Welcoming the new year with open arms, Art World Forum is proud to be collaborating with one of London’s most reputable art fairs, START. Scheduled to launch its 5th annual edition this year in September, we catch up with Samir Ceric, newly appointed CEO of START Art Fair.
- As one of the key events in London, please introduce us to START. Who founded START? How did it all begin? What was the objective?
START was founded by David and Serenella Ciclitira (of Parallel Contemporary Art ), huge art patrons and art lovers and Charles Saatchi of Saatchi Gallery 5 years ago and the ambition has always been to discover emerging talent from all over the world and give them a launch-pad to get noticed, discovered and more successful. It’s had 4 successful editions and has made the press pages of most reputable publications as well as TV channels in the UK and globally. It continued engaging with the audience with amazing curatorial projects which challenged the space and the viewer and its founders’ passion and love for art and art patronage gave many artists and galleries their first proper break in the art industry. START aims to introduce an exciting new generation of galleries and artists to an international audience and provide an insight into the future of contemporary art. Galleries from all around the world have participated bringing a snapshot of exciting art from around the world to London each year. In four years the fair has quickly gained a strong critical reputation and is regarded by London’s collector set as the place to discover some of the world’s most exciting artists unknown to them.
- What is the significance of the brand name ‘START’?
START could be looked at and interpreted in a number of different ways however the way we see it as a true Launchpad and an opportunity to kick START not just your career, be it for an independent artist or a gallery, but kick START the real breakthrough of your career and your art business. All those being selected to exhibit at START @ Saatchi Gallery are already career artists and serious galleries however like with any career, in order for it to be truly successful and commercially viable, it requires a number of career breakthroughs and we at START want to become known for kick starting these breakthroughs by attracting some of the best and the most exciting art from around the world. London is such an important city for a career of any creative individual and/or enterprise and through London we have access to the creative industries from all around the world. Hence if you get London right, you have a high probability of success. Of course no success comes easy or happens overnight … Every successful artist ad gallery have an amazing infrastructure around them that includes serious, credible and reputable industry players including collectors, curators, art institutions, corporate sponsors and at times investors. START aims to be not only an art fair one exhibits 1 week a year; under my leadership and direction we want to create an all year round brand that is there on hand to its exhibitors throughout the year, building the above infrastructure, and promoting and creating opportunities for these individuals and organisations all year round as opposed to just giving them the Saatchi platform and delivering 10,000 visitors attending the 4 days of exhibiting, presenting and trading.
- Since your inception in 2014, what have you achieved? Perhaps provide a couple of examples of notable experiences, opportunities or activities.
There’s been many credible achievements but worth mentioning is TeamLab who had a ‘project space’ at the fair in 2015. This got some great press and they then went onto exhibit at a blue-chip establishment, Pace Gallery in 2016. Also there have been numerous examples of galleries selling out their stands but more importantly creating new relationships with reputable collectors and institutions which ended up helping develop and grow their gallery businesses. One such example is One East Asia which had requests for additional artworks to be added to their booth, having sold out. Last but not least, the 2017 edition had a blockbuster artist success in Liu Bolin performance and all major media heavyweights covered the story including Sky News, London Live, The Telegraph, The Art Newspaper, Vanity Fair, The Times, The Evening Standard, to name a few. This year’s edition reached out tens of millions of readers in dozens of articles in the UK and internationally too.
- What do you aim to achieve in the next few years? How are you inviting change (if any)?
2018 is somewhat a re-birth of START and as their new CEO, my team and I, including its founders David and Serenella Ciclitira and Nigel Hurst, CEO of Saatchi and our Co-Chair of Select Committee, have huge aspirations and ambitions … We really want to become the most successful fair for non-blue chip artists and galleries, filling in the gap between artist led fairs and blue chip fairs like Art Basel and Frieze and offer a memorable experience during the fair but more importantly and as mentioned above, help build serious infrastructure around all our exhibitors. We are launching START Collectors Club on 1 February 2018 in partnership with an award winning and a Michelin star restaurant called AquaVit which will be our home for bringing together like minded people in a home type setting with an opportunity to meet a couple of artists or galleries each dinner who are a part of START exhibitors. In this way, we plan to engage with art patrons and art buyers early on in the year and present to them all these galleries and artists we will be working with in 2018 and beyond. We want to be the fair that is highly successful when it comes down to galleries and artists doing well commercially by selling out their entire stands and what does not sell, we will look at leasing to corporates in London so the engagement with potential supporters and buyers continues after the fair ends. I want to create all year round business that is there on hand to its ‘bloodstream’ (galleries and artists Nigel and Serenella decide to offer an opportunity to enter START infrastructure). In addition to that we also plan to encourage presentation and sales opportunities of our exhibitors outside of these ‘art dinners’. The premise of our START
Collectors Club is that everybody who joins (and annual membership is free of charge) genuinely wants to purchase artworks of one or more of our exhibitors and does not enter to only socialise but also embark on one of the most exciting and fulfilling journeys of art collecting and building of your own art collections or improving and developing of your art collection, in case you have one already. Last but not least we are also currently considering a launch of START app which will be a great opportunity for further engagement between collectors and START exhibitors as it will be an imagine recognition devise which will be able to give you all important details when browsing at the fair, taking a photo using an app and having all necessary information on the artwork and also how to purchase it and add it to your collection. We at START believe that sales are hugely important to make sure we create a huge pent up demand for what we do and offer and continue improving the user experience.. We see ourselves as an experiential brand, not as an annual event and that is why every element of START in 2018 will have that type of approach… Far too many fairs hope to sell their booths but don’t do much more than that. We plan to create a very vibrant and highly energetic experience during the fair days with music, fashion shows and charity gala dinner as well as pop up restaurant experience with our restaurant partner AquaVit where each corporate sponsor could host their own art dinner at Saatchi Gallery for their clients and associates in the beautiful setting and with artists and curators at that dinner table adding that star quality and uniqueness to the entire experience. START will be supporting a mental health charity called Heads Together set up by Prince William, Prince Harry and Princess Kate that has done so much for breaking down the stigma of mental illness. We hope to host the gala dinner with our Charity patrons the night the fair opens for public, Tuesday 11 September 2018, and plan to do a great deal of mental health campaigning throughout the year, something close to my heart and something that touches absolutely everybody in this country but also in the world as a whole.
- How does START position itself in relation to London’s annual activities and reputable fairs?
As mentioned above, the week of the actual fair is just one component of our annual activities. We are a lot more than that as explained above and although there are so many art fairs in the world, literarily one popping up every week of the year, we are in London, we are at Saatchi Gallery, one of the best museum quality venues in town, we are in the heart of this city and we mean business. We don’t want to compare ourselves to others. We don’t want to follow. We want to take a lead and set new trends and we sincerely hope we will be able to achieve so. We want our results and success stories to speak for START and what it stands for. We believe in less talking and more doing as all of us on the START team are doers and that is one of the most important qualities and attributes I am looking for when hiring a new team member and expanding and growing the START family.
- What advice would you give a new art fair trying to establish itself?
Do your market research well. Analyse what works and what doesn’t in the art industry. Make sure you really own your USP. Don’t copy others, set your own trends and embark on your own journey. Aim to change the world in some ways. Creating another fair to add to the mix will not mean much and will not get you through the sticky period when the going gets tough which will happen more than once. Hence if you’ve set out on this journey with that approach, you better not bother. You will fail. However if you believe you can make a difference and have done enough market research, due diligence and have secured serious level of investment and funding, then go for it and drive it all the way. Good luck in any case. The world needs more visionaries and entrepreneurs with that attitude and approach.