Lizzie Glendinning, Founder and Director of the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair and Brocket Gallery, is leading the revolution of print in the art world.
Alongside fellow founder, and husband, artist Jack Bullen, the pair showcase the best of contemporary print artists on a huge scale, uniquely combining household names such as Paula Rego, Tracey Emin, Frank Auerbach and Chris Ofili with early-career artists.
Lizzie Speaks to Cassandra Bowes on how the fair came to be and her experience of launching the 2020 edition in the midst of a global pandemic, forcing a complete re-think of the fair which has ultimately expanded their reach to a larger, more international audience.
CB: Hi Lizzie, you're the Director of Brocket Gallery and Woolwich Contemporary Art Fair. Can you tell us a bit about both, and how you got to where you are?
LG: I established Brocket in 2014 with my (now) husband, artist, Jack Bullen. Our core objective is working with artists who are informed by process, whose practice material is the protagonist in the work as opposed to the depiction. We champion a lot of artists who utilise and adapt traditional working techniques for contemporary narratives.
We tested the water with a ‘pop-up’ exhibition of two recent graduates from City & Guilds. We wanted to recreate the high-end spaces of Mayfair I’d been working in, but for emerging artists, and accessible to the general public. Brocket Gallery began and we took a Kennington space until late 2018 when we felt it was time for a larger space and a greater artist offering. We have been lucky enough to host some incredible new artists, residencies, and collector events. I have been focussing on a number of online exhibitions while I had a baby and focused on the Fair this past year, but relaunching physically with just myself at the helm with some exciting artist projects in spring 2021.
WCPF evolved from an evening I would host at the gallery called ‘New Collector Evenings’. We would use original print from some of our portfolio artists as a way to introduce works generally at lower price points, given the nature of editions, and educate guests on how original print can be a great way to learn about fine art techniques, discover new artists, develop tastes, and build confidence in talking about contemporary art and their choices, as well as how print is a great medium to introduce bigger named artists to your collection.
A client of ours worked with the developers of the Royal Arsenal site in Woolwich. Jack and I are huge fans of the Venice Biennale and felt inspired by how fine art has regenerated their Arsenale and wanted to achieve something similar within our own incredible historic site. The ex-industrial spaces are complete architectural delights, demonstrating the significance of the area, albeit controversial, in terms of UK industrial history.
We took over the former carriage works for a temporary solo artist exhibition in the summer of 2016 which was well received and we were invited to take on something more regularly. So with a 2 months lead time we did a Kickstarter campaign and invited around 150 artists we admired and established Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair.
"WCPF evolved from an evening I would host at the gallery called ‘New Collector Evenings’. We would use original print from some of our portfolio artists as a way to introduce works generally at lower price points, given the nature of editions, and educate guests on how original print can be a great way to learn about fine art techniques, discover new artists, develop tastes, and build confidence in talking about contemporary art and their choices, as well as how print is a great medium to introduce bigger named artists to your collection."- Lizzie Glendinning
We have quickly become the UK’s largest dedicated fair for original contemporary print, and as far as we can see, there is nothing of this scale in the world that specialises in new approaches to the making, curation and collecting of original contemporary print.
LG: We are unique in hosting a 50/50 model - half specialist galleries and half a curated exhibition of individual artists whose works hang along some of the biggest known names in contemporary print. We’ve been lucky enough to show Paula Rego, Tracey Emin, Frank Auerbach, Chris Ofili, Stephen Chambers and so many other artists I admire, and our specialist galleries also bring some big name artists.
I’ve spent over 15 years within gallery and contemporary art environments whether for leading private dealers, big commercial galleries and auction houses, or non-for-profit and museum collections. I love the diverse nature of what I do, but naturally it has had its challenges - I’ve taken on some dire jobs to fund internships or independent curatorial projects at the beginning of my career. Setting up our own company was fairly organic and unplanned, we were living very much week by week and learning on the job. It was so much more of a challenge than the creative idyll we might have had in mind, but has been completely worth it and we are now championing hundreds of individual artists a year, commissioning large scale projects and working with so many creatives I admire.
CB: This year, Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair was forced to go online due to Covid-19. You’ve created a virtual online fair instead that is as close as it can be to a real-life fair: engaging, interactive, and gives equal importance to all the works on show. Tell us about how you have presented the fair online, and what was most important to you?
LG: WCPF : The Online Edition runs 12 November - 13 December is showcasing nearly 1000 artworks from from over 500 artists and specialist galleries.
