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Art Fair

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Well I suppose everything is relative. The London art scene’s definition of ‘affordable’ is not quite the same as say, that in Dartford, where poundshop purchases would usually fit that description ie. affordable teabags, affordable hair conditioner. A £300 piece of artwork is the antithesis of this idea of affordability. However in terms of the average art collector, £300 is seen as very reasonable for an original piece. Indeed, having £300 disposable cash to purchase an object purely for aesthetic purposes would, I imagine, propel you instantly into the upper half of the new BBC-approved class categories. An essentially middle/upper class occasion, the art fair always reminds me how many very well off people there actually are in the near vicinity. I often assume that most people there will be like myself, treating it as an exhibition, enjoying the spectacle but unlikely to have saved up enough over the year to warrant even a small purchase. Of course not. The Cannes couples are intentionally conspicuous, swishing winds of material, throwing around their bright lipstick air kisses and desperate-for-attention eye contact, while the old money look down their expensive glasses for a decent investment for little Edward’s future inheritance. Screaming cliches I admit, but I’m not actually playing it that hard, I witnessed both stereotypes myself and I was only there an hour. I don’t mean to suggest this is the majority of guests, of course there are many simple voyeurs who, like me, don’t have money to spend but instead gaze longingly at the works. It’s interesting to watch how this type of visitor is mentally weeded out by the gallery salespeople. You watch their eye movement, clocking each visitor as a potential sale, drinking in their attire, demeanor, money to spend? I feel myself get quickly passed over with a pleasant smile. Thank you – Next!?

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The politics aside, I got 3 free glasses of wine and a very enjoyable walkaround whilst an inhabitant of the huge marquee at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, which in fact presents an intriguingly wide spectrum of artistic styles within a well laid out area. Unlike Frieze, the venue is not too huge, about right I’d say. I left feeling I’d seen enough but had I wanted it there was indeed more, though not enough to make me feel as if I was really missing out by having to depart for my long journey south. Both the size and reputation of the event ensures that it nuzzles comfortably in the centre ground between Frieze and The Other Art Fair; Frieze being an achingly commercialistic haven and The Other being attractively village fete-like. The Affordable Art Fair, although organised and sold by gallery, retains a sense of collaboration, it lets you feel as if you could, and in fact I did, (despite their wily shark senses) have a discussion about the works with the reps. It feels more coherent than The Other, but without entirely losing it’s charm to the business end. The works I saw crossed the spectrum; from intricate pencil drawings to large oils to delicate watercolors and lots and lots of sculpture. Animal and mythological sculpture seems to be having a bit of a revival and the ripples of Damien Hirst’s controversial Tate exhibition can still be seen reverberating through contemporary art – I saw more than a few circular butterfly creations. Prints are certainly in vogue, the retro attraction of old art-deco railway posters styles can be seen time and time again running through modernistic versions and the bold simple techno-graphics seen in popular humour posters of the sort which adorn student’s walls also populate many an art fair partition wall. An evolving installation takes place in the entrance hall involving young women getting covered in beetroot juices whilst tying beets to taut vertical pieces of string (it all seemed a bit dark but I didn’t get to read what it was about), and it’s a shame there wasn’t more installation-style works like this, or at least a bit more evidence of departure from traditional media.

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Seated Old Spot - Ostirelli and Priest (£660)

Seated Old Spot – Ostirelli and Priest (£660)

Adonis and the Boar. The Hunt - Antonio Lopez Reche (£3995)

Adonis and the Boar. The Hunt – Antonio Lopez Reche (£3995)

But although art is slowly becoming more accessible to the everyman/woman, it is still very heavily dominated by the non working classes. Money undoubtedly plays a huge part in this; galleries may be free but taking children out for the day isn’t (travel/food etc.), families without unlimited funds are being priced out of living in London and those who live outside can’t afford to come in. Many more working class people can just about afford to buy art nowadays in comparison to past eras and to many like myself £300 is just about do-able, but affordable? Not for most of the people I know. Yet the works continue to sell, and not at all sparingly. Public arts and funding may have taken a beating in recent years thanks to David ‘we’re all in it together, oh except you, and you and you’ Cameron, but the private money is still there in abundance, just squirrelled further into the little niches of what society we have left. The popularity of the Hampstead incarnation of the fair has grown year on year since 2011, with visitor numbers up to 18,500 in 2012, but a continuous increase in sales could also be seen as somewhat astonishing in this current climate. Recession? What recession?

