19 Dec

When Ryan Stanier of The Other Art Fair wrote to me begging that I delete my posts about it because I was damaging his business, and later importuned me in person in the same regard, I said that I would not do that but I would correct any factually incorrect information I had provided. Unfortunately in my first article I’d understated the cost to artists of exhibiting in this show. Now a little bird has told me that the OAF’s prices have gone up again. See drop menu near bottom of the linked page, after all the artist statement and CV smokescreen stuff. Yeah, as if they accept or reject people solely on their artistic merit and charging them is an afterthought… 3m of wall space and “two spotlights” (woo!) now costs £745+VAT (Value Added Tax of 20% which is charged on most commercial products or services in the UK). It costs £1610+VAT for 7m of wall and four spotlights. For this kind of money those spotlights had better be some kind of King Kong searchlight bastards.

Perhaps, some might say, the upfront costs don’t matter so much and it’s a good investment if the artist gets to sell their work. Well, these artist-milking businesses actually rely on aspiring artists having this kind of woolly quasi-capitalist mindset and yet being too desperate– or frankly, sometimes, just too dim– to do the maths. They have their profit margins nicely worked out, of that I can assure you. If you’re an artist, do yourself a favour and start being realistic about your own costs, investments and profits too.  You can see my calculations on the previous post if you’re interested, but it suffices here to say that Stanier himself claims that the “average artist” (ha ha, you said it Ryan) at the OAF makes £1200 over two fairs. Unfortunately (even leaving aside transportation, subsistence, plus the labour and materials involved in making the work to begin with) the stand costs alone leave an artist who makes sales of £1200 over two fairs still clearly at a significant financial loss. And another very pissed off little insider bird who feels rather foolish now tells me that they coughed up the money to exhibit at the OAF and they didn’t sell a single thing.

If you’re determined to work for nothing and show your work for nothing, then for the love of Baby Warhol and the Twelve YBAs, please, please at least stop lining the pockets of these shysters while you do so. Even in deep austerity Britain there are low-cost or no-cost alternatives, artist unions, studio groups and artist networks who will advise and support you without any kind of exploitative, cynical agenda. Invest your money in yourself. Help yourself and other artists by starting your own artist collective or gallery instead, and help to put the OAFs of this world out of business.



  1. Oliver Kersh (@kershstudio) 26/12/2013 at 11:52 PM #

    Hi, im a artist who has applied for the OAF, what you have said does make sense about investing in yourself and not to throwing your money away at these expensive fairs, i do feel they are dangling a gold carrot hoping to make it.
    i have gone loads of local craft markets around manchester (my home town) what i find is that you never know who you will meet, you get a great commissions or great sales or some good leads to follow up, i see these expensive fairs in the same light, yes the stands cost a lot more money the the local craft markets but the artist will charge a lot more money for their work, i don’t see many other options for people for want to make a living in selling their work, what else can we do!?

    you slag of these fairs saying to stop lining the pockets of these shysters is making me think twice about attending the fairs like OAF (which isn’t a bad thing) but have you had any first hand experience selling your work at fairs?

    im yet to come across any fairs put on by artist unions, studio groups or artist networks these groups, if you could show me some links that would be fantastic!

    • Alistair 27/12/2013 at 11:48 AM #

      This is a thoughtful response, but you seem to have inadvertently answered your own query. If you’re making good, real contacts and sales from (presumably free or low cost) local events, why gamble on something you know and admit is probably offering false hope at great cost? Think about the fact that most artists aren’t in these so-called “art fairs” [sic, actually they’re an art-related business plan evolved specifically to nail down and monetise the long tail of the “legitimate” (also sic) art world, those artists who feel they should be recognised but can’t get there for one reason or another]. The sad fact is that whatever they do, however good their work may be, whatever shortcuts they may attempt to buy, most artists never sell anything or they make negligible profits anyway; see a-n’s recent research on artist livelihoods. That minority who do who sell work or are commissioned regularly are 99% not those exhibiting at paid-for-by-the-artist art fairs and they never have been.

