START Art Fair opens its third edition on September 15th in London. Located in the unique Saatchi Gallery, this new (compared to others) art fair is a star on the rise. Apart from featuring and showcasing emerging artists and galleries from all over the world, the fair also stands out for its curatorial projects. This year’s START Projects present works by Iraq-born and Qatari-based artist Mahmoud Obaidi.

The director of START is Niru Ratnam (check out his twitter). A believer in cultural globalization, Ratnam, who previously worked as Head of Development at Art14, brings the multicultural drive and global focus to the fair. We talked about START, London’s art scene and what Brexit could potentially mean for the art world.


What was the initial idea behind START and what is new in its third edition opening next week?

The idea behind START is very simple – an art fair set in a museum-quality location that focuses on emerging artists and new art scenes. There are lots of great art fairs around Europe so we wanted to do something that was a bit different – where you could go to and come away with a series of new discoveries. Ideally we want each visitor to go away with interests in artists and gallerists who they haven’t come across before. In terms of the setting, I wanted to move away from the trade show type venues that most art fairs go for and do something in the type of place that you’d normally visit for an exhibition – hence the Saatchi Gallery is our base.

In terms of what’s different, this year around half of the galleries participating are showing single artist presentations in START Solo — so the mixture of group presentations and solo presentations resembles the programme of a typical commercial gallery. We also have four fantastic Projects ranging from in-depth presentations of one artist’s practice to a vibrant group show of Taiwanese art and an artist-curated project.

Apart from its boutique-like setting at Saatchi Gallery, how does START differ from other art fairs happening in London?

We try to have quite a tight focus—on emerging artists and new art scenes. So the emphasis is very much on discovering artists and galleries who are new to you. Lots of these galleries are new to London audiences, so hopefully that gives the fair a little bit of a unique flavour.

START is relatively small scale compared to other art fairs. Would you think of expansion?

I  think fair organizers are realizing that viewers, no matter how expert, can only meaningfully look at a certain amount of art and artists at a fair. At a certain point, no matter how good a fair is, it becomes a blur, which means that the good stuff you seen gets forgotten. Also in terms of collectors, it just gets too confusing if there is too much to see.

How do you select artists for START Projects?

Travel! Seeing a lot and listening to hints from other people. This year, for instance, I’m delighted to bring Sumakshi Singh’s project to London having initially seen it at Exhibit320 in India earlier this year.
Obaidi, Peace. Project Confusianism. Courtesy of START.

Obaidi, Peace. Project Confusianism. Courtesy of START.

Again the emphasis is very much on looking at new art scenes in a bit more depth, so the opportunity to showcase Mahmoud Obaidi’s work in advance of his major museum show in Qatar, introducing him to London audiences at START makes perfect sense. He is exactly the type of artist that START is all about –somebody with a strong reputation in the region where he works but one who deserves recognition on a wider stage — and his participation as both artist and a curator in START Projects emphasizes the important role that established artists play in nurturing emerging talent in new art scenes where there is a relative scarcity of public institutions.

What are your future ambitions for START?

We tend to take each edition one at a time – we’re not a big art fair or organisation that will suddenly roll out three similar fairs around the world. So the main plan is simply to deliver a really great edition again!

What are your views on cultural globalisation being even more pronounced now due to political changes both in the UK and the world?

I think globalisation is a super-important topic right now particularly after Brexit, and I want the projects to show both the amazing positive side of globalisation but also some of the serious issues that have come with it. I have strongly advocated a globalised approach to art. I think that the cultural side of globalisation is needed, and needs to be stressed as a way of counter-acting the purely economic side of globalisation. In the light of Brexit, I am more convinced than ever that is important to affirm a belief in what cultural globalisation can bring to all of us.
Mark Grubb, For a Short Moment I Felt Nothing. Courtesy of Syson Gallery.

Mark Grubb, For a Short Moment I Felt Nothing. Courtesy of Syson Gallery.

Do you think London will still remain the heart of the art industry or will it shift in view of Brexit?

What Brexit really means is still unclear, as it seems very unlikely that too much is going to happen too soon. However, I would certainly expect less speculation for a while, at least in the London auction houses. I think the most important thing is to make a statement on where I think the majority of the UK’s art world are on this matter, and so to affirm an international outlook. Post the Brexit decision it is even more important for the art world to lead the way embracing globalisation and showing what a force for good it can be – so I’m glad that we’re showing galleries from so many different parts of the world.
SEE, LEARN, DISCOVER at START Art Fair September 15-18th at Saatchi Gallery.
 

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