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Art for all

June 1, 2010

The Affordable Art Fair has found its niche in the art market, targeting first-time buyers in cities around the globe and creating an atmosphere where art enthusiasts can become collectors.

A woman looks at a work of art at the Affordable Art Fair in Paris
To buy or not to buy?Image: AAF

With the aid of a low-key atmosphere, "art coaches" and clear price tags, the Affordable Art Fair is turning Parisian art lovers into first-time buyers.

Over the weekend, 60 galleries invaded the Halle Freyssinet, a former train hangar in Paris' thirteenth arrondissement - and the city's latest hipster event location.

Since the Affordable Art Fair began in London in 1999, it has expanded to boast a yearly presence in eight major cities on four continents - including Amsterdam, Melbourne, New York and Singapore. This year marked AAF's third Parisian show.

Affordable Art Fair in Paris
Over 100 French and foreign galleries displayed artworkImage: AAF

Democratizing the art market

"We feel very strongly that art should be for everyone," AAF's Paul Matthews told Deutsche Welle, explaining, "We've found a gap in the market. There are a lot of people out there who have a real interest in art but don't really know where to start out."

While there are many art fairs around the world that cater to serious collectors with deep pockets and a strong sense of the market, the AAF targets a less experienced clientele who may appreciate art, but is somewhat hesitant to visit more upscale fairs and galleries.

"This is a perfect opportunity for them to come and to see art, see a wide variety of media and styles and to actually take something home with them," Matthews said.

According to Matthews, each show has a set price limit. In the Bristol and London shows, galleries may not sell any works for over 3,000 pounds (about $4,300). In Paris nothing goes for over 7,000 euros (about $8,600). There may even be some limited edition works selling for as little as 50 euros.

In this spirit of democratization and demystification of the art world, the prices are not only lower than at other fairs but also clearly marked.

While the galleries represented do show sculpture, painting, drawing and artworks that use other media, photography had a prominent place at the Affordable Art Fair. According to James Sparshatt, director of the gallery Capital Culture, which specializes in landscape photographs and images of world cultures, buying photos can be an accessible entry point into art collecting.

Aalto chairs from Ikea
People want something unique, says SparshattImage: Die Neue Sammlung/A. Laurenzo

"There are an awful lot of people out there who like beautiful things on their walls that aren't 'Ikea-ized' - where there aren't millions [of copies] that everybody is going to have," Sparshatt explained. "People like the idea of having a limited edition of something."

Welcoming new buyers - and artists

The AAF's aim is to shake things up, so while many of the artists presented at the AAF are already established, there's also a program to usher in new creators.

"My first Affordable Art Fair" welcomes 10 lesser known artists and is open to art students and recent graduates without gallery representation.

South African photographer William Nathan was one of artists selected in this year's contest. Like the nine others winners, he received a few square meters of space at the fair, where he chose to display a series of color digital photographs he took at La Defense, the business district west of Paris.

In the photos, crowds of business people appear minuscule, as if they were toy soldiers. The photographer used a tilt shift lens technique to take away La Defense's monumental scale.

"The series was done in 2009," Nathan explained. “It was in response to the economic crisis, and I wanted to give an artistic perspective on it. It really just seems as if [the business people] are running between the office and home and home and the office. And what is this for? That is the question."

Affordable Art Fair in Paris
Affordable Art Fairs take place in eight cities around the worldImage: AAF

"Should I?"

AAF estimates that each of its fairs draws between 8,000 and 25,000 visitors. Last year, AAF's fairs on four continents collectively received 120,000 people.

The AAF makes few pretenses of being a fair for intellectual collectors. After all, it seems everyone wants something pretty to hang on their walls, and for that reason AAF believes its model could make it big in other locations, too. Having stormed eight cities over the past decade, the AAF has plans to try its concept out on new cities and new art lovers in the coming years.

Matthews said part of the reason he does this is the thrill he gets from seeing art lovers make their first purchase.

“You can see people very back and forth: 'Should I? Shouldn't I?' They look at something they just really love, and they maybe disappear for a coffee for a few minutes and come back and say, 'yeah, I'm going to take it.'

"It's that excitement in someone's eyes when they make that first purchase which is really great," said Matthews.

Author: Genevieve Oger (dl)

Editor: Kate Bowen