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A Covid success story: how the London Original Print Fair helped its 68 dealers keep selling

London’s longest-running art fair survives virus by going fully online and diversifying

Pre-Covid: last year's edition of the London Original Print Fair © David Owens

Art fairs. Remember those? Coronavirus restrictions have made them all but extinct in 2020. The list of cancelled art fairs this year includes the London Original Print Fair (LOPF), the UK capital’s longest-running art fair. It was scheduled for April at The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) but was axed like so much else. But instead of throwing in the towel, the mother-daughter duo who run the event—director Helen Rosslyn and assistant director Alice St Clair—wasted no time in going digital to ensure its survival.

Rebranded LOPF | The Platform for Prints, it is now fully online, runs year-round, and has diversified; for example, visitors to the website can browse viewing rooms of top international print dealers and take inspiration from other collectors in the Collector’s Choice section.

Rosslyn, who specialised in prints at Christie’s and founded LOPF at the RA 35 years ago with its chairman Gordon Cooke, has seen the event transform from a physical fair with just 16 exhibitors in 1985 to the virtual printmaking hub it is today, currently accommodating 68 exhibitors and counting. “Many artists work tirelessly to launch new editions at LOPF and we didn’t want to let them down, so we took it online,” she says. “With so much great material to work with and some late nights around the kitchen table, we managed to get everything up and running in just a few weeks. We’re so heartened by the reception from all our virtual visitors. A great addition was inviting collectors to make their own selections and everyone, from [fashion designer] Cath Kidston to the lead guitarist of the Kooks and the curator of prints at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, jumped at the chance. We missed the great annual get together at the RA but the pandemic undoubtedly made us broaden our reach and taught us valuable lessons.”

The large range of available prints includes rare collector's items like an early impression of Albrecht Dürer's famous Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513) and a rare version of Edvard Munch's woodcut The Girls on the Bridge (1918), alongside works by the likes of Grayson Perry, Francis Bacon, and Cornelia Parker. First-time buyers can also snap up affordable prints for less than £100. St Clair says helping smaller dealers who have never worked online has been particularly rewarding. “Because of the virus, you wonder and worry how they might have survived without platforms like ours,” she says. “Alongside the Collector’s Choices we have had great fun creating themed Spotlight Exhibitions to help people with the browsing process, and I’m excited to share some of the new Collector’s selections over the coming months.”

Rosslyn and St Clair are looking forward to the return of the physical fair, but the advantages of LOPF | The Platform for Prints means they have decided to run them in tandem. “Take the prints Norman Ackroyd made during lockdown, for example; within a week they were available to the public on our platform, this is what makes our new venture so exciting,” Rosslyn says.