The Manchester Contemporary

Mock living rooms have been erected in the Old Granada Studios for the ‘Buy Art’ Fair. Prospective art buyers queue to display their selected works in either ‘Country Cottage’ or ‘City Apartment’ themed living spaces, both provided by furniture company Nochintz. In an adjoining room, a band plays salsa music and Fair attendees are invited to dance. In the car park, Buy Art employees wearing badges reading ‘We Sell Art’ carry large canvases to large cars.

Art Collector Frank Cohen is interviewed by BBC Online on the occasion of the Fair. In the resulting article Cohen is quoted as saying that ‘there are plenty of wealthy businessmen and people who can afford to buy art (in the North West)…but they need educating’.

It isn’t clear what the implication is for the wealthy businesswomen of the region. The Fair does, however, address the purported need for education. As well as the stalls selling art- there are over one hundred, held by galleries and self-representing individuals- a programme of events has been carefully curated to cultivate a class of more ‘active’ and ‘discerning’ buyers.  There are tours to ‘demystify’ artworks, opportunities to observe and take part in artistic processes, surveys of the current cultural climate and other, regular prompts to the importance of buying art.

But if you are not buying art, selling art or a fan of salsa, is there any reason to be at The Buy Art Fair?

The Manchester Contemporary, designated as the ‘critically engaged’ part of the Fair, is located at the end of the Old Studio’s main corridor, past stalls of colourful flowerpots, tiny clay figurines, water-colour scenescapes.

Here, four by two metre booths have been allocated to contemporary art galleries from across the UK, for commercial or project based use. The real world location of the galleries occupying each booth is shown on signs affixed to the booth’s partition. That galleries from different areas of the country are showing only steps away from one other is commented on frequently and favourably.

For those not buying art, TMC might act as an introduction to new artists and new works and give some indication of the galleries showing there, though the galleries must work with the particular limitations, spatial and otherwise, and prerogatives of the ‘art fair’ context.

Supercollider, an artist-led gallery in Blackpool, uses the booth as an off-site project space. A pile of printed sheets quote the opening of Margaret Thatcher’s speech from the 1989 Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. The speech propounds the virtues of neoliberal economics partially via an imagined encounter between a Labour canvasser and East German worker. The same conference marked the launch of ‘The Freedom to Party’ campaign, established in opposition to Conservative action to regulate unlicensed parties.

On the back wall of the booth a video plays on a flat screen TV, the clip showing the inside of Blackpool club Shaboo. Sasha is performing a set, the club is full and the audience moves together. It is an instance of camaraderie, togetherness, fun in a period of continuing economic uncertainty for Blackpool, and, nation-wide, a period of governmental efforts to ‘break down’ alternative leisure spaces.

Paintings ‘The Ability to Change’ and ‘One Thing for Another Thing’ by Hannah Knox are hung against pink camouflage walls at Cactus’ booth. They are made of pastel coloured heat sensitive t-shirts, stretched across canvas and stitched. The collars and sleeves make patterns, the shirt’s colours change under application of heat. Two warped, glossed stoneware pieces ‘Foxgloves’ and ‘Lions’ by Emily McCartan are arranged on a shelf to its side, playing with mantelpiece aesthetics. And at the centre of the space a lone figurine stands atop a gold mirrored plinth, looking out onto the expanse of mirror: ‘Honey I Shrunk the Curator’ by Harry Meadley.

Holly Myles has curated Castlefield’s booth. Each work is by an artist selected from the CG Associates programme. Nine identical postcards, collected separately, are arranged in a rectangle on the wall. They show American astronaut John Glenn, the fifth person to the moon, his face proud, stern and encased in an astronaut’s helmet, the face of a patriot. The piece is entitled ‘Politics’, a part of Martin Hamblen’s ‘Hunter Gatherer’ collecting series.

A glistening metal hot dog moves up and down, up and down, a roller in Jemma Egan’s video ‘From Here to Eternity’. The ubiquitous scene is made strange by prior knowledge of the hotdog’s make-up. And against the wall leans a length of blue-painted welded metal by Nicola Ellis, its’ welded joints bulbous, highlighting the process of the piece’s construction.

Laura Pawela’s ‘Frames’ is shown by IMT Gallery, a video made of frames formerly ‘lost’ in film archives. There are clips of cars, Westerns, people running, explosions, test-tubes. Incongruous scenes, but for each having been hidden, collected and now moved into a ‘second reality’.

On Sunday Buy Art is dismantled inside the Old Granada Studios. It has been the biggest and most successful Fair to date. Artworks are now wrapped and transported back to galleries, to studios, and also back to non-imitation living rooms, where they must be tested under new light.

Abby Kearney is a writer based in Manchester.

Image courtesy The Manchester Contemporary.

The Manchester Contemporary, Old Granada Studios, Manchester.

24 – 27 September 2015.

Published 03.10.2015 by James Schofield in Reviews

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