      To answer your art fair question with regard to me personally, I will say again as I’ve said often before: there are many art worlds, not just one. The particular one I am in is one in which I have never wanted to or needed to sell art works as unique, monetarily valuable objects. For the most part I don’t even make that kind of work anyway, so there could be no question of any one person “owning” it. For the past 12 years or so I’ve had commissions, exhibitions in public (i.e. not commercial) galleries and residencies (proper ones where I am paid, not the kind where the artist pays) throughout the UK and the world. There are probably at most a few thousand artists in the world working successfully in this sector, which as I say is just one of the art world’s different ones. I’ve visited countless degree shows, private views and art fairs, including the ones where the artist pays… but I’ve never exhibited in any of the pay-to-exhibit shows. Never even occurred to me that I would or should, and that may be because I’ve been lucky enough to work my whole career with people who really knew what they were doing and didn’t just see me as a big bag of money to be squeezed. I certainly had no privileges or contacts whatsoever to begin with. I just worked hard and tried to be good at what I do, and to keep getting better. I recommend you read my book, and not just as a reflexive promotional gesture on my part. I really do think it will help you to understand where I’m coming from, and the difference between where I am, where most artists are in one way or another, and how this differs from the prevailing cliche that an artist is only an artist if they flog a painting every week, like a caricature of an artist from a cartoon.

      Sluice Art Fair is artist-led and artist-centric, although the focus is definitely and deliberately not on selling despite the fact that it also happens. I’ve participated in their discussion and education events. They paid me, I didn’t pay them. In the three years it’s been running it has developed an extremely good reputation.

      Zeitgeist Art Projects (ZAP) is a paid artists’ membership group also run by people who actually have the interests of artists at heart instead of just their wallets. They run an annual open exhibition, and year round learning and networking events. Again I’ve had direct personal contact with them and can vouch for their sincerity.

      Keep an eye on the bulletins or sites of a-n, Axis, Arts Council England’s Arts Jobs, and Artquest for other other legit opportunities along the same lines as those mentioned above. Note that for ethical and professional reasons the aforementioned sites are pretty punctilious about keeping… ahem… shall we say, with no particular or specific reference to the event under discussion on this page… certain art fairs, competitions and companies out of their listings. Others are much less careful, including some major listings providers, commissioning bodies or venues who should know better.

      • Alistair 31/12/2013 at 7:01 PM #

        In light of a conversation I had about this post (you know, in real life, with mouths) and the part where I wrote “There are probably at most a few thousand artists in the world working successfully in this sector…” it occurred to me that for less experienced people it might be useful to pass on the fact that from my experience of any exhibition or commission offered for genuinely open application, as a shortlistee and/or the person chosen, and as occasionally as somebody on the other side assessing submissions, the entries to open art or writing opportunities tend to hover around 150-300 applicants unless they’re absolutely massive ones run by the likes of the BBC.

        What this signifies is probably best left to a better statistician than me, but it gives you some idea of the odds most of us face. Even if 200 of the 300 people who put themselves forward fall at the first hurdle simply by not being good enough, unqualified, palpably bonkers and a nightmare to work with, etc., you might still be in competition with 100 or more people who are at least as good, talented and deserving as you are.

        My inside information about pay-to-play “art opportunities” indicates that they rarely have more than a dozen genuine applicants awaiting processing at any given time, because by the nature of their business strategies the turnover of participants is huge. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, etc…

        Why else do you think these places advertise and proselytise so aggressively? Any reputable, credible galleries, arts organisations or publishers I’ve ever worked with merely had to mention that there was an opening for new work and within days or even hours they were bombarded.



    […] in the neighbourhood of £600 to be there (WRONG: It cost them at least £828 including VAT) , then more detailed pricing examples emerged with figures like £745+20% VAT and £1610+20% VAT for 7m of wall and four spotlights). As […]

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