In 1967, two Cologne-based artists launched the Cologne Art Market. It was the first event where gallerists were invited to set up temporary booths that showcased their artists. The next year an alternative fair was started groups in Basel’s, which unlike the Cologne predecessor, was open to foreign gallerists. With these two events, the concept of the art fair was born. Now there are hundreds of art fairs from Dhaka to Johannesburg that pull in vast crowds and can attract significant coverage in the mainstream media. Here, Niru Ratnam director of START – launching at the Saatchi Gallery this June – explains the motivation behind this new bespoke fair.

Mohau Modisakeng, 'Inzilo', 2013

                Mohau Modisakeng, ‘Inzilo’, 2013

The idea behind START is very simple- to allow young galleries to showcase interesting new artists from around the world. The art world has become much more global in the past few years. Where once it was possible to stay abreast of contemporary art by looking at what was going on in New York, Berlin and London, now art scenes have appeared worldwide. START includes galleries from Australia, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa, UK and USA amongst other countries. The focus on young artists gives the fair a consistent thread and provides the opportunity for collectors and art enthusiasts alike to discover new talent. It also reflects the fact that many emerging art scenes around the world have had relatively little exposure to international audiences to date. These are new art markets that are aware of what has been going on in the traditional centres of the art world such as London and New York but retain their own strong local influences and are striking out, doing their own thing.
START reflects the wider changes happening in the art world, particularly globalisation. Twenty-five years ago Magicians de la Terre at the Pompidou Centre was the first major museum exhibition to have the premise that what was being made in Dakar should be shown in the same exhibitions as what was being made in London or Paris. At the time it was a subversive idea that was hotly debated (and sometimes even denounced) in the art world press. Now it is an accepted concept but the concomitant result is that unless you spend all of your time on planes, you need art fairs and the internet to negotiate all the developments going on in a contemporary globalised art world.
Leonard Hamill, 'Painting I Krakow', 2009

Leonard Hamill, ‘Painting I Krakow’, 2009

Critics of globalisation argued that it could lead to homogenisation, and some critics argued that globalisation would lead to contemporary art looking the same wherever it was produced. A fair like START disproves this. Artists often still look to local cues, concerns and visual traditions as the basis of their work- for example there is no history of abstraction in Indian art, so its contemporary art also tends to shy away from its influence. In fact one of the challenges of making a fair that is both global and concentrates on very new art is that there are more visual discontinuities than a fair that is premised around a more local scene. Visitors will move from gallery to gallery and there will be visual jumps as well as surprising connections.
Christine AY TJOE, 'Left Layer and Right Layer', 2010

Christine AY TJOE, ‘Left Layer and Right Layer’, 2010

London is very fortunate in that it has a wide range of galleries already- what an art fair like START can do is provide an initiative that introduces a new world of young galleries to its art-viewing public, broadening what they might normally see. If the visitors come out having discovered some new artists and galleries they had not come across before then the fair and its team will have done their job. We are all looking forward to discovering the work of many new artists.

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