.
Another booth in "First," Laure Genillard Gallery, sold out the first edition by artist Elisa Sighicelli, an artist from Turin who lives and works in London. Sighicelli makes photographs of simple interiors where the artist closely observes the available light. She then mounts the images in lightboxes to striking monumental effect. In editions of three, they range in price from £800 to £1,700.
Lotta Hammer, another "First" exhibitor, has an eye for work that is both intelligent and witty. Highlights included videotape by Glasgow artist Roddy Buchanan (he showed a few years back at the Jack Tilton Gallery in New York). Buchanan's piece, entitled Soda Stream, shows a bottle of Garvie's Soda Pop being dropped from a building and crashing onto a vacant parking lot. Garvie's comes in 19 different flavors and is sold throughout Scotland. The work is in an edition of 19 -- one for each flavor -- and sells for £600.
Another standout at Hammer was Jason Coburn, whose specialty is color photographs of friends wearing white Fruit of the Loom t-shirts on which he's written quotations from fashion magazines in black felt tip pen. "A cut-away back lends a sharp twist to an elegant column of dark black velvet," says one, prolixly. The photographs are casual and the antithesis of glamorous fashion layouts, what Lotta calls "trash-fashion." The t-shirts were also for sale at £40 each.
The success of this year's "First" exhibition means it will be back next year, bigger and better, and perhaps with participation from foreign galleries. Perhaps.
MARY BARONE writes on art from London.
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