The 20th Century British Art Fair – which became the 20/21 British Art Fair in 2000 – is the only fair to specialise exclusively in Modern British Art. It was founded in 1988 in the aftermath of the great Royal Academy show of British Art in 1986 and at the suggestion of the late William Desmond on the premise that Modern British Art (with the exceptions of Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Ben Nicholson) was undervalued and needed a flagship. At that time the market for international modern art was booming and British art was gathering momentum in its slipstream. The age-old inferiority complex about the superiority of French art and, more recently, American art, was disappearing and the art schools were turning out the artists who became the YBA movement, headed by Damien Hirst and his contemporaries.
A basement in the Cumberland hotel in Marble Arch was secured and the fairs first edition was underway. My memory is of the fine carvery some shocking carpet and stunning colourists.. It was a success however and the fair was up and running. A couple of boomy years in the late eighties gave it a great start and enough momentum to carry it through the deep market recession of the early 1990s. Gay Hutson and Angela Wynn (known as Bunny was organising secretary and later a partner) were apparently aided by the recession to buy the fair from its indebted owner, Ivan Winstone. The final really dark year was 1993, when David Bowie was buying so heavily in that market. and 1994 found the fair reviving with the general art market. From there until 2015, the fair established its calm reassuring presence in the London calendar. A short but tantalising break from the RCA saw the fair move to the Commonwealth Institute. The generous spaces gave dealers and their collectors an uplifting feel and it was an interesting clue to the fairs further potential. In 2016, given too little notice by the RCA, Gay and Bunny were forced to miss an edition and it was the friends of the fair who rallied around at this point and encouraged them to find a new home. In 2017 they reconvened at the Mall Galleries, a smaller fair but full of quality , a fair that was frankly looking for a new home and not quite convincing everyone that they had found it. At this point we approached Gay and Bunny and suggested a way to refresh the fair and plan its next stage. There are no better art spaces available in London than the custom-built galleries of Saatchi of Duke of Yorks HQ, and it is here that we all meet again in 2018 and for the foreseeable future, to enjoy the British art of the last 100 years at the British Art Fair.
Robert and Johnny Sandelson