Time to collect and pass go.

Laura Mansfield

Buying contemporary art isn’t just for Saatchi and co., as Laura Mansfield discovers at this year’s Manchester Contemporary

Manchester Contemporary Art Fair

This month sees the second incarnation of Manchester Contemporary, Manchester’s own (and only) contemporary art fair – an event attached to the more mainstream Buy Art Fair but which focuses on new work by some of the UK’s most exciting artists. But, although it takes its inspiration from the commercial art fairs that stud the art world calendar (London’s Frieze being perhaps the most well-known), Manchester Contemporary is about more than simply the buying and selling of art. It is part of a wider effort to promote collecting in the North West. ‘There has been increasing interest in developing a local market for this kind of art over the past few years,’ say International 3 curators Paulette Terry Brien and Laurence Lane, who oversee this year’s event. ‘The Contemporary Art Society has developed a regional membership of emerging collectors, for example, Arts & Business run an “Invest in Art” programme and the Arts Council is also trying to encourage buying.’

International 3, the small but perfectly formed gallery close to Piccadilly Station, has played its own part in the development of such a market. In 2008, the Buy Art Fair invited Brien and Lane to curate a small exhibition of contemporary work within the fair. It was so successful that a year later the Manchester Contemporary was born. Curated in 2009 by Liverpool’s Ceri Hand, who runs the only commercial gallery in Liverpool and represents such artists as Bedwyr Williams, S Mark Gubb and Matthew Holding, this inaugural art fair created a distinct space within the bigger Buy Art Fair for the exhibition and sale of contemporary art.

Like its sister, this year’s Manchester Contemporary is being held at Spinningfields, where Brien and Lane have created a bespoke, open and flexible space to showcase the work of 13 galleries. ‘We hope the overall design of the exhibition will create a more pleasurable art viewing and successful art purchasing experience,’ say Brien and Lane. There is a real emphasis on regional galleries, from Bristol’s Works Projects and Mermaid & Monster (Cardiff) to the Gateshead gallery, Workplace and, of course, the numerous galleries that represent the North West.

What is interesting about Brien and Lane’s selection is that they have given precedence to galleries that are strictly commercial, the ones that focus on developing artists’ careers and cultivating a collector base for their work. But this doesn’t mean that artist-led galleries aren’t in the frame – the fair includes sections that showcase the work of public galleries, art publishers and artist-led spaces. Likewise, there is a range of work on sale, from Emin International’s cups and canvas bags (perfect for buyers dipping their toe into these contemporary waters) to the sorts of complex, large-scale installations from the likes of Matthew Houlding that will really only appeal to seasoned collectors.

So, does this mean that there is something for everyone at the Manchester Contemporary? Not quite. The fair is all about new and defiantly edgy art. Granny-friendly paintings of dogs and boats you won’t find hanging on display. But the Manchester Contemporary promises both to educate and exhibit, to reveal the rich seam of contemporary practice in the North of England and, perhaps, to persuade you, dear reader, that collecting contemporary art is a worthwhile, life-long investment – not the sort of impulse buy you’ll regret along with your credit card bill…

The Manchester Contemporary, 28 – 31 October, Spinningfields. Free, but you must register for tickets. Images (top to bottom): Manchester Contemporary in 2009; Eric Bainbridge.

Eric Bainbridge Manchester Contemporary in 2009

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