The Affordable Art Fair
March 12 through March 15, 2009
Dog Days at the Affordable Art Fair
A large scale event dedicated to affordable art? Now there's a novel concept - and the raison d'etre behind the decade old Affordable Art Fair. Held this year at Battersea Park along the southern banks of the River Thames during the second full weekend of March, the fair was launched originally in London in 1999 and now takes place biannually in London as well as annually in Brussels, Bristol, Amsterdam, Paris and New York, with affiliate fairs in Sydney and Melbourne. This self proclaimed “important and popular step on the art-buying ladder” is a showcase for contemporary art priced at £3000 (roughly $4250) or under.
For the most part, this year’s AAF was a hit or miss affair. Lots of over-priced kitsch (dogs were an especially popular theme for much of the art on show) and last minute purchase possibilities for the next weekend’s UK Mothers Day (March 22nd) were on display with plenty of landscape paintings and portrait photography rounding out the bulk of what was represented. Of course, with the mission to exhibit thousands of paintings, sculpture, photography and original prints with price tags between £50 and £3,000, perhaps such run of the mill works were to be expected. Despite the same-old-same-old aspect of many of the works, enough diamonds in the rough, undiscovered marvels and memorable up-and-comers were exhibited to make AFF a worthwhile visit, if not a mandatory shopping excursion, for both seasoned and wannabe collectors.
Indeed, this year’s AAF offered an excellent opportunity to gauge the state of contemporary art, not to mention the tastes and buying habits of art buyers. A focus on Asian art (particularly Chinese and Vietnamese) served to refresh western palettes with a decidedly brash take on contemporary painting. One gloriously rich example from Kings Road Galleries, Chinese artist Liao Man’s Breeze from Caribbean, No. 11 stopped attendees dead in their tracks as they rounded the corner to see this 160x110cm oil on canvas of a Mickey and Minnie bikini-clad bubble butt poised for a cheeky portrait. Other winning attempts at the affordably unforgettable seized the notion of accessible art, hijacking it to outlandish extremes. One such work was Robert Bradford’s Soft Dog, exhibited by the Parisian gallery Envie D’Art. This life-sized sculpture comprised of “cuddly toys on wood” amped up the charm to the point of distortion, resulting a big, huggable piece of mildly subversive and wildly fun art.
The £3000 ceiling still may have been a bit beyond the means of many art fans, especially with the fair’s £12 fee for general public entry. However, plenty of works were priced around the £50 mark. Besides, if the quality of the art didn’t do the trick, the vast numbers of works in the AAF’s airy and pleasant facilities made for a gawk-worthy stroll at the very least.