Frieze Art Fair has had another successful media paraded few days. An art fair I remember in Dazed’s fashion pages this time last year being described as a phenomena from its inception a mere 7 years ago.


Initially it started out as an Arts Council funded project in 2003 with former editors of Frieze magazine Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover. And very much to its credit has grown to become an event on London’s to-do-list-calendar straddling the bounds of high octane art commerce with new *unknown* stuff, along with media and tourist attraction revenue. Apparently this year, according to Dazed, the “celebrity filled traffic jam” of former years was no longer. Leaving more space for contemplative, slower paced and reasoned buying.

Well, as long as the artists are getting a look-in and a serious run for their money all the better (I’m saying somewhat simplistically).

I am going to try really hard to keep a cynical note out of this as I truly believe that platforms such as Frieze for all the run-away-commercialism of late have at least put art and artists in the public arena – if not always received in a good way.


Frieze art Fair

Frieze Art Fair 2010 The Guardian Video Link Here: Doing The Fair For Free

I am though just a tiny bit reminded about the lack of real accessibility. In the light of there not being much wriggle room for gainful artistic employment after leaving the dogma of education at any level. With all the glitzy-ness of art fairs and the aspirational endeavours taken on by artists to afford to be in these spaces.

The acting profession – well known for not having a massive presence in education. Has built up an apprenticeship style; learn as you go along and build your career within the theatre environment. But this method now too has a different allure:

Good Actors no doubt have drawing power of audiences and salaries to indicate that, and although quality and remuneration (for a career worked hard for) is a deserved reward (not least because the starting pay is so low?). But as with Footballers the desire to be that top star – and not spend time in the crowd scenes learning. Instant genius, instant gratification, instant celebrity seems a preferred career path.

In general the artistic-arts don’t have any formal structure like this, outside education. Basically you are on your own; to go buy a set of pencils or whatever and good luck. Pretty similar to authors.

In the film An Education Nick Hornby’s screenplay – on the mid-teen years of journalist/writer Lynn Barber  – showed an incredibly relevant insight into educational aspirations, creative passions and money.

Ok spoiler alert here! :

The young and highly intelligent Jenny (Lynn) was being encouraged – mainly by her Dad – to reach Oxford University. This being early 1960’s post war Britain, and although not unheard of, females gaining entry to Oxford were not generally the rule. Jenny’s Dad reasoned she spend as much time as possible doing homework and tick all the right boxes for Oxford acceptability with hobbies like playing the Cello and joining a youth orchestra etc.,. Her life was structured accordingly.


An Education Before Headmistress

An Education

The rub being…

She met a street-wise philanthropist who, fascinated, engaged with her intelligent and inquisitive personality by taking her on a highly cultural, but alternative view of the world as she knew it. Also enamouring her father along the way by conning him into thinking that he was an old Oxford-onian who could introduce his daughter to the inner circle of Oxford life.  Jenny’s father was heard to say in agreement “after all its not what you know, it’s who you know”; much to Jenny’s disbelief.


An Education at the Auction

In short she threw up the chance to go to Oxford and embarked on a brief sojourn into London’s high life of cultural fun and the offer of marriage – only to be bitterly disappointed when she discovered her gentleman friend was in fact a married man – who certainly wasn’t about to become anything other.

Jenny went back to her headmistress with regret and swore she would re-do the year she had flunked. Only to be refused. She searched out her English teacher whom she had seen as the epitome of all the hard work, and as she saw it, the boring graduate after-life possibilities for a woman; her teacher took her in gave her private tuition – and happy ever after Lynn went to Oxford and became a real life eminent writer.

Lynn and others like her whether they have become famous writers, well-recognised writers, actors, artists or whatever, have had the opportunity to realise their thoughts through mentors in and outside of education. And arguably the relatively unglamorous life follow-on.

