Booming London art fair opens Jan. 17

London's annual International Contemporary Art Fair, which was first held last year, opens Jan. 17. Already, says fair organizer Charlie Robinson, the four-day event ``is almost the same size as the Paris fair, and that has been going for 11 years.'' This year the number of commercial art galleries taking part has doubled, and the fair has moved from the Barbican to a far larger venue at Olympia. Major London dealers, cautious last year, are coming in this time -- which has attracted increased interest from galleries in 24 countries, including Poland and East Germany, along with countries such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, and the United States.

In all, the fair gathers 125 galleries under one roof. Exhibition spaces are also provided for individual artists, both new and established, who are unrepresented by dealers. This time, 20 such artists will be showing and selling their works.

The oldest International Contemporary Art Fair, in Basel, Switzerland, is 15 years old. Chicago, Paris, and Cologne also have long-established fairs. Now London, the world center of the art-auction market, is quickly becoming prominent. Its organizer says the aim is to make art accessible to ordinary people and ``to get over the hostile air often encountered in art galleries.'' Here, anyone can walk in and buy.

Admission for adults will be 3 a day ($4.20), or 7 for four days. Special air-and-hotel packages are available for overseas visitors. The show runs Jan. 17-20 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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