Jockey and Horse - James Stewart (£3750)

Jockey and Horse – James Stewart (£3750)

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:amp Post - Near the Louvre, Paris - Helaina Sharpley (£895)

:amp Post – Near the Louvre, Paris – Helaina Sharpley (£895)

Idle Hands - Antonio Lopez Reche (£3550)

Idle Hands – Antonio Lopez Reche (£3550)

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Blue Tomato - Vasso Fraghou (£1175)

Blue Tomato – Vasso Fraghou (£1175)

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spitziges gelb 1986/1990-13 - Sigurd Rompza (£1900)

spitziges gelb 1986/1990-13 – Sigurd Rompza (£1900)

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Heavenly Bodies 3# - Peacock - Louise McNaught (£495)

Heavenly Bodies 3# – Peacock – Louise McNaught (£495)

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Eracle - Alberto Fusco

Eracle (Detail) – Alberto Fusco

As art fairs go, The Other Art Fair is a personal favourite. Set in a fabulous warehouse space at Ambika P3, it takes art and the artists back to a place in which they should be, through a dialogue which needs to be happening; that of direct communication between the artists and the public. Breaking these established barriers down ties in with a general shift in culture which seems to be gaining momentum – that of the re-ignition of conversation. You will undoubtedly speak to untold numbers of people who deride (not-so)modern technology as having been the downfall of personal dialogue, but the irony is that speaking to whomever you like has never been easier. Whereas in the past you were unlikely to be able to have a direct discussion with a chosen artist/musician/writer unless you either moved in the same circles, were privileged enough to get an introduction, or lucky enough to bump into them in the street, all it now requires is a quick @ and your message is sent. Of course the recipient may embrace their prerogative and not reply, but the chances of this depend much more on the quality/interest value of your comment than your social standing and ability to get close, as it may previously have been in the past.

The Other Art Fair embraces this modern concept in a traditional manner – face to face contact – but without the (often money-orientated) gallery salesperson. Buying direct from the artist is, to me, ultimately more satisfying as an art lover, as opposed to the sales dance required of an art investor, who are more the clientele of aircraft hanger-scale ventures such as Frieze. Having been to The Other Art Fair in 2011, I then missed the 2012 incarnation but did manage to attend the 2013 artist preview at The Office Space last week. The evening took the form of a taster event, showcasing 3 specific artists in order to whet your whistle for the main exhibition at the end of this month. Both Dan Hillier and Alberto Fusco I remembered seeing at the 2011 event, but Damla Tokcan Faro came as an entirely new experience.

Hiller’s work breaches the boundaries of illustration to languish steadfastly in the boudoirs of 19th century stylistic portraiture using engraving, ink and screenprinting to produce often unsettling and surreal human and animal fusion pieces. His style mixes careful and tender treatment of detail with an underlying sense of provocation and much in the Tim Burton manner in sense (although more Film4 than Hollywood), he sets a dreamlike landscape, both within and around his portraiture. Said to encompass the ‘Steampunk’ sub-genre, I find his work rather more reminiscent of the Vanitas movement, albeit with extra humour and imagination and less adherence to the rules of our mortal framework. Instantly bringing to mind a woman in a burkha, The Veil must surely be a deliberate prodding of our modern uneasiness surrounding the issues of religious freedom, privacy and our fear of the unknown. The imagery, placement of the feathers and treatment of the medium all combine to lend the work a distinctly attractive exoticism. Other works, such as Cecilia Huntress, recall the masked ball, but with the overarching implication that the figure has become the mask; a mass of feathers replacing her traditional hairpiece, whilst Aviator leaves nothing of the original human behind and turns the idea of the mask on its head; who wears whom now?

Cecilia Huntress - Dan Hillier

Cecilia Huntress (Detail) – Dan Hillier

Alberto Fusco, in stark contrast, uses mosaic pattern and collage as his inspiration, focusing intently on the geometricity of colour and form. Starting his career as a teacher, Fusco began working as a professional artist a year and a half ago, after his freestanding sculptures began to dominate his time. By this count he must have still been working as a teacher when I saw him exhibit at the 2011 Other Art Fair, although from the interest I observed him generating at that time, I’m not surprised he soon became a full-time artist. His work is full of positive contradiction – its explicit tactility inspires the urge to touch it, to open it and yet it will not open and cannot be touched. It uses the chaos of newsprint, the dialogue and the imagery, as a visual tool, and yet the strict geometric language by which it is ruled constrains that freeflow of information; hides it behind a wall of glue and varnish. It is constructed from words and images on paper, 2D materials which, in his hands, become contained 3D objects changing as you move around them in a space. Having specialised in mosaics as part of his degree in public art, he takes inspiration from tessellation and pattern, combining it with the manipulation of magazine pages, a favourite pastime as a child. Works such as Enterpe are instinctively reminiscent of fireworks and catherine wheels, tieing in with Fusco’s own description of his pieces as being ‘like a candy shop’; joyful, colourful, uplifting.

Atena – Alberto Fusco

Damla Tokcan Faro uses digital photography and manipulation to create fairytale imagery with a sinister twist. Perfectly placed in the Alice down the rabbit hole-like areas of the The Office Space (complete with doors in decreasing sizes), his works at first seem rather saccharine; over saturated colours combined with superimposed cartoon graphics, or toy figures hinting at traditional tall tales. However, a closer look reveals darkly humorous modern comments on the realities of fairytale stories. In The Accident we see Cinderella’s fantastical coach post-pothole, amidst a tumble of fallen animals and bodies, while Mushrooms…mmm supplants the toadstool in a grassy field, alluring to its likely Lewis Carroll-inspired origins as being of the somewhat ‘magic’ variety. His choice to present the work on reflective material only helps to allude to the dreamlike illusion which surrounds the photographs, at the same time forcing the viewer to enter the scene themselves.

