Explore CAVE Art Fair

This September, Liverpool Biennial won’t be the only art organisation to grab the city and give it a creative shake. The very first CAVE Art Fair will be hitting the scene in a hailstorm of cutting edge and contemporary British art.

Securing part of the new Baltic Creative space on Jordan/New Bird Street, the four-day event will bring together work – for exhibition and sale –  from artists selected on the basis of their potential. All those taking part have been recommended by respected arts organisations from Liverpool and all around the UK.

Cave is the brainchild of Kevin Hunt and Flis Mitchell, friends since university and now contemporary artists based at The Royal Standard studios. Speaking to The Double Negative, they told us how they wanted to kick-start an event for unrepresented and emerging artists; those who don’t have an opportunity at the time of the Biennial to show art and meet arts professionals. Most importantly, they wanted this event to be like no other; a compilation of the most exciting artists working in the UK today; promoting the sale of all artwork on show, perhaps to first time buyers; and, significantly, with all profits going to the artists involved.

“We came up with the idea when we realised that other international cities that have biennials take the opportunity to have venues for exhibition and for sale”, Flis points out. “It just seemed bizarre that for once you’ve got critics who rarely venture out of London … Coming up for the day specifically for the Liverpool Biennial, and there’s loads of opportunities to see art but none to buy.”

It was this thought that drove the pair to instigate something that wasn’t happening already. Instead of encouraging artists to wait for a commercial gallery to sign them up and sell their work for them, CAVE instead seeks out the most promising artists and encourages them to manage their own art practice. As a result, visitors will be able to turn up, see an exciting exhibition of contemporary art, network, and buy straight from the maker. The artists don’t pay a commission or an exhibition fee, so take home 100% of the profit.

“I’m not prepared to patronise the people of Liverpool by offering them something that’s not really ambitious or cutting edge”

It’s a unique model that hasn’t been tried before in Liverpool or even more widely in British visual arts culture. More familiar with record, book, craft or zine fairs, the city has never had a successful, cutting edge art fair that could hold its own against a London-based model.

Kevin says: “CAVE’s not happening in New York or Brussels. Normal models don’t seem applicable in Liverpool. We don’t want to appropriate the models of Zoo or Frieze … We are essentially cutting out the middle man, the sales staff, and getting people to navigate the space and control their own experience, talking directly to the artists.”

Explaining how the format and the artists were chosen, Flis described an intense  and somewhat controversial UK-wide conversation. “We did a feasibility study – we sent out a questionaire to 55-60 artist-led, predominately regional arts organisations, some curatorial groups and project spaces. We asked them about art markets in their area, and selling art, and to recommend artists that we should look into … Some of the answers we got were illuminating and quite antagonistic… One of the responses we had encouraged us to stop what we were doing and concentrate on gaining currency in the London art market .. Even the term ‘art fair’ is wholly contentious … It convinced us we were working in the right area!”

In fact, more organisations than you’d think outrightly disapproved of a couple of Liverpool-based artists staring up their own art fair in the north west; the argument being well, why bother, because you won’t make any money. Apart from being a challenge to the CAVE organisers that they are more than willing to tackle, it’s a hot topic for discussion. Cropping up most recently with commercial art gallery Ceri Hand moving from Liverpool to London, the curator cited an art buying ‘ceiling’ here as the main issue – people were not prepared to fork out enough money for art. Is London the only place to really successfully sell artwork? Who buys artwork in the north west anyway?

“People can buy something original directly from artists on the cusp of making it”

“There’s an interesting issue: you’re saying in Liverpool that we’re a cultural city, where craft and zine fairs do well”, argues Flis, “but we wouldn’t want a proper art fair? There’s a lot of creative force and flux here and we can take advantage of that.

“We’re into building something that has a legacy and is really worthwhile. We want to support a burgeoning art market. Sally Tallant (artistic director at the Biennial) says that Liverpool’s cultural output is second only to London, and yet Liverpool still is denigrated by a lot of the national press, and I just think that’s appalling. You’re telling me that craft and book fairs are successful and we’ve got some really interesting music happening here, but an art fair can’t work? We don’t think so.”

Aiming to change our perceptions of who buys art, the CAVE organisers see everyone in Liverpool who doesn’t own a piece of art as a potential collector. “People can buy something bespoke, hand-made, and original, for less than something that you’d buy from Liverpool One that’s a factory produced blip … Directly from artists on the cusp of making it. It’s getting people to see their work and support it at the time of the UK’s Biennial” Kevin says.

Flis adds: “In the same way that I’m not prepared for Liverpool just to be known for The Beatles and the football teams, I’m not prepared to patronise the people of Liverpool by offering them something that’s not really ambitious or cutting edge … Really good art can be accessible to everyone, it can be completely ambitious, completely critically engaged, difficult and evocative and interesting. The people of Liverpool will eat it up. Pictures of John Lennon and vistas of the Liver Building is just not good enough.”

Catch CAVE Art Fair at Baltic Creative Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th September 2012

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Posted on 31/07/2012 by thedoublenegative