Sunday, October 09, 2005

Fair Trade

It’s that time of year again, time for the Frieze Art Fair and the adverts in the broadsheets are promising queue jumping tickets if you book now.

Art Fairs are where the commercial underbelly of the gallery system normally glossed over by artist and critics alike is on full display. Most contemporary galleries when on their home turf act almost as if they were philanthropic organisations simply displaying art for the public good; there is usually little to indicate that the work is on sale.

At Art Fairs that all changes; instead of the studied neutrality of the white cube we get a few knocked up white boards looking for a all the world like an end of term degree show. From their stands the gallery owners look out keenly for potential buyers. To tempt the punters prints and other more 'affordable' merchandise are on offer. Any notion of curation goes out the window as the stallholders all but cry “roll up roll up, top quality Emin and Quinn, four Lucas prints for 10 grand”.

That the thread of silver that ties the whole of the commercial gallery system together is so nakedly on show, could arguably be said to be a good thing, after all you can’t accuse someone of being a money making hypocrite when they are standing keen eyed beside a cash register. It is perhaps the passivity of the punters that is so annoying at such events. They queue long and hard to get in and then meekly hand over £15 fro the pleasure of subsidising a trade fair. Most will not be able to afford even the 'affordable' prints and yet trot from stand to stand as if they were privileged to be allowed in, as if in some sad way by attending they were part of the inner sanctum of the art world. Instead of overturning the tables or at least asking for their money back the Art Fair visitor contents themselves with a few purchases from the bookshop. You can’t buy the art but you can have a coffee table book about it.

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