The fair occupies interestingly ambiguous territory: somewhere between Contemporary art and design, between the spectacle, glamour and pretension of Frieze and the warm welcome of a local craft fair
I am just back from Collect, the Craft Council's annual fair, once again held in the august portals of the Saatchi Gallery. The fair occupies interestingly ambiguous territory: somewhere between Contemporary art and design, between the spectacle, glamour and pretension of Frieze and the warm welcome of a local craft fair.
The word 'craft' is a sign of this ambiguity. Katie Jones, a piece from whose stand was bought by the Art Fund for the Whitworth Art Gallery, was clear that those who have studied their skill at university or art school work in the 'applied arts' – 'craft' is for those more informally trained. While this is perhaps a little rigid, it does point out that people weaving baskets in the Home Counties are a world away from the intellectualised makers at Collect. (Pictured just below is the piece sold, 'P Kasuri 206, Red and White' by Jun Tomita.)
I particularly liked work by Malcolm Appleby at Bishopsland, whose thin silver bowls are encircled with engravings of prime ministerial sayings in elegant overlapping letters (Blair's 'Education, education, education', for example), and Heidi Sand, who made decoupage rural scenes out of thick plastic – they were playful, solid and beautiful.
A good example of work which you could as easily call Contemporary art as craft was Edith Lundebrekke's piece at kunst1. From head on, these were two large squares with thin lengths of dark wood running down bicoloured backgrounds. When you looked from the side, all you could see were the projecting pieces of wood – the colours had been erased. As you moved around the work, colours, textures, proportions and shadows shifted.
When I asked kunst1's proprietor, Henning Mortensen, whether there was in fact a reason this work couldn't appear at Frieze as much as at Collect, he said works like this fitted easily into both applied and Contemporary art. (The top picture is 'Conrad visit the village' by Konrad Mehus at kunst1.)
It is this which makes Collect curious. It clearly has ambitions to be more like a Contemporary art fair, with a project space on the second floor, complete with ambitious craftworks and pretentious panel-texts all about 'negative space' and similar arty hot air. Much of the work in the rest of the fair would support this application. Yet there is such a strong strain of practicality to the work that a Contemporary fair would reject its utility, its very strength.
Yes, there are certainly some 'stupid knick-knacks', as Gabriel Milland pointed out to me on Twitter, but there are also plenty of objects to adorn your home or yourself with: innovative jewellery, towering vases, sculptures made by 3D printers.
So is art useless and design useful? Art important and craft nugatory? Applied art clever and craft solid but uninspired? And where does beauty lie in all of this? What's nice about Collect is that the boundaries are blurred, even if the skill is clear.
Bottom picture is Blue and White Monumental Vase by Feliciity Aylieff at Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon