Friday, 27 March 2015

AAF in Milan

    Last week I had an interesting experience as I accompanied my London gallerist, Kathryn Bell from Fine Art Consultancy, to Milan for the Affordable Art Fair. Kathryn is a veteran of AAF but it was her first time in Milan and she thought she might do with someone who spoke the language.
Aside from the late arrival of the paintings, for which we had only about three hours to set up the whole stand, everything went well and we had good sales and a lot of compliments for the work we displayed.

I was lucky enough to sell this painting, a "behind the scenes" image from my studio, painted at night under artificial light. It was enjoyable to talk to visitors and a little difficult to fend off the artists who thought it fit to come submitting their work at the busiest time of the day.

Chaotic Still Life, oil on linen, 46x72 cm

   What struck me the most in the fair was the lack of perceptual paintings. Actually I think my work might have been one of the few that implied looking at reality among the about ninety exhibiting galleries.  The quality of the paintings and sculptures on show was at times frankly embarrassing and I wonder if many galleries underestimated visitors and tried to shift the worst of what they had under the pretence that is cheap. This in turn discourages many good artists who might be in fact happy to sell their work for under 6000€ but don't take part because of the lack of quality.
My gallery preferred to show good works of established and popular artists even if this meant getting very close to the upper price limit, and the decision paid off. 

   Anyway someone looking for "realist", for lack of a better word, painting would have been very disappointed, and it was frustrating to see what people carried out ( the spirit of the fair is that you walk away with the artwork you have bought). As the days went by I realised that the most popular works were what I call "joke" works, paintings that play on humour such as large cityscapes with an ostrich running around, little compositions playing on the name of famous artists ( Duchamp Shampoo, Klimt Eastwood...seriously) or large head of celebrities traced and painted on newspaper collage.

   Were these buyers the same people who queue up for the umpteenth Caravaggio show, who travel around Italy for arty gourmet trips, educated professionals who are keen for their children to appreciate art and play music, and hail from the cradle of visual art civilisation? I was baffled.

    A remark by James Bland shed some light on this and made me think: irony is a way of distancing yourself from something. If I say I like a certain painting, then my taste can be scrutinised and I can be judged upon it. If I buy art without really engaging but I declare it amuses me I am safe and can retain my cool. If I make art and then give it an ironic, sarcastic title then it doesn't matter if the piece is any good, I was only joking.
A walk around the high brow world of contemporary art at Frieze fair is not too different from the AAF, just a little more expensive and sophisticated: many playful or satiric artworks that have no intrinsic value and do not require a real commitment, just a financial investment.

  Irony is not a 20th century element in art. I always thought that we perhaps disregard it but that all of Zeus naughty affairs were conceived with and for amusement, that nymphs and satyrs having fun in the woods were not viewed seriously, however they were painted seriously. Once the humour has worn off, what will collectors of modern farcical pieces be left with ?

As for me, I declare shamelessly that I take full responsibility for the paintings I make ( now travelling to Hong Kong for the upcoming AAF).

G.K. oil on panel 24x18 cm



  1. Good post, Ilaria, if unsettling. Perhaps the popularity of ironic art reflects a poorly informed collector base, as well. I always get a little blue after going to these types of events. But a few hours in the studio takes care of all that.

  2. Yes Candace I was between baffled and depressed, studio therapy is needed ! :-)

  3. I heard from my gallerist (Galerie Terbeek)who was there that the visitors quite shamelessly offered to pay half of the prizes asked. Which she refused and sales were disappointing.

  4. Yes Yvonne, there are times when Italians suddenly go Eastern Mediterranean and consider haggling essential. I think your gallery did the right thing.
    We also held our prices up and we complained to the organisers because some galleries slashed prices on the last day ( common practice at commercial fairs).