Review: Buy Art Fair (an amateur’s guide to buying)

Robert Cutforth
James Chadderton, Manchester Apocalypse, The Palace, courtesy the artist; Works at The Manchester Contemporary 2011

Fancy buying a photo of a pair of wrapped bratwursts? Robert Cutforth, after visiting the 2012 Buy Art Fair, gives his advice on buying original art.

If there are two things this hayseed amateur art lover has learned from previous art fairs, it is the following. One, never buy original art as an investment. “Ooh, that one is pretty” is every bit as valid as “this artist will be the next Martin Creed” when it comes to hanging something in your home. You’ve got to look at the thing for the next forty years; you may as well like it. Two (and most importantly), never say things like, “A thousand pounds?! My five-year-old nephew could have done that,” whilst viewing a photo of a pair of wrapped bratwursts. Not just because it’s rude and probably not true, but because there is a good chance that the artist will be within earshot when you say it.

From my (albeit limited) experience, the average art fair tends to be on the pretentious side. I love the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition “buyers’ day”, but often you need a degree in art history and a penchant for masochism in order to have conversations with the people in its rooms. People with pointy shoes and five haircuts on one head. People who use words such as “aggressive” and “focused” to describe wine.

Not so at the Buy Art Fair, hosted this year in a giant tent at Spinningfields. Don’t get me wrong, there is the odd green corduroy suit and enough designer eyewear to outfit an army of Gok Wans, but there are just as many jeans and t-shirt-types to balance it out. Most of the stalls are manned by friendly-without-being-pushy dealers who are happy to field asinine questions with an explanation that doesn’t leave one feeling like a moron. The art is also, as advertised, affordable, with a vast array of pieces coming in under £500. In fact, the pair of wrapped bratwursts photo I mentioned is not actually going for a grand, it can be yours for a mere eighty quid.

It’s not just for the elite, it’s for everyone because, as Ray Mears will attest, it’s impossible to be snooty in a tent

Last year, I bought one of James Chadderton’s Derelict Manchester images (below) and wouldn’t you know it, the man himself was there. And he was chatty. I told him I had bought his image of a destroyed Palace Theatre and his face lit up. “D’you wanna know how I do them?” Erm, yes please. We then spoke for twenty minutes about Pantone brushes, Wacom tablets and the techniques involved in combining physical and digital media; in other words, we were talking about art. Which is kinda the point.

There is art to suit most tastes. There are landscapes in a multitude of media and styles hanging beside graphic design prints. Contemporary abstract works mingle comfortably with traditional portraits. There are bits of Day-Glo sculpture, ink drawings of decapitated rabbits and even a pencil sketch of a bird perched on a dildo (complete with butt plug), if that’s your bag. If you still feel you’re too much of a pleb to buy your own bit of creative joy, allow me to put your mind at ease. The Buy Art Fair is not just for the cultural elite, it is for the masses as well because, as Ray Mears will attest, it is impossible to be snooty in a tent.

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