It is an interactive ‘walk-through’ exhibition, built to resemble our usual Royal Arsenal space. The developers, who are a small German company called Kunstmatrix, have gone to such an incredible effort to include small architectural details to make the space as familiar as possible. They also offer the opportunity to curate ‘side’ exhibitions in some beautiful online gallery spaces, which has been perfect in giving people as close to the live experience as possible, and the ability to get up and engage closely with works of art in some curated edits.
We’ve worked hard to make navigation as easy as possible, with the aforementioned ‘Edits’ such as ‘Collector Picks’, Prize Winners’, ‘Work Under £100’, ‘Women Artists’ etc.; we have an Artist Directory with all exhibitors through the Fair, including the galleries, and the ability to jump directly to the work of art with in the booth. We have a month long programme of talks, tours, demos and discussions with leading creatives, curators and collectors. While we are sad not to physically present some of the commissioned artist projects, like our central installations, we’ve still been able to launch our new collaborative project, Woolwich Contemporary Studio with four incredible artists who have created designs for wall coverings and interior fabrics.
We have also launched the inaugural Young London Print Prize, working with over 500 primary children in South East London across 13 schools, delivering print workshops. You can see the finalists in Booth 24 of the Fair, and winner, Angel’s, fantastic abstract which has gathered some wonderful local press. The finalists were selected by young adults across 3 sixth forms, so it has got people of all ages involved with the Fair and the prize. It is such an incredible initiative led by our Head of Board, Matt Bell and our arts educator Izzy. I can’t tell you how proud I feel.
For us, the most important thing was to be able to create a bold, interactive, educational and engaging platform to showcase all of our independent artists and specialist galleries. We are beginning to get a reputation as being leaders in this field, people are relying on us to showcase the best in contemporary print and we don’t want to let anyone, or ourselves, down, and we want the opportunity to keep growing despite all the obstacles. A big plus is that we’ve gone from being fairly regional to completely international!!
CB: What were the biggest challenges you experienced in putting on an online fair?
LG: Finding a platform that could translate the interactive remit of the Fair. Navigating funding losses due to COVID. Alongside the exhibiting galleries that have been given their own booths to curate, we have over 500 pieces to hang by independent artists, and we wanted to make sure that each piece was a true representation of the work when presented digitally - so we were curating with constant feedback from hundreds of artists which was crazy. With the physical, you have the piece in your hand, you can see the true colour, the scale etc. A digital platform works from translating data as opposed to ‘eye’ or any academics - for instance, if an artist has made a simple - there is a big difference between a work being 50cm or 500cm.
It’s been so tough. It’s our 5th year, which for anyone who has set up their own company will know, it’s the make or break year....and having to cancel the physical edition of the fair was a huge decision. We’d already planned, then replanned, and implemented the first stages of an online event to compliment the live one. But ultimately we made the right decision - we wouldn’t have been able to continue providing this platform for artists if we had invested in to something that would have been forced to closed down.
And now we have the all singing and dancing interactive online fair for the entirety of Lockdown 2.0!!
CB: How do you select the artworks included in the Fair?
LG: For the Curated Exhibition, we host an annual international open call - this year we received nearly 1000 artist applications of up to 6 artworks each. It’s a giant administrative task and very different to the usual art fair model.
We invite a panel of industry experts who generously volunteer their time to select works. It’s a completely democratic process based on work only. The nature of the selection panel means different tastes are catered for, but ultimately, you can’t buy bad.
What is exciting is that we have a fresh and diverse collection of works each year that can come from anywhere in the world. It gives an opportunity for self- employed artists, emerging or mid-career, to show in a large-scale, high calibre art fair, which might not happen unless represented by a gallery.
CB: You are also hosting a month-long programme of virtual talks, panels and live demonstrations alongside the fair. How important is it to do these events?
LG: I think the accompanying programme is vital for contextualising a lot of the work on display when visitors can’t experience it in real life. The Fair celebrates the making of original print and the varying intricate techniques and versatility of the medium. At the physical event we have constant demonstrations and ‘have-a-go’ opportunities for guests to fully immerse themselves and understand the work and technical ability behind each piece. Luckily we work with a number of great printmaking studios who have offered to bring live demos through our webinar or Instagram platforms so audiences can experience the processes as best they can right now. Similarly, we are usually on-hand for collecting advice, curatorial help, hanging and so on. Our Living With Art space always offers new ways to curate work in the home, and our exhibiting galleries are on hand to provide more information about their own presentations.
