For artists who donâ€™t perhaps make millions, Frieze art week may be a date to hate. But this year, two man team Karl England and Ben Street are presenting a bold alternative. The brand new Sluice Art Fair will be 15 minutes down the road.
â€œWe have had some hostile reactions when we invited people to take part in an art fair,â€ says artist England, who in fact hails from New Zealand.
â€œThatâ€™s an important point,â€ agrees writer and curator Street. â€œWeâ€™ve been saying to people weâ€™re doing an art fair and itâ€™s just by Bond Street. People think â€˜Oh itâ€™s like an equestrian art fair!â€™â€
In fact, despite its West End location, Sluice will show work from emerging artists, artist-run spaces and other less commercial galleries.
â€œTheyâ€™ve allowed frieze and their ilk to define what an art fair is and thatâ€™s what their vision of an art fair is, itâ€™s quite sad really,â€ England continues.
â€œExactly, and if your vision of an art fair looks like the ideal homes exhibition and is loads of little booths then Sluice is going to subvert that hopefully,â€ says Street before adding: â€œDefinitely, actually.â€
The scale of Frieze Art Fair is well known. Their blue chip marquee in Regents Park has space for 170 galleries and draws some 60,000 visitors a year. Sluice is making do with less than 200 sq on South Molton Lane. They are not even sure whether to hire a credit card reader.
â€œItâ€™s spaces that wouldnâ€™t normally have thought of going to an art fair before,â€ says England, looking quite at ease with the paradox. â€œThey donâ€™t have the budget. Theyâ€™re not looking at being a selling gallery.â€
Street, meanwhile, has a considered line on why this should be. Sluice is â€œpartly an investigation into what an art fair is. Itâ€™s quite self reflexive and a lot of the work thatâ€™s going to be shown, which we know about, is pretty self reflexive stuff.â€
His co-director chips in: â€œThe thing with Frieze is they charge so much money per sq foot, that canâ€™t help but affect the sort of art these galleries submit, because they need to be showing art to be commercially viable, whereas that doesnâ€™t really happen with us.â€
Sluice has got its space for free from a sponsor. The cost of taking part is relatively low. This, according to Street, gives them a chance to ask: â€œHow [art fairs] affect the way art is seen and understood by the general public, and by the art world at large, And how they affect or if they affect the practice of artists themselves.â€
But then again you might expect awkward questions from a partnership which formed thanks to a notoriously democratic social networking site. After the Arab Spring, is it possible that Twitter is helping bring about an Art World Autumn?
â€œI would love to think that it was,â€ says Street with caution. â€œYouâ€™re right though in the way that we were able to very speedily and quickly being able to create a sort of network.â€
England also thinks Twitter can play the art system: â€œI think it does break it down,â€ he says, â€œbecause traditionally you get shows because you know people through all the colleges. Studios tend to be like that. Art galleries tend to be like that.â€
But he is more than happy to work outside that. As followers on Twitter will know, the antipodean artist has staged exhibitions on a 14cm plinth and set up an artistâ€™s residency in his own home.
â€œIâ€™ve done these little self-initiated artist projects,â€ he explains. â€œSo I thought it would be great to get projects of that scale and up and group them together and present them in a kind of, like unifiedâ€¦â€
This appears to be the point where an artist needs a writer: â€œWhatâ€™s that union thing where you get all the workers together and then present them as a block?â€ he asks.
It is a â€œUnion,â€ points out Street
Both laugh. Organised labour during art fair week sure does sound crazy, but since when did art fairs make a whole lot of sense. Roll on October.
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Check Parallax Art Fair at La Galleria, Royal Opera Arcade, Pall Mall, London. It showcases the best established and emerging international contemporary artists also features emerging and established guest curators.
Parallax AF grew out of an international exhibition called â€œParallaxâ€ that was conceived and curated by the art historian and theorist Dr Chris Barlow.
Parallax AF is smaller and intimate than other fairs, and held in a professional gallery space in central London. The shows are curated by a professional guest curator, having the feel of an organised exhibition, and catalogue essays are written by specialists.