Update, November 2012: With the next edition of the OAF coming up in a few weeks time, and despite several (unethical) private requests from Ryan Stanier of the OAF that I delete my last post about the OAF (read it here first if you haven’t already) or amend it so as to make unfavourable/critical parts of that previous article disappear into the Memory Hole because he claims I’m damaging his business– requests which only ceased when I expressly told him only to contact me here in public on this blog because I would no longer engage in back-channel communications of any kind– I did promise him I would correct anything I’d written that was factually incorrect.
Thanks to a reader who emailed me with new information, I’m therefore happy to issue the following correction: exhibiting at the OAF doesn’t cost £600, it costs £690+VAT (i.e. +£138=£828). Reference: http://www.theotherartfair.com/information-for-artists/why-apply. I unreservedly apologise for underestimating the cost to an artist of showing their work at the Other Art Fair. In light of this information, readers may like to reassess Ryan’s assertions (in the comments of my first OAF article) that the average exhibitor makes sales amounting to £1200 over the course of two OAF outings. I can help you by doing the maths right away: assuming the artist pays VAT and Ryan’s information is correct, then 2x£828=£1656-£1200=£456 LOSS over two OAFs. We can’t know if Ryan is using “average” in a strictly mathematically correct manner– probably not– but even if we take “average” in its general colloquial sense to mean “roughly in the middle of the gamut” this still means a significant number of exhibitors make less than £828, i.e. a much greater financial loss. Even the above average exhibitor needs to make sales of at least £1656 over two shows (or £828 in one) to break even or go into any profit at all. This is without even factoring in the costs to the artist of materials, the labour of making the work to begin with, plus shipping, travel, and subsistence (including a London hotel stay for some participants).
Not that the OAF is alone in operating on the assumption that all of these costs are things that can be and should be absorbed by the artist, (or by anybody, really, apart from themselves) because many private or public art galleries throughout Britain and the world, and many recipients of regular Arts Council England funding– up to and including major flagship institutions– operate, represent themselves and manage their budgets with exactly the same wilfully deceptive mathematics that outsource and hide the true costs and huge amount of free or underpaid labour that are essential to their continued existence. And most of these costs and labour are invariably shouldered by the very people who are already the least respected, most exploited and least remunerated: the artists, and the unpaid interns, and the unpaid interns who want to be artists.
The same little bird also told me that despite PR claims of over 500 applicants, the deadline for applications was extended at least once. I have no way of verifying this claim at the moment, so I will just say for now that I am reporting a rumour as I heard it and not a known, first-hand fact. “Extending the deadline”, by the way, is not usually done out of the goodness of anybody’s hearts or because they’ve been overwhelmed by applicants; on the contrary it means they’ve not had enough applicants or the applicants so far have been crap, simple as that. I know from personal experience of being on the other side of things– i.e. as a representative of arts organisations who receive applications, offer commissions, etc.– that competition is so fierce and demand is so high that you never have to extend the deadline unless something about your “opportunity” makes a sensible person smell a rat, or your publicity is lacking, or your organisation is coming off like a bunch of pricks, or word has got around that you really are a bunch of pricks, or something of that kind. There’s almost never a lack of applicants in a specific case because there’s a lack of applicants generally, since there definitely isn’t a lack of people who are– or call themselves, or want to become– artists, and want their work to be seen.
Also, to reiterate and clarify an important point: putting pressure on me behind the scenes in any way or attempting to intimidate me, threaten me, get to me through my friends or colleagues, or even bribe me, ingratiate yourself or kiss my arse does not work. People have tried before. First offence gets a courteous private response, although I’ll probably also tell my artist friends never to work with you. Repeat offenders will be outed publicly. I like sensible, civilised emails even when they come from people with whom I disagree, and I always try to respond promptly in kind. I absolutely welcome public comments here on the blog from everybody, without exception… including the dissent, disagreement, “remove this post” and “how dare you” type comments that I sometimes receive in private.
The climate of fear that makes people who work in the arts afraid to make even mild criticisms of the status quo has to end. I think a great many of us are tired of sycophantic, bland “reviews” that just tell us what we’re quite capable of seeing with our own eyes instead of actually assessing the work’s quality and worth… not least because these lily-livered so-called critics are often friends of the artist or gallerist, and/or they’re as afraid as many artists are of being cut off from these immoral, vain, sketchy and psychopathic parts of the art world that they apparently want so desperately to be included in. Back room deals, backhanders and secret back stabbing are ugly and toxic to the only important or necessary thing about working in the arts: making art that people connect with, enjoy, or otherwise gain something from it being in their lives.
To all the galleries and individuals who don’t like being criticised and castigated in public: stop trying to make yourselves merely look good and devote your energy to actually conducting yourselves better and being good.