So too, on these lines I have been drawn to the recent Basquiat film The Radiant Child about his life at the height of his fame. Which, even though the film takes an inverted look at this, shows how the general hype purporting these facts as another poor-boy-done-good (and then bad) is still lapped up. The laissez-faire acceptability as inevitable almost makes me want to retch, yes it is good, yes it does show hope for *unknown* artists, or indeed anyone doing well out of adversity.

But sometimes aside from the genuine life affirming all-things-are-possible, I think of this as some kind of self appeasing and patronising rhetoric to either offset guilt or cloud the issue that artists, as a rule don’t have a steady track – never mind a fast track to being recognised, errrrr valued.

One thing’s for sure while post education open-doors for artists remain in limited supply (and have done well before the recession started). The difference between doing a piece of art and being *An Artist* ie; one who has been generally accepted as deserving of the term – usually in the form of a prestigious acquisition. I still feel there is way too huge a gap between the doing and being.

And just to emphasise – I was drawn to a (Frieze Art) collector Valeria Napoleone, who only collects women artists:

In The Guardian interview with Vanessa Thorpe

“I didn’t start my collection because I felt there was an imbalance, but there was and there is,” she says. “I don’t know if I help or not, but it is a fantastic journey. I collect the artists I collect because they are great artists and the list of women artists that I still want to buy is very long.”

So aside from these very valid points not least, having no clue by looking at the work of knowing it was made by a female even after the name had been distinguished. Unfortunately that cynical-lead-weight feeling began to drop down like a ton of bricks on reading the words:

“For Napoleone, contemporary art was an escape from the strictures of a conventionally well-heeled lifestyle and she now uses her power and expertise to promote and encourage women artists.”
“I think about my home when I buy,” she admits. “I need to be able to live with the work. I like large pieces and I have quite large installations, but they should always be manageable in size.”

Vanessa Thorpe went on to describe Valeria;

“The daughter of a wealthy northern Italian industrialist, Napoleone is sent images of key artworks in advance of the fair in case she wants to arrange an early viewing. All her favourite British galleries, which include Greengrassi in south London and Hollybush Gardens in east London, send her coveted invitations to their morning previews at the start of the fair. They know her tastes by now, but she is not convinced that it is an identifiably female sensibility.”

” A mother of three, Napoleone is married to Gregorio Napoleone, the partner in a private equity firm, and they live in an expensive enclave in south-west London. When she buys, it is to some extent a question of domestic interior design and not just public patronage.”

Ok, so let me get this right; a feel for women artists and buying art to escape the stifling conservative life of London’s exclusive few.


Tilda Swinton I Am Love
Excuse me while I try and erase this image of Tilda Swinton in I Am Love.

Is this another well endowed from every angle (I can’t say bored in this day and age) though no doubt well educated, ahem, woman buying art (with a cause?) and people taking notice of the critical direction .

And that her genuine love and passion is what it’s all about. Indeed, otherwise why do it.

Cynicism aside, I am sure hers is a good and genuine passion, enabled by a good academic background.

And really, what’s not to love about that.

Shame isn’t it though, that more of your nominally educated don’t also have the clout, other than the occasional poor-boy-done-good, to say something similar in this manner.

What was that phrase – money talks? – in general I think, yes.


Back next Thursday 11th……

When I will also be visiting Cuadros Gallery’s exhibition at Nottingham’s Antenna Building:

Passionate about art?

Keen to discover some of Britain’s finest artists?

Interested in adding an affordable original to your collection?

Then join us on 11th November 2010 from 6pm for an exclusive art event to celebrate Antenna’s partnership with Hockley-based Cuadros, one of the foremost contemporary galleries in the midlands.

We’ll be filling two floors of Antenna with a stunning collection of contemporary art and entertainment, showcasing everything from up and coming talent to modern day masters. This is a unique opportunity for art lovers and collectors to meet many of the artists.

In addition, they’ll be the opportunity to sample the very best from Antenna’s award-winning restaurant and bar – with canapés and celebration fizz.

All artwork will be available to buy on the evening with experts from Cuadros on hand to add insight and provide advice.

To RSVP or for more details email