Art is often seen as an exclusive luxury, possibly even a pretentious foible not suited to the apparent ‘age of austerity’ or for mass consumption. As a designer and someone who is very interested in the creative arts I have often considered the higher end of art to be similar to fashion. That is regardless of content, technical skill or raw talent, Art is sold based upon a market driven (much like the stock market) by the purchasing trends of the elite and wealthy. With the right agent any pile of drivel can be sold to some toff for their pad in the city or second home in a housing starved village.
Having revelled in a (albeit now highly commercial) counter movement of real affordable art such as early Banksy (his art was free once) and other print, and modern/urban/pop/comic artists such as Miss Buggs, Hush and Lydia de Pedro; the idea of The Affordable Art Fair excited me when a friend invited me to come along, particularly as there were small print based galleries represented there as well.
It started well with some great graduate works (with a pretty hefty price tag) but at least they provided a degree of contemporary flair. So I worked my way through the Fair, unfortunately, with an ever increasing sense of anger and disappointment.
The first warning sign were the people. I would say the majority attending were sharp suited city types, pastel shirted company directors, tweed wearing part-time farmers and spoilt brats. Still I can cope with this, it’s the work I am here to see.
The next problem was the art itself. There were too many dull landscape paintings, lacklustre abstracts and some predictable pixel perfect still life paintings. Many of the galleries were also large high profile galleries not exactly the smaller more cottage industry type of businesses I was expecting.
The utter sin however was the price. £2990, £2999, £2700, £2650… for any half substantial work (although one was a box full of sticks and paper cut-outs which at least conjured some emotion in me, even if it was anger). This cynical use of the “Affordable Art” credential was overt, painful and frankly insulting. It was obvious that there was work there that hadn’t been sold in the main gallery and were paraded as bargain basement art for the well heeled, more than not, with the price just a smidgeon off the £3000 limit. Looking at one mediocre piece after another was painful but when I did stumble upon a couple of works I would buy, yep, you got it, £2900, and one of them was photography! Affordable Art, My Arse.
The best you could hope to get is some stamp sized work that would still set you back £300-£500 or some dull landscape or even more un-interesting street scene, touted and sold by, and to, old rich farts.
I would rather go to a small independent gallery and pay a fraction of the cost for some truly engaging, modern, contemporary, interesting art from unknowns than buy some of the monstrosities hanging in the “I Saw You Coming” fair.
There were, however, some notable exceptions, but the overall cost was too high and un-representative of real affordable art that is out there. The lip-service Emmins, Gormley and Hirst gave to the show were complete tripe and I’m surprised they were even allowed to submit work to an event apparently well below their collective astronomical artistic kudos.
Overall a depressing representation of the bauble buying tastes of the homogenous rich, and a stark contrast to the fast developing movement of affordable art you can find in any of your local small galleries or online direct from the artist.
As I left i couldn’t but help notice row after row of Mercedes, Porsches, and luxury cars all parked outside (Maybe it was the galleries owners parking), and just to compound this some flash slicker turns up in a Ferrari just as we are leaving. Is this really the target market for ‘Affordable Art’? Well at £3k for many of the pieces, quite evidently.
It’s a shame any casual first time Art buyer would most probably walk away feeling villified of their original steroetyping of Art as being the providence of the rich. The real crime however is that at the arse end of the exclusive Art market is incredible mediocraty. It would be better for for an art virgin to walk away with some emotion, even anger at some of the art rather than the malaise it would inevitably create in the casual visitor.
My advice is save the entry fee and put it towards supporting small galleries and youthful contemporary talent.
A few galleries you should check if you want some great examples of young, fresh and affordable art.
http://www.galleriagagliardi.com/en – (Not quite as cheap but some fantastic work).