We have covered all this and more within our online program - from introductions to and Fair Highlights with our Director and galleries, Art & Interiors panels with our Curator and leading designers and writers, to art mystery, making, and buying - with collector tips from leading creatives, curators and collectors, auction house secrets and artist discussions. I am so excited about the offering this year - there really is something to suit any interest.
''It’s our 5th year, which for anyone who has set up their own company will know, it’s the make or break year....and having to cancel the physical edition of the fair was a huge decision. We’d already planned, then replanned, and implemented the first stages of an online event to compliment the live one. But ultimately we made the right decision - we wouldn’t have been able to continue providing this platform for artists if we had invested in to something that would have been forced to closed down.
And now we have the all singing and dancing interactive online fair for the entirety of Lockdown 2.0!!'' - LIZZIE GLENDINNING
CB: Has this experience encouraged you to embrace the virtual more in the future? Or are you looking forward to getting back to the physical edition of the fair?!
LG: Absolutely!! Next year both the physical AND digital will be working hand in hand to create the best experience it can be. We are reaching such wide audiences - it’s a real thrill.
But ultimately I’m a Curator and what I love about my job is the tactile nature of working up close with artworks, objects, collections. I am naturally pretty tech averse - it’s been a giant learning curve.
CB: What are your top 3 works from the fair?
LG: This is tough but I’ll go with 3 from the open call artists:
- Maite Cascón, Tricksters Tree I
- Sergio Suarez, Rowers (Redundancia)
- Nana Shiomi, Her Own Interpretation
CB: Maite Cascón, Tricksters Tree I is one of my top picks, too! Why is print such an important medium that everyone should include in their collections?
LG: It is incredibly diverse. The nature of having editions can mean the price points can be more accessible, making it easier to experiment with artists, personal tastes, types of print. It is a great way to be introduced to an artist’s process and to learn about their technical ability. This can lead on to approaching the way you view their other work if they produce sculpture or painting for instance, as well as having a good working amount of ‘art speak’ for discussing your collection.
It can be a fantastic way to get famous names in to your collection at a fraction of the cost of larger painterly works for example, but also a varied and dynamic medium to collect in its own right. There is a lot of social history behind print and access to information, as well as being the historic means by which artists could spread their name.
Investment wise - editions or comparable works in an artist’s series can often be found on the secondary market quite early on. There can sometimes be a tier system for works which can see a return almost immediately if the work is coveted. So it can be an exciting avenue to explore if you are keen to follow the market and delve in to specialist fairs and auction houses.
Lizzie's 2021 Fair Picks
CB: What advice would you give to collectors considering buying artwork online?
LG: Buy from a reputable platform who will have done their due diligence. Find out more about the artist and their practice.
Try to get photographs of up close detail - or ask for more details if not available - sizes, paper type - this can all effect framing (if works on paper)/display, and where you put it. What it is you like about their work? - this can lead to inspiring collector journeys you might not have gone on.
CB: What's next for you?
LG: It will take a couple of months to close up WCPF20 then we will be straight in to WCPF21, planning our Open Call campaign, writing funding applications, signing up galleries and partners.
I am working on a number of curatorial projects for the gallery in spring where I will be launching a new offering, our core portfolio of artists is smaller so I can work on giving them bigger opportunities. It is not fair on the artists to spread myself too thin and I want to maintain the highest quality of work.
CB: Who is inspiring you most in the art world right now?
LG: I am loving these women curators who are using social media as a platform to introduce audiences to the academic side of curating. For so long I was getting demoralised as a trained curator, feeling the practice was being diluted for ‘likes’, or the term thrown around, but now it is being celebrated for the dynamic and groundbreaking work it can be. Contextualising and re-contextualising, forming new, exciting, pertinent, narratives to art, fashion, objects, collections and so on.
Creating accessible platforms for wider engagement and introducing new audiences to new areas of interest. It’s such an important part of everyday approaches to cultural knowledge - and it can be so misrepresented as fannying about looking at pictures! It’s bloody hard (& rewarding) work - creatively and physically (I’m always lifting, hanging, hammering and forever filling). So I’m thrilled it’s being celebrated.
Thank you, Lizzie! We love what you've done with the fair this year, and can't wait to see what's next for WCPF
WCPF : The Online Edition runs 12 November - 13 December, and you can view it here
See Cassandra Bowes's top 10 picks from the fair here
Follow Lizzie on Instagram here
Follow Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair here
Follow Brocket Gallery here