Cause-led craft and co-production: key trends at Collect 2020 - Museums Association

Cause-led craft and co-production: key trends at Collect 2020

Q&A with fair director Isobel Dennis ahead of the opening of the Crafts Council event this week
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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The Crafts Council’s annual acquisitions fair, Collect, is opening its doors this week in its new home at Somerset House in London.

The contemporary craft and design fair brings together work by makers and artists from more than 25 countries around the globe, and is a big draw for museums and galleries seeking to acquire the latest in ceramics, glass, metal, wood and textiles. Ahead of its opening, we spoke to fair director Isobel Dennis about what to look out for at Collect 2020, which runs 27 February to 1 March.

What are the big trends in craft collecting this year?

ID: The range of artists at the fair is huge - they span art jewellery, ceramics, fibre, furniture, glass, lacquer, gold/silversmithing, stone, textile, leather, paper, wood, and several other newer experimental materials.

Over the last decade, ceramics have been increasingly popular at Collect. The secondary market is confident in studio ceramics and this fuels interest from mid-career collectors and new artists who work in the medium of clay. The galleries at Collect carry a really impressive selection of ceramics.

In addition, it feels like the "arts of the kiln" have broadened - this year has seen the most specialist glass galleries we have ever had at the fair. There is a huge range of sculptural forms on show this year, for example, the punk glass of the Swedish Fredrik Nielsen showing with Vessel Gallery, as well as new projects, like work from architect-trained Karyln Sutherland with Bullseye Projects, that will show a new furniture structure of kiln-formed glass and steel.
 
This year, there also seems to be an increasing body of artists and designers collaborating and experimenting with materials and learning from one another. Where ceramics has always been popular, the audience at Collect is becoming more courageous and over the last few years, we’ve seen a larger range of materials being used and combined.

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For this year’s fair, I am looking forward to two artist debuts in unusual materials  - a wall installation by Klari Reis showing with the Cynthia Corbett Gallery, an epoxy polymer of "petri dishes", entitled Hypochondria, and a solo show of beautifully executed – though possibly on the macabre side – wax and polyester resin sculptures of a pig’s head with fruit and flowers, by Rebecca Stevenson at James Freeman Gallery.

How do you see craft evolving in the 2020s?

Material innovation and co-production are two ways we see craft evolving over the coming years. The Anthropocene age, viewed as the period during which human activity was the dominant influence on climate and the environment, has resulted increasingly in new materials being created by makers and designers.

These new materials often blur the lines between what is natural and artificial, and traditional craft materials are also being looked at anew, with objects being created that reflect changes in our societal values. It’s something the Crafts Council has explored through our innovation programme and in Crafts magazine over the years.

Co-production is becoming more common across the creative industries and craft is no exception, with more makers working in collaboration. Three of the Collect Open installations are from collaborations and collaborations on social projects are likely to increase. Granby Workshop was founded by Assemble who will feature in our new exhibition Maker’s Eye. They worked alongside residents from the Granby Four Streets in Liverpool to rebuild their neighbourhood following years of being surrounded by derelict houses.

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The workshop’s first range of products were designed for the houses being renovated. They then developed a distinctive model of designer-led manufacturing, to create more high-quality products giving both a sense of agency and a creative voice to the local community.

How is the relationship changing between makers and cultural institutions?

More institutions are hopefully giving artists and makers permission to challenge the fact that their own exhibitions and collections don’t fully reflect the diversity of the UK’s communities and citizens.

In preparation to the opening of the Crafts Council Gallery on 28 March 2020, space and who programmes it is something that is at the forefront of our minds. Our inaugural exhibition, Maker’s Eye, has been curated by 13 leading designer-makers, who have chosen objects from our large Collection through the lens ‘What does craft mean to you?’. Many of these pieces were subsequently purchased with the support of the Art Fund and all will feature in the exhibition this March. This range of opinion and perspective is an important aspect of our initial exhibition. We need artists, makers, designers, researchers to engage with our institutions and act as change-makers.

Our first craft curatorial fellow, supported by the Artisa Foundation, Shai Akram is a designer, educator and researcher with an interest in how a place or culture informs the way things are made. In a globalised world dominated by mass manufacture, geographic and culturally specific making techniques are in danger of vanishing. Through objects in the Crafts Council Collection, Shai examines making processes as a “language” and whether we can embed this language within objects. 

What are your top tips for someone looking to collect at this year's fair?
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From the beginning, the fair has always been an extremely efficient way of seeing a snapshot of the market from around the world. That’s the case if you’re a collector or a museum curator. One could not physically visit all these galleries independently in such a productive way. Regular collectors go to their favourite galleries, but they always want to know which galleries are new. It’s part of the collector mentality - they are always hungry to learn more.  

The confidence in buying comes from the specialist expertise from our exhibiting galleries. Collectors or new buyers at Collect will experience our galleries’ in-depth knowledge about their artists, their ideas and their practice. Most of the artists showing at the fair will have works already in museum collections, as well as an impressive list of exhibitions in their home country and abroad. We also ask our galleries to introduce new talent, so it is always exciting to see what they consider the next generation of collectable works.

I would encourage any new buyer to look, ask questions but also to be courageous if you are moved by something. It’s exciting to invest in work by living artists and it’s important to be confident to develop your own taste. Whilst there are some “academic” collectors out there, who are very well-read about the historical context of the contemporary work they are buying, most collectors simply buy with an emotional drive and response to what they like and what they want to surround themselves with. 

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