It might seem like business-as-usual in the post-pandemic western art world, but some of the alternative models initiated during the lockdowns are finding their footing. One is the Fair Art Fair (FAF), an app launched last September by the London artist-gallerist Stacie McCormick, with some Arts Council backing. Despite its name, the platform operates more like a gallery than a fair, but certainly lives up to its adjective. All subscribers — whether artists, buyers or curators — pay the same fee (£19.99 per month) to join what McCormick describes as a “peer-to-peer community”. Artists do not pay commission on their sales, traditionally around 50 per cent.
McCormick cites data from 2020 that show there were 55,000 visual artists in the UK but only 1,400 commercial galleries. “Most of those artists deserve to be seen. But they leave their masters [degrees] and join a completely rigged lottery,” she says. At the same time, “lots of people want to live with art but don’t know how.” Her digital strategy chimes with the latest Hiscox online trade report, which finds 84 per cent of art buyers believe the market’s pivot to digital is permanent, up from 51 per cent in 2020.
It is early days. FAF’s subscribers — mostly artists — number about 300, but the app has been downloaded by more than 7,000 people, McCormick says. She is experimenting with a hybrid format and opens a second IRL show next week at her Unit 1 Gallery — still with no commission on sales. “Curated II Womxn” has 20 artists chosen from the app by Jo Baring and Beth Greenacre (May 6-June 11).
This year’s postponed London Art Fair (April 21-24), which clashed with the opening of the rejigged Venice Biennale, lost a few VIPs to Italy, but otherwise had limited impact. These events attract different crowds — the globetrotting glitterati go to Venice while LAF has a loyal local crowd — but both shared a focus on female artists.
LAF’s museum partner was The Women’s Art Collection, owned by Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, which displayed works by the likes of Paula Rego, Tracey Emin and Linder. The 500-work collection also bought at the fair, including Tiffanie Delune’s “No More Battlefields, Only Flowers” (2021, £3,850, Ed Cross Fine Art). Cynthia Corbett Gallery brought only women artists, ranging from swift-selling ceramics by 30-year-old Freya Bramble-Carter (from £675) to an oil painting by the octogenarian Tuëma Pattie (£4,000).
“There are more female collectors now, which helps change the market,” said the gallerist Tanya Baxter. Her sale highlight was, however, courtesy of a male artist — Andy Warhol’s 1985 screenprint of Queen Elizabeth II sold for £315,000 to Showpiece, a recent entrant to the growing fractional ownership market.
A gold sweet box that was stolen in 2003 has resurfaced and been identified through the Art Loss Register (ALR). The 18th-century circular box, which measures only 9cm in diameter and has a portrait of a woman on its lid, was one of more than 100 gold boxes stolen from Waddesdon Manor, an English stately home built by the Rothschild banking family, by a gang of masked men. At the time the total haul, which included other objects, was estimated at up to £8mn. Most pieces are still missing.
The Paris-made bonbonniere, originally bought by Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922), reappeared at a regional UK auction house last year and — before its provenance was known — had an estimate of £2,000-£2,500. Lucy O’Meara, a recovery specialist at the ALR, says that it is “surprisingly common for a [stolen] object to appear at auction further down the line, often having been bought in good faith”. The returned box went back on view at Waddesdon, now a National Trust property, on Wednesday.
It’s been three years coming, but this week marks the postponed in-person 2020 edition of the Art Brussels fair (Tour & Taxis, April 28-May 1). “It’s a great moment, but it’s not a reinvention, we have stayed loyal to our format,” says managing director Anne Vierstraete.
Founded in 1968 and one of the oldest contemporary fairs on the circuit, Art Brussels tends to be a good-looking event, helped by a longstanding €10,000 prize for a single-artist booth. This year’s highlights include work by Hermann Nitsch, who died earlier this month (Galerie RX), and tapestries that distort basketball players by Noel W Anderson (Zidoun-Bossuyt, $25,000-$55,000). Several galleries in the invitational section have chosen to show Ukrainian artists, including Lesia Khomenko (Fridman Gallery) and Victoria Pidust (Office Impart).
For its next edition in April 2023, the fair moves from the open-brick Tour & Taxis venue, where it has been since 2016, to the Brussels Expo. In another change, Vierstraete will step down this July to become an adviser to Art Brussels and Art Antwerp owner Easyfairs, handing over to director of gallery relations, Nele Verhaeren.
An engraved and gilded helmet from around 1560 set an auction record for a piece of armour this month when it sold for €540,000 (€690,000 with fees, est €40,000-€60,000) at Thierry de Maigret in Paris. It was bought by the London specialist Peter Finer whose research found it was commissioned as part of four full sets by Emperor Ferdinand I for himself and his three sons to wear at a tournament in Vienna. A similar helmet with the same history is in London’s Wallace Collection, he notes.
The arms and armour market has “loyal, established collectors who have bought from us for decades”, Finer says. Though the past couple of years “have not been easy”, some museum sales still happened during the pandemic, he says. His latest helmet’s “likely end destination may well be a museum”.
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