The Affordable Art Fair
The Battersea Affordable Art Fair opened its doors to the public this weekend, welcoming thousands of people. From the 24th to the 27th of October, the Battersea Evolution housed collections from more than 100 different galleries, in order for the general public to view and buy pieces all of which were priced £40 to £4,000.
The AAF originates from back in 1996, when one man, Will Ramsay, decided that contemporary art was fairly out of reach for those who did not have stacks of money. He opened ‘Will’s Art Warehouse’, where he was able to offer pieces ranging from £50 to £2,500.
After 3 years of increasing interest, the AAF was created and the very first show was held in Battersea in October 1999. With an impressive 10,000 people turning up, Will launched a second show in March 2001. The AAF is now a global affair, with shows being held in a variety of different cities including Amsterdam, New York, Milan and Hong Kong.
The atmosphere at the AAF was incredibly relaxed, though there was an air of sophistication. I put this down to the fact that art is stereotypically associated with the middle and upper classes. As I strolled around the place, I stumbled upon a wine bar. Although those seated were dressed immaculately, sipping their beverages, engaged in quiet conversation, it doesn’t seem at all pretentious and I liked that.
As I made my way around, one thing that struck me was how little photography was actually for sale there. I couldn’t help but wonder why. This was a matter I later had the opportunity to discuss with Olivia Prentis, who was at the AAF to represent Beetles and Huxley.
“I think people are skeptical with photography as it’s still fairly new as an art form,” she told me.
Unfortunately, I think she’s right. I suggested that it may be because people view photography as the mere click of a button, in comparison to, say, a water colour painting which takes hours and hours of work.
Olivia agreed and directed my attention to one particular photograph: Michael Kenna’s ‘Stark Outlook’. She explained to me how Michael faced adverse weather conditions in order to capture the image, which depicts a snow scene in Hokkaido, Japan.
“People do think photography is just the click of a button, but it can take a whole day to create just two or three images.”
I took a closer look at some of the other photographs in the Beetles and Huxley exhibition, which included work by Steve McCurry and Terry O’Neill. This was only the second art fair that Beetles and Huxley had attended. I asked Olivia about the experience from a seller’s perspective.
“It’s always a highlight to make a sale,” she said, truthfully. “And it’s nice to make a sale to someone you’ve met in person, which doesn’t happen with online sales.”
Bleach Box were also exhibiting work at the AAF. There seemed to be a lot of interest in their prints, as I browsed the collection myself. I broached the subject of online sales with Eleanor Jordan.
“I don’t believe in selling art online,” Eleanor admitted. “There is the obvious advantage that you are able to reach people all over the world online but I do not like selling photography on line. But it is something that sometimes needs to be done.”
When I asked her what she liked most about attending art fairs she replied, “It’s just nice to have so many people in one place specifically for art.”
I observed plenty of people browsing the art on offer on the Friday that I spent at the AAF. However, I saw little being purchased. I spoke to Olivia about the expectations of attending the art fair.
“You’re never sure how much money you will make,” she informed me. She seemed relaxed over this fact. “It’s part of the risk and excitement, though.”
After speaking to Olivia and Eleanor, I scoured the remaining aisles for photography. Aside from Beetles and Huxley and Bleech Box, photography was very few and far between at the Affordable Art Fair, this year. Perhaps one day this will change. Photography is an art, too, after all.