Galleries - January 2011

noticed huge differences in the latest Battersea ‘edition’ in Oct- ober 2010, above all in the greatly improved quality of the work on show – and though I’ve not been to any outside the UK you can take it as read the same process has been going on there too. Many people might find this tight structuring frustrating and limitingand be tempted to start getting grandiose ideas of going ‘upmarket’. Ramsay has firmly and shrewdly resisted that temp- tation so far with Affordable Art, though he did point out that he does in fact have a number of other, distinctly different, art fair ventures already well up and running– most notably the PULSE contemporary art fairs in New York and Miami, first set up in 2005 and, as co-founder, Art Hong Kongin 2007, both operatingto a rather more international beat and with no obvious ground rules around price. Meanwhile what is the future for Affordable Art internationally? With Singapore just recently launched in October 2010 – “a great succ- ess” – the obvious region, with its burgeoning economic, and thus artistic, markets has to be Asia, The first Affordable Art Fair in Bat- tersea Park in 1999 coincided more or less with the moment when I became Galleries’ Feat- ures Editor. In that time I have watched it grow from a one-off and, in terms of the time, distinctly experimental venture in what might be called a ‘local’ art fair (ie one that fits the needs of the city in which it takes place rather than a national or even inter- national event), into a worldwide franchise with outlets everywhere from New York to Milan to Singapore and Melbourne. For all that rapid expansion though, the term ‘local’ still remains absolutely crucial to the Affordable concept as Will Ramsay, the founder and drivingforce of the business, made clear to me in a recent e-mail conversation (try pinninghim down in a room or even in the country!), the same ground rules of keeping upper price levels as low as possible and extreme user-friendliness in terms of attractive rest and recreation areas and lively pro- grammes of educational and practical lectures applyingwhat- ever country it might be held in. That doesn’t mean to say nothing ever changes. As Ramsay obs- erves “Each year we try to imp- rove the fair little by little. The qua- lity has improved as many more galleries realise how effective the fair is at reachingnew markets and generating strong sales.” That is perhaps beingmodest – a visitor from 1999 who’d not been to any AAF since would have though when asked about this Ramsay is diplomatically cautious of startingoff the rumour mill, going only so far as to say that “we are lookingat various options for other countries both in Asia and elsewhere.” Watch this space, in short, and there won’t be too longto wait, I suspect. Finally, talkingabout the quite dramatic expansion of the art fair market in all categories, from Frieze, with its international profile, to somethingunmistakably local such as the Readingand Windsor Art Fairs, now well established over the last decade, or even less, I asked him first, what he felt the principal attraction of a fair, an Affordable Art one in particular, might be to a sceptical dealer who’s never participated in one (next month we plan to talk to one such, Mike Goldmark). His res- ponse – “the fair is a great way of attractingnew collectors while also beinga good place to try out new artists. It expanded the art market” – is seemingly incontrovertible but where, next question, does it all stop? Has the fairs market reached saturation point yet? His answer is intriguing: “There is definitely scope in other British cities for art fairs to enhance those markets. I think there will be a shakingout process, which will result in a handful of international art fairs, lots of regional fairs (geared largely towards that country’s art scene) and plenty of local fairs such as Affordable Art Fair cateringto the city.” Much to ponder there . . . 8. GALLERIES JANUARY 11 WHERE THERE’S A WILL Nicholas Usherwood chats to Will Ramsay but not in the same room . . . “Each year we try to improve the fair ittle by little”