A(RT)FFORDABLE

“The lure in art collecting and its financial rewards… is like the trust in paper money: it makes no sense when you really think about it”. Steve Martin’s  reflections on art in his latest book about the NYC art world, An Object of Beauty, got me inspired but also thinking: I love art and I can appreciate the work, blood, sweat and teeth that go into producing a work, so why not own some?

At my not-so-ingénue age of 24, I beg the question of whether someone like me on a part-time student’s wage, could actually start a viable collection. I decided to test my hypothesis at the opening night of the recent Affordable Arts Fair that annually attempts to shower the masses with economical abstractions.

Before I went, it was fun to imagine this giant white cubicled gallery filled to the brim with congenial but slightly desperate artists and gallery owners flipping their often-devalued artistry to the next coup of wine-swilling meisters in cravats, stiff turtlenecks and bizarre noir trench coat getups. That, surprisingly, was not far from the truth. Add a dosh of your usual hipsters and some bland-faced suits and you’ve got flaneur-worthy watching on hand.

Held at the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens, it seemed quite befitting to host the next new wonders of Australia’s great art world within a building whose own historic ancestry is as rich and varied. Accompanied by my usual wing-woman and we strolled about, wine in hand as we mused, marinated and mulled.

I was not disappointed at what was on offer. There was Emma Hack’s exceedingly exquisite wallpaper collection, Jasper Knight’s mix of the surreal and pop-art, enormous wall-spanning prints of Henry Le Monnier’s lithographs, New York street artist OBEY’s (Shepard Fairey) easily recognizable works, Narelle Manser Smith’s light filled explorations of night life, Andrew Mangelsdorf’s awe-striking “pop composites” of naked women and, of course, some Banksy.

But my daydreams were dashed – I was not to be the owner of the next up-and-coming artiste. I had come ready to throw down a few hundred but instead was at a sudden loss at the added zero. Or two. I should have read the brochure. An upside down teddy bear figure was $5000; a small sketching in red pen on a napkin was $2500. Art is, of course, valued on what somebody else will pay for it and those wine-swilling meisters were definitely snapping up pieces left and right.

I left with a print for my boyfriend of Michelle Dawson’s Leap of Faith – a water-colour rendition of a woman in movement. And while I did see many works well beyond a Centrelink-fuelled student budget, there were quite a few that were de-valued or offered at bizarre market pricing. “Buy three skulls sculptures for the price of two!” In particular was Yanni Floros’ outstanding intricately layered charcoal works of his DJ ex-girlfriend’s hair. Weird sounding but incredible, pain staking and definitely devalued at a couple of grand.

Staring adoringly at Floros’ work, (and making two more rounds just so I could stare at it again) I realised the kind of collector I wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t flip or attach a worth dependent on the market value. I knew instinctively that if I collected art, I would want to hang it proudly in my house for years and hopefully, one day, bestow its inexplicable beauty to my children who will probably sell it anyway, dirty rascals.

Words: Melissa Kuttan

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