A new London-based art fair claims to champion photographers by eliminating the gallery middleman. But is this a unique business model, or a marketing tool? Thomas Cox investigates
More than 120 photographers and artists will show their work at The Other Art Fair (TOAF), “a unique platform from which artists can independently showcase their work to gallerists, curators, critics and collectors” which will run from 23 to 26 April at Victoria House in Holborn, London.
The selection committee includes artist Gavin Turk and the Curator of Drawings at the Courtauld Gallery, Dr Stephanie Buck. The photographers shown will include Gina Soden, Anastasia Lazurenko, Barbara Nati, and Tommy Clarke (see image-gallery above).
Billed as the “UK’s leading artist fair”, Ryan Stanier has directed TOAF since its launch in 2011. Stanier was previously the director of Artbeat, a group which put on pop-up art fairs in Covent Garden.
“I had a lot of friends who were practising artists,” Stanier says. “They were putting on these amazing shows outside London but struggling to get their art seen. The difficulty is actually getting people along.
“I thought why don’t we create an art fair where we go out and try and find the best unrepresented artists and offer them a stand. It’s an opportunity for them to meet galleries, curators, journalists, buyers and directors. Also, for visitors it’s a really nice experience because they get to go and actually meet the people who made the work. You’re meeting them at a stage in their career before they get taken on by a gallery, so it’s a more affordable experience as well.”
The fair cuts costs through techniques such as taking advantage of free advertising from publications including the International New York Times. While the entry-point for a stand at other fairs in London is expected to be over £5000, the entry-point at TOAF is comparatively low, at £700. To subsidise this, TOAF take 10 percent of sales. Photography like the ones displayed in the gallery ranges in price from £50 to £2000.
“Photography is a particularly popular area,” Stanier says. “We have an area called Photo 21 specifically for photography, like a mini-fair within the fair. But I’d say photography is probably the most commonly-used medium throughout the rest of the fair. There are photographers who wouldn’t necessarily see themselves as photographers; who also work in collage, sculpture, and paint.”
One example is British-born artist Claire Newman-Williams, known for photographing actors such as Stephen Fry, whose work at TOAF blends photographs with other images and text.
But is it truly an alternative to gallery representation for independent artists?
The core aim of the fair, of reducing the established distance between artist and customer, singles it out as an interesting new kid on the block. Although the cost-cutting model might seem a gamble at first glance, the fact that TOAF has reached its fourth year and eighth event suggests a stable future and a functioning business model.
While the attractiveness of the event is reflected in the return of some artists year after year, variety in the work is available to the consumer by a fresh selection committee each time. The event is evidentially proving to be popular among customers; TOAF have reported steady attendance figures, each of whom pay between £7.04 – £8.80 a ticket; an alternative event to the Affordable Art Fair, that also works within the average wallet’s limit.
This is the eighth time the fair has been staged since its inauguration in November 2011. TOAF will also visit Bristol from 5 – 7 June, with mostly different artists and a different committee, and then Sydney from 10 – 13 September. There will be another TOAF in London at the Old Truman Brewery in east London from 15-18 October.
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