Here are the highlights… they were twinkling all over the ceiling in 1980s wedding reception style. There was even a DJ spinning disco tracks to buy art to – and the room was rocking. Whether or not they had money to spend, on Thursday night, The Affordable Art Fair was jam-packed with an uncommonly cheery crowd: There were young couples choosing a shared memory for their first home together, grown-up girls having a bit of culture-cum-chatter over a glass of wine, art students meeting their friends for a reckie, and mature marrieds searching for inner-meaning, hidden somewhere amidst the modern art. Lone male dealers could also be spotted, prowling stealthily around the stands. (I expect families with children will be added to the mix today too, especially as there’s a crèche and an education area). The galleries and artists seemed an equally eclectic bunch – from crafty and cool, to accomplished fine art and Bayswater Road kitsch.
The fair boasts ‘accessibility,’ and Battersea certainly has a fun, friendly atmosphere – you’re unlikely to encounter the long, leaden faces seen at some of the recent antiques events at the same venue. Prices range from £50 to £5000 – though the cheapest items I saw were around the £150 mark. One good thing though, is that pricing doesn’t appear to be related to the size of the artwork. At other fairs I’ve seen curiously cliquey price tags of £9,500, £12,000 and £15,000, seemingly linked more to the dimensions of a canvas than the artist’s experience and style, or the materials used.
As for art, the Affordable mix includes less conceptual and more figurative pieces than last week’s happening shows. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of London landmarks and symbols – paintings by Robert E Wells, Susan Brown (above) and Chris Daynes stand out from the crowd. But other cities get a look in too – see David Atkins’ Morning on 42nd Street (below).
For less traditional works, affordable artists (or gallery curators) seem to have stuck pretty much to a few popular trends, so you’ll find plenty of dioramas, decoupage, paper-folding, pop-art-meets-graffiti, re-worked antiquarian books, maps, and handcrafted, fabric-based collages.
There are fewer skulls and butterflies than I’d expected, but for anyone still hankering after a penny’s worth of Brit Art, I did notice a Damien Hirst print – a small woodcut consisting of four spots (one of 48) – for £3000, plus £170 extra for the frame.
Anyway, my personal picks include Mel Fraser’s stunning alabaster sculptures, Pam Glew’s bleached and dyed handmade flags and Maria Rivans’s View-Master inspired, vintage 3D collages.
Those looking for the next big thing may opt for something a little folksy, perhaps from postmodern artist (and ex-soccer player) Benjamin Hollingsworth’s Crosstown Dreamer Series. According to the West Two Gallery, his works, “reflect the juxtaposed underbelly of the deep American South comprising nature’s beauty and humanity’s raw talent.” Created from flowers, shoe polish, Indian ink and acrylic, Hollngsworth’s canvases are built up and sanded down over and over. Rose petals are then added, sculpture-like, as elements of life and beauty, which will eventually die, just like the struggling members of the local population.
So, which pieces will prove to be the best investment in the current market? As ever, the old adage ‘let the buyer beware’ best answers this: However affordable, the real value of any art lies in the pleasure it affords.
The Affordable Art Fair is open in Battersea today and tomorrow from 11.0 am until 6.0 pm and then in Hampstead until 28th October. Courtesy buses are available from the nearest tube station (see website for details).