13 Dec


An example of the so-called “press” comments at the website of Parallax Art Fair, yet another in the seemingly endless parade of parasitic vanity venues for people who can’t really hack it but like to maintain the affectation that they’re artists:

“I have been an ‘artaholic’ all my life– first as an artist then tapestry designer, then gallery owner for 25 years– and this blew me over!! I am sending word to everyone I know would be interested. Keep it going—!” – Visitor, SW6″

Ah, Visitor SW6, that well known journal of record for the art world. Careful, that artahol will kill you in the end. You’ll start caching artahol around the house and behind the books, artahol before breakfast just to feel functional and stabilised. You’ll think that people don’t know about what you imagine is a super secret artahol habit, but they do know. Perhaps it was the huge intake of artahol that made it so easy for her to be blown over. You know, like when Dean Martin said you’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.

Is that “Keep it going —!” a bowdlerisation of a particularly unpleasant expletive, as in a Victorian novel? Probably not, but I’d still like to imagine the middle aged Visitor SW6 exclaiming “Keep it going, shit-munching motherfuckers!” or “Keep it going cuntflaps!”

The other comments are “Amazing Art Fair!” (sic)– incisive critique indeed by “A Visitor”– and several paragraphs of drivelling platitudes by suspiciously unnamed exhibitors AKA customers. Hint to Parallax AF: your press clippings should actually be from the press, and a listing saying effectively “this event is on at such and such a time” also doesn’t count as press. (Quote) “Parallax AF is different from other artists’ fairs in that it is like a specialised exhibition based on new ideas drawn from the philosophy of Art History.” It’s, like, totally specialised, yeah? In addition to my confusion at their curatorial statement being inexplicably couched in this strange Tween girl lingo, I also don’t know what it means. Is Art History a philosophy? Isn’t art history, well… history? Surely an idea from history is by definition historical, not new?

Parallax AF is like other artists fairs that aren’t really artists’ fairs in the sense that it has overqualified and underemployable young women trawling the internet for potential marks, it has a sketchy-looking website, badly designed publicity material, an even more dubious parent page, the thing they’re calling an art fair takes place in crappy venues with no credibility whatsoever, the whole thing stinks of Trustafarians with MBAs and loose morals, and also in the sense that yes, of course artists pay between £70 and £570 + VAT and all their own expenses for the privilege of being involved in something something great opportunity something alongside a bunch of other randoms with more money than sense.

This is another in a long and tiresome list of unwelcome and insulting invitations to hand money over to shady art schemes. A certain Amreen Khan (who seems to be a young artist herself who’s decided to blot her copybook right on the first page by getting involved with this cowboy operation) made the mistake of harvesting my name and contact details from the Contemporary Art Society website, but apparently not bothering to spend a few minutes on Google to discover how often here on this blog, in talks, in teaching or mentoring and at Market Project I dismember and eat for breakfast greedy, exploitative pigs who make a business from harvesting the desperation of inexperienced, naive people who want to be artists. I’d venture to include Ms. Khan in this latter category as well, since she’s doing somebody else’s dirty work and probably being paid little or nothing for her pains on the promise of seeing some proper money at some unspecified point in the future, or of filling up her as yet sparse CV. I’m on the Contemporary Art Society site because I’m a professional artist with a certain amount of credibility and a track record of working in critically engaged contemporary arts. That means people buy my work, I’m paid to show my work and/or I’m commissioned and paid to make it. Being a professional artist means I don’t pay to exhibit my work.

You can download an information PDF from their site. It includes a FAQ, but I was surprised to find that one of the frequently asked questions isn’t “what the fuck?”


6 Responses to “ABUSING THE ARTAHOL”

  1. Carl C 01/12/2013 at 8:55 AM #

    Great piece. I naively showed with Parallax in London a couple of years ago – probably the worst exhibition I’ve ever seen, and run in a way that was as unprofessional as it was unscrupulous.

    I tried to follow-up with organiser Chris Barlow afterwards, but was met with a fog of disclaimers and artbollocks (though, until recently, he continued to send me the ‘You’ve been selected…’ email inviting me to ‘apply’ for forthcoming shows, which was touching).

    Very glad to see his bullshittery is now more exposed online. Hope people see it.

    • Alistair 02/12/2013 at 11:31 AM #

      There should be some kind of “once bitten…” themed badge for all the artists who’ve found out the hard and expensive way that there are no shortcuts. In the past six months alone I’ve probably had 20-30 people either comment on the blog or email me to say they got involved with some scheme I wrote about and now they feel like idiots, never again, etc.

      I had some (surprisingly courteous) private communication with Barlow after this was first published, although evidently we didn’t get anywhere in terms of him understanding why I didn’t think what he was doing was a suitable way to support artists… if that’s what one wants to do instead of just cloaking oneself in the language of supportiveness in order to make money. No way of knowing if he was being genuinely dense or deliberately, disingenuously and conveniently obtuse.

      Then, like you, about a month ago I get a “you’ve been selected” type letter spammed out to me as if nothing ever happened, saying I’d been talent spotted from a shitty portfolio site that I have never been on and never would be. Then another, about another site where I’ve been “talent spotted”. Again, I can’t tell if doing such things is the result of utter shamelessness, sad desperation or blithe incompetence. Possibly all three. None are attributes that bode well for somebody who wants you to trust them with your money and your reputation.

      As I always say: £600-£1000 to spare? Lucky you. Have a nice holiday instead.

