I have reviewed Collect twice in its illustrious history – ok, once, (2008) and a brief comment at the end of another post, (2009). I then forgot about it until last year when a kind soul reserved complimentary tickets for me and I managed to be away the entire weekend. I have been inattentive, to say the least.
My first visit to Collect was also its first outing. It was at the V&A and still had the feel of ‘tarted –up’ clutter. It was too crowded – with stuff I mean - and the standard was inconsistent. After another year at the V&A, it moved to the Saatchi gallery near Sloane Square. It was a bold and, in spite of my acerbic comments in 2009, an inspired move. By all accounts it has improved steadily since and, while I cannot comment on any of previous shows, 2012 was a triumph.
The Saatchi gallery is a beautiful, elegantly proportioned space, graced with high ceilings, magnificent wooden floors and plenty of natural light. It is the perfect venue for the display of beautiful objects. The exhibiting galleries all had plenty of room so the work displayed had room to breathe and the audience had enough space to walk around it. In practice, this means that the viewer moves much more slowly around the exhibition than is the case in more crowded venues. It allows one time to think and reflect of the work.
Collect is a serious selling show. That is its primary purpose. It is also a showcase but makes no pretence to being either representative or a survey show. The galleries select their highest quality work and the organisers, by bringing in collectors and media, facilitate the bringing of ‘museum quality’ craft to its potential buyers. In doing so, they are starting solve one of the most persistent and seemingly intractable problems of craft: how to bring the goods to market.
In the process, every aspect of craft exhibiting and selling, from display to the attitude of the gallerists, has become palpably more professional. Collect is also truly international now. It is probably the only high-end, international applied arts fair in Europe. The Scandanavian galleries and artists are particularly well represented and are also a breath of fresh air. There is a strong focus on the ‘upcycled’ work, where ‘trash’ or discarded ceramics, in particular, are remade, reinvented and become entirely new works. In most cases this is the only chance Londoners have to see this kind of work. Craft in London is otherwise parochial, poorly exhibited, (with one or two notable exceptions,) and largely very conservative.
La Ceramica Gallery was a welcome new addition, bringing the work of internationally acclaimed Nicaraguan potters to London for the first time, and Hanart TZ was the first Chinese gallery to show at Collect, bringing ceramics and laquer work - the latter is a particularly exciting development since, as far as I know, we have not seen contemporary laquer work in this country before. If I were handing out prizes, it would go to the Japanese gallery, Yufuku. All of the work on this stand was breathtaking. Every piece shone with the sheer strength and conviction of its own presence. Graceful, classical, poised - even when entirely un-classical – it was all work you wanted to come back to again and again, just to make sure you really had seen such a thing. The ceramic works of Nakamura Takuo were unforgettable. The colour and patterning was reminiscent of early 17th Century Japanese silks, glistening, strong colour but subtle – mostly tertiary colours - and faultlessly composed with a painterly vision. How anyone brings together soft ripe pinks, sombre but glowing maroons, lime-ish greens edged in something darker, and bright ultramarine, is beyond me. I could gaze on this work for the rest of my life and, as soon as I have any money at all, I’m going to make sure I can.