Contemporary Art Market: Showcase will test level of interest in modern works: Galleries attracted to fair that succeeds by catering to British tastes

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THE LEVEL of British interest in contemporary art will be tested this week by Art 94, the contemporary art fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington, north London. With the demise of the international contemporary fair at Olympia, Islington is now the showcase event for British galleries. It runs from Wednesday to Sunday and will include 70 exhibitors.

The signs are set fair. The success of Art 93, with 21,000 visitors and record sales, has attracted leading galleries which had regarded it as too 'local' an event. The biggest catch is the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, which handles more of the big names of the international avant- garde than any other gallery in Britain. In deference to British taste, d'Offay will be showing British figurative art by Michael Andrews, Leon Kossoff and Richard Hamilton - rather old hat by international standards - but they will also have international stars such as Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Lawrence Weiner.

Marlborough Fine Art will be showing a cross-section of the painters it represents, including the popular British artists Stephen Conroy and Therese Oulton. 'We were disappointed in Olympia,' Geoffrey Parton, a director, said. 'It was too big and died the death. Islington is more vibrant and interesting. It seems to get collectors.'

The success of the Islington fair, now in its sixth year, has resulted from accurately assessing British taste and ensuring that it is catered for. The art on offer is mainly figurative, though not as blatantly old fashioned as the Royal Academy Summer Show. The cutting edge, as defined by museum shows and the Turner Prize, is broadly eschewed. British collectors are happiest with contemporary artists who are reworking the themes of classic modernism and the pounds 400 to pounds 6,000 price range is preferred.

Karsten Schubert, who represents the Turner Prize winner, Rachel Whiteread, is showing at the fair for the first time. He is not showing his younger artists, but is mounting a mini-retrospective of Bridget Riley - 25 drawings from 1963 to 1993 priced between pounds 4,000 and pounds 6,500.

By contrast, Leslie Waddington, who showed at Art 93, has decided to opt out. He said: 'It's too much a local market. There's no international context and we're basically an international gallery.' Other galleries, such as Lisson, are not participating because they feel 'the general level of quality is not sufficiently high'.

The new organiser, Lucy Sicks, came over from the Contemporary Art Society last April and has pulled out all the stops. The society is organising a 'Starters' Corner' of works worth less than pounds 750 from exhibiting galleries. Two other new features are Photo 94, an exhibition of eight of Britain's most innovative photographers, and an exhibition of contemporary artists' books, including works by Andy Goldsworthy, Patrick Caulfield and Richard Long.

(Photograph omitted)