LONDON (Reuters) - “Affordable art” sounds like a contradiction in terms these days.
Booming prices for contemporary works, with graffiti artist Banksy fetching $600,000 (293,000 pounds) and compatriot Damien Hirst selling a diamond-encrusted skull for $100 million, have deterred many people from collecting original art.
But a twice-yearly fair in London, that has branched out to New York and now Amsterdam, aims to lure them back by offering paintings and sculptures priced anywhere from 50 pounds to a maximum of 3,000 pounds each.
“Naturally the press talks about headline-grabbing stuff, be it the prices or the shock factor, and so the general public thinks that that is all there is out there,” said Will Ramsay, who founded the Affordable Art Fair nearly a decade ago.
“Actually, there is stuff pretty much anyone can afford.”
According to Gerald Laing, an artist who rose to prominence during the pop art movement of the 1960s and whose works fetch tens of thousands of pounds, artists also feel alienated by endless success stories in the media.
“This is a refuge for the artists too, because they feel sidelined by this stuff quite naturally,” he told Reuters.
“One of things about success in the contemporary art world is that once an image is recognised it gains in value. It is often about the singer and not the song in the contemporary art world.
“People have got to start somewhere. This is a wonderful way for artists to interact with the public and for the public to do so with them.”
MILLIONS OF POUNDS
Ramsay’s brain child has caught on, with up to 20,000 people pouring into an exhibition space in Battersea Park in the south of the capital every time he holds a fair.
In its first year, around one million pounds changed hands, a figure which tripled by the third edition. Now, with two fairs held annually, the Affordable Art Fair sells about seven million pounds of art a year.
Those figures are dwarfed by Frieze Art Fair, a “high-end” exhibition held in London in October where the cream of the art world converges and tens of millions of pounds change hands.
But for Laing, the Affordable Art Fair holds its own alongside its more famous cousin.
“There is quite a contrast between this and Frieze. Frieze has got a wider range of status but somehow there seems to be more rubbish in Frieze than this particular exhibition.”
Ramsay said Affordable Art Fairs are also held in New York and, starting next month, in Amsterdam.
He explained that galleries used the fair to build their client base, while young, unknown artists have showcased work there and gone on to succeed commercially.
“This is not only for fledgling collectors. Half of those who come are existing collectors and they come here to find new emerging artists,” Ramsay said. “However rich you might be, people always enjoy picking up a bargain.”
Antony Micallef, for example, exhibited at the first edition in 1999. He has gone on to command hundreds of thousands of dollars for some works and create a splash among Hollywood’s elite at a recent Los Angeles show.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.