The Manchester Contemporary/Buy Art Fair 2013 — Reviewed

Manchester Contemporary/Buy Art Fair

Art fair novice and Fine Art student Maja Lorkowska asks: what makes art ‘sellable’? And does that make it great art?

As an art fair novice, I felt my way carefully through The Manchester Contemporary, unsure about what to expect. Billed as ‘The largest fair of critically engaged visual art outside of London’, I was surrounded by artists, curators and an art-loving public.

Invited to the fair by PAPER, Manchester’s micro-gallery, I had ‘gallery member’ privileges; however acutely aware of being a fairly inexperienced art student I was. Overhearing “I don’t like the posh people of the art world!” as soon as I walked in helped: I wasn’t the only one to feel a little uncomfortable.

The atmosphere was markedly different from what I’m used to; I was expecting the usual hum of discussion, ever-present at private views and openings. Visitors passed through the gallery spaces organised like market stalls, sometimes shyly, others with the assuredness that comes with regularly attending this type of event.

“Most of the artists and curators were friendly and relatively open for conversation; but some of the answers I got about the works were, oddly, less than satisfactory”

Most of the artists and curators floating around the gallery spaces were friendly and relatively open for conversation; no shying away from questions here, but some of the answers I got about the works were, oddly, less than satisfactory. It was unclear whether this was due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of information available generally, or perhaps instructions to not give too much away.

That lack of available information — or at least the varying degrees of it — became something of a theme. This being an art fair, all pieces on display were for sale; this didn’t translate into all works being marked up clearly (or at all) however.

A few of the galleries, perhaps the more commercial ones, stated artist names, titles and prices, while others, like the Manchester-based Untitled Gallery, exhibited everything together, with no annotation at all, making it difficult not only to differentiate between the works but also to enquire about further information. This was an event designed for galleries to sell art, not just display it.

Buy Art Fair 2013

Quibbles aside, what of the work itself? Many pieces shared subtle nuances with one another, whether in terms of technique or thematic consideration, especially when approached in the context of what is happening in art right now. Most of the work was 2-dimensional, and not too extravagant — it could be wrapped and taken home almost instantly, like Alex Virji’s paintings, represented by Man&Eve, London.

Some pieces stood out, like the life-size sculpture of a worried man sitting on a chair, shown by Conway Gallery, Leeds (again, it was impossible to find the artist’s name or title!), which I kept mistaking for a real person, finding myself trying to see who’s been sat there, so worried, for so long.

In general, highly skilled pieces contrasted well with more experimental, abstract work, and certainly eclipsed a few of those pieces more excessive in their minimalism.

“With prices ranging from £1,500 to £4,000, who is the target market?”

I found myself intrigued by the video pieces. With prices ranging from £1,500 to £4,000, who is the target market? Unable to fully understand, I asked about the procedure of purchasing a video, in this case Jen Liu’s Safety First from Ceri Hand Gallery, and learned that the buyer would receive a file, to maintain the high-resolution of the piece.

Speaking of target markets, it’s worth mentioning the Buy Art Fair, set up a mere 50 metres away from The Manchester Contemporary building, thus providing an interesting juxtaposition.

Organised separately, as the name suggests, the Buy Art Fair is designed primarily to work with commercial galleries and artists who provide ‘living-room art’: romantic landscapes, carefully posed nudes and discreet abstract compositions prevailed. Annotation wasn’t necessary and some of the artists I spoke to admitted that this is their more profitable work.

There were few pretensions in the pretty but conceptually hollow pieces (which could not always be said of the work on show in The Manchester Contemporary, where theory occasionally overshadowed unremarkable art). That said, it was probably a great place to buy for those after an original that could be perfectly matched with cream coloured leather sofas.

It’s not every day that we get a glimpse into the business side of the art world, while still being able to discuss the creative motivations of the artists themselves. This, coupled with the friendly atmosphere of a slightly more sophisticated family day out, made the event enjoyable. Despite the mixed review, I think I’ll be coming back next year.

Maja Lorkowska

Applications are now open for Buy Art Fair 2014:

Posted on 30/10/2013 by thedoublenegative