This weekend, art collectors will have the chance to peruse art from around 100 galleries all in one place - and to pick up a piece by an art star of the future while their work is still cheap as chips.
More than 15,000 people are expected to attend Art Sydney 08 at the Royal Hall of Industries, and if buying matches last year, they'll hand over $6 million during the three-day event. But in tough economic times, is art still a good investment? Art Sydney director Lizzy Aders thinks so. "There's always going to be dips and troughs the same as with the stockmarket," she says. "But we've just seen by the sale by Damien Hirst in London that the contemporary market is holding itself very strongly at the moment. The good thing about buying art is that you get something you love and have a very good chance it will increase in value."
Gallery exhibitors typically do a roaring trade throughout the event, which Aders says is because art fairs make it easy for people to buy. "People may find art galleries intimidating. An art fair is a relaxed environment where people can ask questions without feeling stupid - from serious collectors to electricians and plumbers who are just looking for the right piece to hang on their lounge room wall."
The event began as the Affordable Art Fair in 2003, with most works on offer for under $3000. Because there was a strong demand for works up to $100,000 in value, it was rebranded Art Sydney in 2005. Sister events now take place in Melbourne and Brisbane.
Experts lead free Art Walks throughout the weekend, covering topics including how to start a collection, collecting indigenous art, investing in art as a part of a self-managed super fund, and the highly popular 'Best Buys Under $1,000.'
Another attractive feature is the wrapping desk, which enables attendees to take home works they've bought immediately (unlike when you buy from a gallery and have to wait until the show closes). "There's a huge amount of excitement as people walk out of the fair with artwork under their arms," Aders says.
Art Sydney includes two showcase events. 'New Generation Art' highlights well-regarded artists under 45 who have gallery representation but whose work is still priced at under $10,000. Then there's 'Off the Wall', a showcase of works by emerging artists right at the start of their careers who don't have gallery representation in Sydney.
Only 14 'Off the Wall' artists are chosen each year by an expert panel and their works are for sale for as little as $200. For their part, many of the artists featured go on to sign with a gallery. "As soon as they're picked up their prices go up by a minimum of 20 per cent, sometimes 50," says Off the Wall coordinator Cash Brown.
Maree Alexander is a Sydney photographic artist who took part in Off the Wall in the most recent Art Sydney, Art Melbourne and Art Brisbane fairs. In 12 months she has gone from being an unknown fresh out of art school to being represented by Iain Dawson Gallery, with solo shows locally and in Melbourne. She was also the subject of a profile feature in Photofile magazine. "The publicity you get out of it is amazing," she says. All 15 of her works at Art Melbourne in April sold out. "It went gangbusters," she says. "It's a very different environment to a normal gallery because people are there to buy."
So what should you buy? Cash Brown has her tips from the Off the Wall showcase. "A really interesting one is Jungle Phillips from South Australia. He's an outsider artist - he suffers from schizophrenia. His paintings are amazing and very, very reasonably priced. Perhaps the most fun [artist] would be Tatjana Plitt, who photographs real couples in their homes and gives them these Mills & Boon titles. She's very promising."
From the main exhibition, the work of recently deceased indigenous artist Jack Britten is hotly tipped by Lizzy Aders. "Also, I know that Etching House [Gallery] are bringing affordable works on paper by big names such as John Olsen and Norman Lindsay. Works on paper are an accessible way of collecting high-end artists and they're always going to hold their value well."
So you've found something within your budget that looks good. How do you decide whether or not to take the plunge? "Always ask a lot of questions - there's no such thing as a stupid question in art," says Aders. "Get several opinions if you're unsure - ask the art fair staff, they can give you some fantastic advice. And always buy something you like."
Art Sydney 08 is at the Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park, Thu 23 Oct (VIP preview) and Fri 24-Sun 26 Oct
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