Jonathan Burton has been Director of the successful London Art Fair since 2005. We caught up with him ahead of the 2013 event to find out more about their future plans and how they expect the fair to perform this year ...
Q) Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you started working in the art world?
A) Prior to joining London Art Fair I had been Head of Marketing for Tate – primarily the two London galleries – and before that Head of Marketing for English National Opera. In some ways both roles were an extension of something I had always done – persuading friends to accompany me to the opera or an exhibition - to share my enthusiasm and to get someone to try something new.
Q) You’ve been directing the London Art Fair since 2005, how much has the programme changed during that time?
A) The Fair continues to evolve in relation to the market it serves. We introduced Art Projects in 2005 to offer a subsidised platform for new work and younger galleries. It allowed galleries already in the main section of the Fair to present a solo show or perhaps less commercial work in a critical context and offered a route into the Fair for new spaces with limited resources. This year it features the best of the emerging contemporary scene, from the East End, South London (Deptford and Peckham), Fitzrovia and outside London.
Photography has come to prominence. We introduced Photo50 in 2007 and the exhibitions have grown in stature each year: Nick Hackworth, Director of Paradise Row presents ‘A Cyclical Poem’ this year. This in turn has stimulated galleries across the Fair to bring the widest photographic practice.
Q) What do you think the London Art Fair offers that is unique from other iconic UK based fairs such as Frieze and the British Art Fair for example?
A) London Art Fair looks to enable collecting at all levels from those buying their first work to major collectors. I think the atmosphere is supportive and we look to deliver a high level of customer service and a welcoming atmosphere. The Fair uniquely represents a broad art ecology from artist collectives to younger emerging galleries through to the large ‘blue chip’ galleries of Mayfair.
There is an inherent theatricality to our venue, the Business Design Centre, that creates a special atmosphere – the Fair has a buzz about it that is unique.
Generally speaking I think the various London fairs are complimentary – serving different parts of the market or having a different geographic emphasis.
Q) The London Art Fair has a very loyal fan base of visitors who return year on year and have done so since it began – what do you think keeps drawing people back?
A) I think its inclusivity and getting the balance right between offering visitors something with which they are familiar and presenting something new.
Q) How has the visitor experience changed during your time as Director to keep things fresh?
A) Aside from ensuring the gallery content is the best it can be, our public programme of talks, discussions and tours has developed in a really exciting way. We expect to offer 17 talks/discussions during the Fair this year and 11 tours – all free to attend. Speakers encompass the BBC’s Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, Charles Saumarez Smith from the Royal Academy and Iwona Blazwick from Whitechapel Gallery amongst others.
Q) Have there been any stands or artworks exhibited at the fair in recent years which stand out in your mind as being particularly special?
A) I always enjoy the large Patrick Heron paintings from the 60s and 70s – there will be some fine examples this year – and a Lowry portrait last year lingers in the mind – dark and expressionistic – not at all what we usually associate with the artist. I thought David Birkin’s photography in Photo50 last year was particularly powerful and I enjoy Adam Dix’s prints and paintings. A Sophie Ristelhueber piece from one of the early Photo50 exhibitions called ‘Because of Dust Breeding’ – now one of her better known works – I really admire.
Q) What do you think will be the stand out highlights of the 2013 London Art Fair?
A) Modern British collectors are currently demanding the best pieces – so we are expecting galleries to bring out their finest work – and Art Projects should be incredibly strong.
Q) As visitor and dealer numbers increase, are you ever tempted to move London Art Fair to a larger venue?
A) I don’t think so – the Fair is associated with the venue and we have a loyal North London audience.
Q) How important a role do you think frame design plays in the presentation and preservation of fine art and ultimately its saleability at art fairs?
A) The right frame can really lift a work – can make a piece ‘sing’. Particularly with works on paper and photography the right frame will protect your investment.
Q) On a more personal note, do you have any favourite London haunts where you like to relax and gain head space in between your busy day job?
A) I relax in my garden – not very Rock and Roll I know – and I belong to Camberwell Music Group – which meets monthly and we run it rather like a book group; one of us introduces a piece of classical music each month and then – importantly – we have lunch. A lovely way to discover new things.