Mushrooms...mmm - Damla Tokcan Faro

Mushrooms…mmm – Damla Tokcan Faro

As a snapshot of the entire fair this preview could never encompass the range of artists and styles which will be shown. As a taster though, it certainly does the job. I’ll be there.

Aviator (Detail) – Dan Hillier

Eracle (Detail) – Alberto Fusco

Unknown title - Damla Tokcan Faro

Unknown title – Damla Tokcan Faro

The Veil - Dan Hillier

The Veil – Dan Hillier

Atena (Detail) – Alberto Fusco

The Accident – Damla Tokcan Faro

It’s 2012. It’s nearly Summer (supposedly). You’re bored of going to see artworks by ultra-famous artists in a silent, sterile gallery setting. What to do? Go to some smaller, less restrictive galleries? Search out some local artists? Get your supplies out and start creating some tantalising guerrilla art in the South Kensington underpass? All good plans, although the third may earn you some extra time in another very different confined space, so maybe drop that one off your list.

What about…an art fair? No I’m not talking about your local craft-style fair, with trestle tables leading dizzyingly into the horizon and a small town’s worth of kids legging it full speed to the bouncy castle – although they can be great too.  I’m talking about art fairs such as Frieze, which I had my first experience of in October last year.  Frieze is a contemporary art fair which showcases the latest works being sold by top galleries. It is essentially a commercial enterprise, a fact unbeknownst to me, a mere mortal, as I wandered through. Obviously no prices are displayed or catalogues given out to point out that I could, very much theoretically, buy these works. The gallery owners can smell the money (or in my case, lack of it) and I was therefore left happily alone to wander around. For hours. And hours. And hours. The place is immense. I had just begun to go the art equivalent of snow-blind when I decided it might be time to sit down and stare at the floor for a while to give my synapses a chance to regenerate.

    

I might sound as if I’m being negative about Frieze; I’m actually not. I just felt it was beyond me. It didn’t feel designed for me. For a start the focus was on galleries. I’m interested in Art. Less so in its commercial value, its collectability etc. The business side of art is to me a sad necessity. It’s the death of a bee after its sting. It’s the parent that sends their child to a school 2 hours away to get them a good education. It’s a shame, but what’s the alternative? I don’t have an answer to that. The fact that Frieze is set out by gallery is a pretty clear indicator that a lot of people visiting will know where they’re going and will have a plan of action. I didn’t. Hence the snow-blind episode. However, on the positive side the gallery format actually means that you see an eclectic array of artworks by some very different artists. It gives you a sliver of insight into what’s ‘in vogue’ for the art-producing international elite. I found it interesting to see a focus on mirrored/shiny surfaces used as canvas. Ceramic tiles, black mirrors, standard mirrors, reflective metals; some painted, some manipulated, some used as a sculptural base. Fabrics were also a strong theme, and popular with the public too, judging by the crowds loitering by certain pieces.

      

  

I’m soon to try out another event, taking place on May 10th – 13th. The Other Art Fair is a new concept whereby the artists shown are unrepresented ie. they are not being shown by a gallery but by themselves. I must say this approach is more appealing to my liberal values than that of the traditional gallery sale. The pieces are affordable, even for me, at £50 upwards, although this in itself is not revolutionary. Throughout the year the Affordable Art Fair weaves its way across the world selling works costing up to a maximum of £4000. The London leg of the AAF at Battersea takes place 25-28 Oct 2012 which is…hmmm let me see, 2 weeks after the Frieze show. Coincidence? I imagine not. Whet our whistles with the big stuff, let us be all weepy and disappointed that we fell in love but were just not rich enough to make the cut. Then swoop in with the revelation that we can have some beautiful art, that there is a show made just for us. The galleries still get their pounds (albeit a little less) to top up their coffers, and we go away grinning with our new acquisition to show off to Janet next door. Clever marketing team.

At least with The Other Art Fair you’re buying from the source. Only for the moment of course, they don’t make any secret of the fact that these newbies will be signed by a gallery at some point, but for the moment they are still ours, we still matter to them. The passing over of their work to someone else has not yet taken on it’s full business-like format and still has an element of emotion and attachment. I hope to see an artist clinging to their sculpture screaming ‘No! I won’t let you take it! It doesn’t belong with you! You don’t understand it!. That’s the vibe I’m going for. I hope it lives up to my expectations…

NB. I’m afraid when I visited Frieze I didn’t know I would be doing this blog and so i didn’t make a note of all the artist’s names when browsing. If you have a burning desire to know who they are by, I’m sure you could email Frieze a copy of the picture and ask, or buy a copy of the catalogue. Worth a try.