We were founded in 1989 by London’s Business Design Centre in Islington – where the Fair still takes place today – with the aim of providing a space to showcase the most exceptional modern and contemporary art of our time, to discover and to buy. We launched with just 36 UK galleries (some of whom still exhibit at the Fair today) and have grown steadily over the following years; at our most recent edition in January 2019 we welcomed around 130 galleries and 20,000 attendees.
Whilst we still provide a home for outstanding modern British art, we have embraced an increasingly international and contemporary outlook, with new galleries from around the world expanding our offer and reach – these now make up 25% of our exhibitors, and continue to grow. We nurture collecting at all levels, from prints and editions starting in the hundreds, to major works by internationally renowned artists (notable sales at the 2019 Fair included works by Elisabeth Frink, Alan Davie, L. S. Lowry and Roy Lichtenstein). We provide a platform for nurturing talent too, and have played host to acclaimed artists early in their career as well as established names, with Chris Ofili and Jenny Saville awarded ‘rising star’ awards at the 1996 edition.
We know that our audience seeks innovative and interactive ways to engage with art, and to that end we continue to develop our talks, tours, screenings and curated spaces, which include Photo50, our annual exhibition of contemporary photography; Art Projects, which features large-scale installations, solo shows and group displays; and – within Art Projects – Dialogues, a guest-curated section of Art Projects intended to encourage and foster relationships on a global scale. Since 2014, we have also selected a regional museum partner to work with each year, who creates a unique exhibition that enables our visitors to experience the heritage, quality and significance of regional collections. For the 2019 Fair we partnered with the award-winning Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, home to an acclaimed collection of nearly 5,000 artworks.