      • Carl C 03/12/2013 at 11:13 AM #

        Wholly agree with you on the character of Barlow. In our email exchange following the show I’d been part of he had an answer to every point I raised – eg, the exhibition had been cramped and in parts poorly lit and atrociously laid-out to reflect modern collectors’ homes (they all live in flats which are similarly pokey and dark, you see?); the quality of the work exhibited in the show appeared to vary hugely due to the radical curatorial approach of the organisers (and not a complete absence of curatorial control, as I’d suspected)… and on and on. It all seemed utterly disingenuous and impossible to take seriously, but at the same time I couldn’t understand why he was going to the trouble of making all this stuff up – and being so polite about it – when he could have simply ignored me (he’d already got my money, after all, so had nothing to gain).

        Each time he sent a subsequent invitation email I replied with a ‘You’re joking, right?‘ response, though with the one I received a few weeks ago I lost patience and told him very bluntly what I thought of Parallax and of him personally. He replied with another apology, an assurance that I would not hear from them again, and a “God bless”.

        Like you, I can’t make him out. His claims clearly don’t tally with the reality of what he does, and his whole enterprise, I would argue, is at the very least ethically dubious. He argues his case unerringly, but, if he’s half as clever as he’d have people believe, he must surely know what he’s doing?

        On the money side, I was probably stung only on the lower end of your scale – paid for a double space, travelled from Cardiff, stayed with friends in London – but some people in that show lost a great deal more. There were exhibitors there from America, Spain and Italy, for example, who had shipped their work over and were staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, etc, and had no chance at all of recouping any of their outlay. One chap had only been painting for a few months – as was clear from his work – but for him the Parallax show was going to be his big London breakthrough. I was annoyed with myself for being duped, but it was these people I felt most angry at Barlow about.

        Sadly, though, painters always like to be told they’ve caught someone’s eye. I doubt if anyone ever goes back for a repeat Parallax experience, but there’ll always be a fresh crop to be flattered by that first email, and a proportion of them, like me, will bite.

        It’s great that sites like yours are working to raise awareness of all this, and I’m sure it’s having an impact. If people want to show with these kinds of outfits, then best of luck to them, but at least now, after a couple of Google searches, they can do so in a more informed way – or steer clear, as the case may be.

      • Alistair 03/12/2013 at 12:00 PM #

        I knew it was having an impact when some of the subjects started trying to persuade me to un-publish things, began writing me furious threatening emails, and in one case instigated a crude, disgusting and totally backfiring attempt at shutting me up by sending nasty blackmailing messages to my professional contacts. Obviously I can also see the search and visitor logs and as I’ve mentioned previously, even without informants (of which I now have many) telling me so, I can now see when one of the usual offenders is spamming artists for business because there’s a corresponding spike in visitors. I’d like to echo your last comment, too. Contrary to what some of the people who work for these vanity artist services companies may think or say about me, my view is that if people want to spend their money in that way then it’s up to them and I really hope they get what they want out of the experience. I really do, even though in my opinion it’s bonkers to throw your money away like that. I don’t necessarily want these companies out of business, I just want them to run their businesses ethically, honestly and transparently… if they can. In some cases I doubt that they could, or that the people who run them could hang a picture straight let alone run a business straight. If they also ran their businesses competently that too would be a step forward in many cases.

        The main point I’m making is that it’s unlikely you will get what you want from these companies. Anybody can put a picture up on a wall and say they had an exhibition even if only three people come. Different artists have different ambitions and different trajectories for their careers. You need your work to be shown and seen in the right places for you and your work, not just any old place to any random person and merely for the sake of being shown.

        Re. your third to last paragraph, it’s probably not much consolation but all artists and aspiring artists should bear it in mind: I’ve had one particular conversation with a number of my friends over the past couple of years, all of them working, mature artists who generally know what they’re doing and work fairly consistently. It goes something like this:

        Me: How’s your [project/commission/workshop/teaching] going?

        Them: OK… but it’s really time consuming and when I started it I really didn’t cost it properly. Now when I take into account the time and money involved in travelling there and back, the materials and my expenses and everything else, I’m either basically earning virtually nothing and standing still, or I’m actually out of pocket.

        Of course this damned if you do/damned if you don’t loop is not unique to artists. It’s like (in kind if not degree) the crappy pay, job security and conditions endured by low paid people across the world who have to work twice as hard just to stand still, or to only move slightly backwards, instead of the usual alternative which is being plunged into abject destitution.

        I don’t knowingly get myself into this situation any more, precisely because of working on these issues and having these kinds of conversations over the past few years. If I do the maths and I’m not coming out ahead then I have to walk away, no matter how much I might like to be involved if money were no object. But there are still plenty of otherwise sensible artists (and designers, performers, film makers, etc) who fall prey to their own egos, allow themselves to be persuaded, or are just in denial because thinking things through would mean 90% of the time they say no. And so off they go, blundering into project after project with more enthusiasm than sense and ending up poorer as a result.

        It’s not like anybody thinks any better of you for sacrificing yourself in this way. Trust me, from my own experience and the experience of virtually every artist, writer, film maker, designer, actor, musician and dancer I’ve ever known… the people who exploit your vocation and your passion definitely don’t think any better of you for giving it to them for less than it’s worth. On the contrary, as many of us have seen, because so many desperate creative people have degraded themselves there’s an absolute plague of companies who expect us to give it for free or even pay for the “privilege” of giving it for free, and they get very angry when we dare to value our time and our work properly.

  2. Alistair 03/12/2013 at 12:26 PM #

    Some more realistic reviews of Parallax at LinkedIn… i.e. not the kind you’ll see on PAF’s site. Not very positive, put it that way.



    […] What do you get from Parallax Art Fair (sic) two months after your last request that they remove you from their mailing list and never […]

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