It’s been almost a month since the Affordable Art Fair in Hamburg and I would like to web my thought about it on a post. I will start with answering a simple question that many of you might be asking yourselves. What is the Affordable Art Fair? The name describes the event really well, and the idea behind the fair is rather interesting. It is an international, contemporary art fair that is held annually or biannually in many cities around the world. Besides Hamburg, cities like London, Bristol, Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan, Stockholm, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore host the fair in question. The first ever was organized in London almost 20 years ago in 1999.
The fair idea is to provide art at reasonable prices to people who might not afford to buy art works in the general art dealing setting such as exhibitions or auctions. We might call this an alternative to the traditional exhibition settings. In Hamburg this years fair was the 8th edition to be organized at the Messehallen (Exhibition Halls) from November 14th to November 17th.
If you have never been to such a thing you might be asking yourself how does the fair even look like? It is a huge hall where many local, national and international galleries, dealers or established collectives take part. The participating galleries pay a participating fee to get stands and are included in all the marketing of the fair. In the halls they get stands where the gallery can exhibit art works from their collection or works of art made by the artists they present.
With a range of more then 1000 of contemporary artworks, all priced under €7,500 you can be sure that there is something for everyone. This was, in fact, the first art fair of it’s kind that I have been to, and the atmosphere is certainly exciting. There are of course many pros and cons for this type of art dealing and I would like to address some of the things that went through my mind.
As I already said, the fair was a truly exciting place, it is full of interesting people who have a strong interest in art, also many international, national and local galleries from Hamburg can be found in one run on. It is a great opportunity to network, meet people of similar interest, and a great place to learn. I was truly happy to see galleries from Tokyo, Warsaw, Milan all in one place and to see what is popular over there, but also compare and put things in a wider context. What I found impressive is the aspect of the art works shown in the fair, you can be sure to find high quality art pieces if you are interested in purchasing. If you can’t even afford ‘affordable art’, it is still a great place to learn, as it shows a variety of styles, materials and color patterns. This is what makes the event not only a great place for learning about the contemporary art movements around the globe, but also for getting inspired. Besides the art works that will serve for learning purposes there are also numerous lectures, art talks, workshops, guided tours, performances and bars. I can’t emphasize enough how good of a place the fair is for networking and learning, or getting inspired. I believe this to be the main reason why you could see a lot of young Hamburgers who were there for the networking part of the event, or who saw this as a different, fun and trendy thing to do.
I fell in love with the works of the Korean artist Kim Kwan Soo, who works in mixed media and uses natural elements such as wood, rope and rocks in his art. The color pallet that he uses is limited to white, gray, golden and brown. Kim combines the elements in a minimalisic and symmetrical way, creating tranquil and meditative paintings. The work called “The White Birch” was enchanting me to stare at it and inviting me to touch it. Besides Kim’s work I also really enjoyed works of the Canadian artists ZUT, she is a well known street artist. Her big compositions on wood were shown on the fair by the Arteria Gallery. ZUT paints puppet-like colorful figures and finishes the painting by creating a glossy surface. The work is sketchy, minimalistic and very colorful. One instantly falls in love with the cartoony figures that she creates.
The main idea behind the fair is, however, art buying and selling, and it eventually all revolves around those two aspects. I must agree with many others who criticize the hidden exclusivity of the event – calling it affordable is a deception. First of all the entrance to the event is rather expensive. Ticket prices ranging from €18 to €20 per person create an exclusive place for art dealing not tempting for people with a reduced budget. Nevertheless many were not there for art buying reasons and those who were are people on the thicker budget side of the society for whom this is a great opportunity to buy cheap, great quality art. Art works are displayed on the white walls of the stands and gallerists and artists desperately approaching and talking to everyone who might be interested in purchasing. Once the art work is sold, the buyer takes it off the wall, wraps it in pink bubble wrap to run on. The empty place on the wall is then quickly replaced with a new work to maximize the income. It all eventually feels like an artwork discounter for rich people, and this is when the entire event started becoming less appealing for me.
I am undoubtedly well aware that art dealing is one of the main aspects of gallery work but coming from Croatia I have difficulties understating the opened art dealing atmosphere. In Croatia things like art fairs are very new and art dealing is extremely well hidden behind the clever ‘it’s all about art’ mask. Many are unaware of the fact that galleries organize exhibitions to sell art, and 90% of the visitors believe that all galleries do is promote art. Working at the Venice art biennials was no different, of course there is a lot of art dealing done but it is all underneath the surface of showing and appreciating art. I’m not sure what I find more or less comfortable but I must say that I really enjoyed the Affordable Art Fair in Hamburg and will go there again next year, hopefully with a bigger budget :).