Each year in London, established artists pack their trunk with work and sell it for a bargain, discovers Seth Jacobson
The art car boot sale that’s a stroke of genius
Returning to celebrate its 15th birthday this autumn, the Art Car Boot Fair at Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, is one of the most democratic events in the cultural calendar of the British capital.
Its premise is simple: dozens of artists turn up as if for one of the car boot sales that litter the country’s parking spaces on any given weekend, with their own creations available for punters to buy.
The glorious twist is that the booters are artists of the highest calibre, who put their works on sale at low prices to enable ordinary enthusiasts to pick up unique pieces, which on any other day of the year could go for thousands of pounds on an auctioneer’s block.
Artists are invited by the fair’s curators to appear at the show, and there is no fee for them to appear. In keeping with the spirit of the event, the only behaviour that is frowned upon is for purchasers to attempt to “flip” the pieces that they buy, selling them after the fair for inflated prices
This year’s edition of the event has a stellar line-up, and also features a novel Art Cycle Basket Fair, where young, up-and-coming artists recommended by stalwarts of the art world such as Sir Peter Thomas Blake (a fair regular), will exhibit their wares in the baskets of bicycles, cargo or electric bikes.
Commenting on this year’s new addition, the fair’s founder Karen Ashton says: “The Art Cycle Basket Fair came about because we are embracing a more eco-friendly future, and also our Cycle Editions can access a greater range of interesting urban spaces. “This new event will celebrate art on a bicycle, the art of the bicycle and the bicycle as art. It seemed a fun way to develop our key ethos of bringing art to the people, and to offer people the chance to snap up an artwork by up-and-coming and emerging artists.”
The Young British Artists of the 1990s are well represented at the sale too, with enfant terrible Gavin Turk, Marcus Harvey and Keith Coventry slated to appear. Taxidermist Polly Morgan will be selling her haunting creations, alongside her partner Mat Collishaw. Other notable names are painter Rachel Howard, Evening Standard Contemporary Art Prize-winner Helen A Pritchard and surrealist Scottish artist Philip Colbert. But it’s not just about big names: younger artists will also be attending in force this year.
The first event took place in 2004, and featured names such as Bob and Roberta Smith, Collishaw and Turk. Ashton, a curator and art writer told The National that “when we held our first event in 2004, I was inspired by the motivation to inject some fun into an increasingly commercial London art market, and a desire to re-capture some of the fabulous spirit of an event I’d been to over a decade earlier called the Fete Worse than Death – it was an explosion of art and frivolity on the streets of Hoxton.”
The early shows were held in a car park just off Brick Lane in East London, then the epicentre of the capital’s art scene, but have since spread out across the city and beyond.
“Then we took our show on the road to Liverpool and three seaside destinations – Folkestone, Margate and Hastings,” Ashton explains. “I have a real fondness for the simplicity of our early events in Brick Lane, although every new venue presents its own unique opportunities and we are very excited about our forthcoming event in the modern classic venue of Granary Square – right outside Central St Martins [an art and design college] at King’s Cross.”
The reaction from artists has been key to the fair’s ongoing success, Ashton says. “They react mainly with joy and huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm – the Art Car Boot Fair relies on the collective spirit of all those taking part, and the willingness and talent of artists to just make things happen.”
Among all the celebrated names who have already appeared at the fair, Ashton has a particular artist in mind, who she would love to see turn up in her car and sell works. “Well we’d love Cindy Sherman to come and do a dressing up workshop or something like that! Or Bridget Riley to do a special edition, or Sarah Lucas to come back again.”
Ashton is as excited about the fair as an appreciative fan of art as she is when she has her curating hat on. So, what is her favourite piece she’s seen during the 15 events so far? “That is such a difficult question to answer – all I can say is I regret missing out on about 100 pieces as I am always way too busy to have much of a look-in!
“Having said that, I especially love an oil painting on a signet ring that I bought from the fabulous Geraldine Swayne last year.”
This year’s event is scheduled for September 16 in Granary Square