collect calling

Collect is capitalising on the growing international market for applied art, discovers Miriam Cadji

This month the Victoria & Albert Museum plays host to Collect, a show that bills itself as ‘the international art fair for contemporary objects’, thereby skilfully avoiding the use of that most offensive ‘C’ word: craft. Despite its prestigious venue, organisers are keen to stress they are not trying to dress this up as an exhibition. A resolutely commercial enterprise (albeit with a whiff of exclusivity not found at the average trade fair), Collect is rather more eager to ally itself with high-profile art events such as Frieze.

Show manager, Cheryl Catto from the Crafts Council, believes the museum setting is critical: ‘The V&A is perfect – it pushes standards up and puts the work in a special context, introducing the idea of art and craft crossing boundaries,’ she says. ‘Hopefully, this will go a long way towards educating the public, but our aim is primarily to develop new markets and create commercial initiatives.’

The second of a three-year pilot scheme between the Crafts Council and the V&A, Collect appears to have tapped into a hungry market. Visitor figures topped 11 000 for last year’s inaugural show – an encouraging sign for a launch event – but the UK still lags woefully behind in terms of international appreciation of the applied arts. With the hysteria and cult of celebrity that surround British artists and designers alike, the world of craft is decidedly low profile by comparison. In Japan, craft is respected above and beyond fine art, while the big bucks flock twice yearly to the US for the Sculptural Objects and Functional Arts shows in Chicago and New York, which between them attracted 50 000 people in 2004.

Following the success of Collect 2004, applications for this year’s show tripled. Exhibitors were chosen by a selection panel – in total, 43 international galleries and four individual artists’ stands (for those without representation seeking commissions) will be vying for attention. Jewellery and ceramics dominate, but glass and metalwork, furniture and textiles are also for sale. The wares on display are in a different league to those at the Chelsea Crafts Fair: Collect only includes one-off or limited edition work, and prices start from £3000 for an object from an emerging artist, rising steeply for established names. Last year, a black Raku tea bowl from a Tokyo gallery fetched £36 000. ‘Chelsea has helped destroy the church-hall-trestle-table image, but this is aimed towards the top end of the market – at private collectors and public institutions,’ explains Catto. While Chelsea takes place in mid-October – grabbing organised Christmas shoppers – Collect tries to fit in with the more serious purchasing market. Exhibitors would ideally prefer a week in February after tax returns for the new year are submitted, and a time when many large auction houses host contemporary sales attracting collectors from around the world. Unfortunately, since the show is forced to take whatever free slot the V&A can offer in its crowded schedule, this year’s Collect is timed a little early, closing the day before London Art Fair opens and clashing with Palm Beach3, a new Sofa event in Miami. The organisers remain upbeat and unruffled, asserting that their main targets are the European, Japanese and Australian markets. Catto, who headed the Crafts Council’s stand at Sofa Chicago, says feedback on Collect was ‘very positive’.

With a more amenable date set for next year (8-13 February 2006), optimism is running high that the show is set to become a permanent fixture on the international culture calendar.

Design NationDesign Nation’s main role is to link designers with manufacturers, so the collective is more naturally associated with 100% Design than an art/craft event such as Collect. According to director Peta Levi, however, craft and design can learn from one another. ‘The image of craft has improved and the “corn dolly” attitude has largely gone,’ she says. ‘There is a definite link between art and craft, but design and craft also go hand in hand: well-crafted pieces are always well designed – it’s a false divide.

‘Many of the people we represent start out making one-off pieces and we then encourage them to go into mass production. Industry can provide their bread and butter; they can enjoy making one-off pieces on another level.’

Look out for: Wendy Ramshaw – known for her paper and Perspex avant-garde jewellery in the 1960s, now working large-scale on sand-blasted glass panels; Ana Christiansen – beautiful silver bowls

Sarah Myerscough‘Our artists are still establishing themselves and are not yet ready to show internationally, so Collect is great for us,’ explains Sarah Myerscough. Given that she also takes a stand at the London Art Fair, which opens the day after Collect closes, Myerscough is bracing herself for the exhausting task ahead. ‘It’s a huge undertaking: two weeks and two fairs, but being at the V&A, Collect had the kind of context I could feel comfortable with. The quality of the work is extremely high and it should help elevate the standing of craft in the UK,’ she says.

She cites the Arts and Crafts movement and the Bauhaus as historic examples of the symbiotic relationship of craft and design, and is keen to present the gallery’s artists in a clean, white cube space rather than in a traditional craft-shop setting.

Look out for: ceramicists Charlotte Hodes, who has worked with Spode, and Kerry Harker, who has designed for Royal Doulton

BlÃ¥s&KnÃ¥daWith 2005 proclaimed Swedish Year of Design, this Stockholm gallery is fighting to help raise the profile of craft both at home and abroad. According to director Boel Widell, change is long overdue. ‘The world of craft is predominantly female and is given less value than industrial, male-dominated design. We want to show there is a non-domestic side: there is more to us than cups and tableware. By taking part in an art fair, we are showing conceptual pieces and installation work,’ Widell explains.

‘It is not right that craft should be so easily dismissed: our members do everything – they design and make their objects – it is art, design and craft as well. Being a maker and understanding materials and techniques is a really important aspect of the process – this is as great a skill as design.’

Look out for: Barbro Johansson’s Kraus [Ring] and Korg [Basket] series; Gunilla Kihlgren’s dense glass sculpture, Aorta (Elton John has one); Gun Lindblad, who designs glasswork cast in sand, which looks like concrete

Galerie SO, SwitzerlandFelix Flury, director of Swiss Galerie SO, trained in jewellery and metalwork at the Royal College of Art in 1989 and is returning to London for Collect. ‘There is a very strong divide between fine and applied arts in Switzerland – much more so than in the UK,’ he says.

‘Design in Switzerland is not linked with craft at all, and craft has a very low status. The two disciplines should have the same level of recognition: the people doing design, they depend a lot on those with craftsmanship.’

Flury has asked the exhibitors on his stand to create a special edition of ten pieces especially for the show. Among them is metalworker Andreas Fabian, who has created ten silver spoons, which he describes as, ‘very fine and carefully observed, with subtle concave and convex forms’.

Look out for: ceramicist Hans Stofer; metalworker Andreas Fabian

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