Two Art Fairs Hit London, But Are They Worth Going To?

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 30 months ago
Two Art Fairs Hit London, But Are They Worth Going To?

This weekend there are two art fairs in London — Art15 at Olympia and Photo London at Somerset House. Both have lots of participating galleries, and diverse programmes including exhibitions and talks. Most works are priced beyond the average person's budget so if you're just going for a browse, are they worth the price of admission? We've visited both fairs to provide the inside scoop.

05-1-450/43.  Iceberg between Paulet Island and the South Shetland Islands on the Antarctic Channel.  At sea level, earlier flotation levels are clearly visible where the ice has been polished by the ocean’s constant movement. High above, a shape resembling a castle tower has been carved by wind erosion and detached pieces of ice.  The Antarctic Peninsula. January and February 2005.
There's an exhibition of Salgado prints at Photo London. © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images / nbpictures

Photo London

The marketing for this has been a much lower key affair than Art15's, but Photo London is a sizeable event and an easy one to get lost in, snaking across three wings of Somerset House and over three floors.

It's fantastic for all fans of photography, as there's an excellent selection of international galleries with high quality works, a massive selection of talks, books for sale and some top-notch exhibitions including an impressive selection from the V&A's archive and captivating prints from Sebastiao Salgado.

The downside is that tickets are £20 — especially steep considering there is a supplemental charge for any talks or screenings you wish to attend. Even though we really liked this specialised fair, and actually preferred it over Art15, the ticket price means we'd only recommend it to major fans of photography.

Photo London is on at Somerset House from 21-24 May. Tickets are £20 for adults.

A shot from last year's Art14

Art15

Only in its third iteration this fair already has a chequered past; Art13 was a brilliant opening effort but the event grew too fast and Art14 became a bit of a jumbled sprawl. New fair director Kate Bryan was brought in to shake things up, but has she succeeded?

There's definitely a smaller number of galleries, yet the fair still feels substantial, as each gallery has been given a lot more room to breathe (unlike last year when they felt piled on top of each other). Works are colourful and aesthetically pleasing and this makes things easy to digest; but there's nothing here that really challenges the viewer.

The international angle of galleries from 42 countries doesn't land very well either, as London is already an international city filled with art from across the world. Nothing here feels particularly new.

For those who want their art to stimulate debate or for anyone who frequents London galleries, there's little meat here to sink your teeth into. For anyone after a fun experience that offers a snapshot of the global commercial art world, this is a decent starting point, plus good value for money if you're using the 2 for 1 ticket offer available to Londonist readers.

Art 15 is on at Olympia from 21-23 May. Adult tickets are £15 when booked in advance, £20 on the door.

Also see our video guide on how to make the most out of an art fair and our guide to buying art.

Last Updated 21 May 2015