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Collect is back and buzzing!

by Stephen Prendergast

Published: April 2017

Andrea Salvatori, Urna, 2015 glazed earthenware, cm.40x43x43 Photo Dario Lasagni

Stephen Prendergast visited Collect earlier this year and reports that...

Collect is back and buzzing!

The Crafts Council's annual show piece exhibition returned to the beautiful Saatchi Gallery after skipping a year to accommodate the Rolling Stones blockbuster exhibition. Collect is back and it's bigger, more composite, and buzzing with creative energy. 

Thirty-seven galleries presented a breathtaking range of craft art from the UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, UAE and the USA. What these galleries bring to Collect is the essence of the show; wonderfully inventive, lovingly crafted works of art. There was so much craft on show it was impossible to see everything in a single visit; you get to the point where the senses are overwhelmed. But there is more to Collect than just viewing superbly crafted objets d'art. 

Work by Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry held centre stage. Two of his Essex House tapestries have been purchased by the Crafts Council for its national collection of contemporary craft, and they proved popular with visitors. They are delightful works of art which tell a fictional story of a twice-married Essex girl called Julie Cope who was born in Canvey Island, raised in Basildon, and had the misfortune to die in an accident with a pizza delivery scooter. These pieces are big works of art and they were well displayed. Visitors could get close to the tapestries and marvel at the complexity of the work. The tapestries form part of a project called A House for Essex, and there is an actual house designed by Grayson Perry in collaboration and FAT Architecture, where you can stay. The house sleeps four and anyone wanting to stay should go online and enter a ballot.

Craft art has undergone a revival in recent years and judging by the crowds attending Collect the phenomenon is picking up speed. At the opening ceremony, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, Chair of the Crafts Council, commented on this point. He said: "According to the government's survey, nearly one adult in four is involved in some form of craft in their spare time. Nearly four million people engaged with Crafts Council programmes over the last year. Crafts Council exhibitions and loans were seen in fifty-three venues across the country, and we found a huge international interest as we showcased British craft globally." 

Collect is full of contrasts: much of the craft is empirically inspired, but glass artist Shelley James' work is totally conceptual in origin. In the middle of a small darkened room, sitting on a chest high plinth, there sat a single glass object lit from below by tiny LED lights. It looked like something from a sci-fi movie. Shelley had used a special kind of glass which absorbs ultraviolet light so there was an intense glow within the glass. The form of the piece is based on the dodecahedron, a pentagonal three-dimensional shape having twelve equal plane faces. The dodecahedron is one of Plato's mysterious five elemental solids, discussed at length in Timaeus, one of his famous dialogues.

Shelley's piece attracted quite a crowd. She stood in the dimly lit room answering questions, patiently explaining what her work is about. She said the piece 'had drawn inspiration from connections between pioneering research into the five-fold symmetry of viruses and meteors, and Kepler's fascination with the beautiful form that he called the flag of life': "The stellated, or starshaped dodecahedron, represents the principle of equilibrium, a state of perfect balance achieved at the point of minimum energy. The installation is made of 20-modules, each cast in glass from a 3D print."

The brilliantly named Madeinbritaly gallery also attracted a lot of interest. This was their first visit to Collect. Gallery director Marco Venturi was full of praise for the event: "Madeinbritaly is a newly established contemporary applied art gallery – we only opened in January 2016 – and Collect is the most important contemporary applied art exhibition, I would say, in Europe. So it was a bold statement of what we want to do. I think the Crafts Council is doing an amazing job in positioning Collect at the right end of the market. So for us it was an opportunity to make a clear statement of the kind of work that we are doing."

Marco said he found Collect extraordinary: "First of all the location was great, everything was well handled and the communication was flawless. The flow of people at the fair was very good over the five days, and I do like the fact it was extended to five days. So I think we reached the right audience for our curatorial direction which is very, very precise."

But what really impressed Marco was meeting so many collectors who are now buying contemporary crafts: "So I think we are in the right moment to get through to those two overlapping borders of contemporary art and contemporary craft. I had the luck to speak with a lot of people who are really, really into contemporary craft art – I mean history of art references, making, material and media references. People who really appreciated the story, the concept and the making." Marco's impression of a resurgent market for contemporary craft art is supported by Crafts Council figures released shortly after the show ended: close-of-show sales figures were estimated at £1.5 million, and the figure will probably rise when post-show commissions and sales are factored in; 'attendance was high', there were over 14,000 visitors. 

In the post event press release, Rosy Greenlees, Crafts Council Executive Director, stated: “The quality of the work was exemplary and we’re delighted that we had our largest ever number of visitors at the Saatchi Gallery reflecting what a tremendous experience Collect is for anyone who has an interest in contemporary craft.”

She is bang on with the 'anyone'. Collect feeds all the right audiences for craft art: the aesthetic loving public, art collectors, students, and educationalists. Roll on 2018.


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