IHAD a mission: to find a bargain at the London Art Fair. It seemed a case of right time, right place.
The art bubble has finally popped; it's been one of the last to go. At the Business Design Centre in Islington, where the LAF sets out its modern British and contemporary stalls, galleries would surely be desperate to sell, I reasoned. This is the least chic of the capital's art bazaars, with plenty of good work from not-so- famous names that doesn't come with the [pounds]5K entrylevel price tag of cool contemporary art. But my Holy Grail was something different I wanted to find art at a knockdown price.
Most galleries at the fair, which runs until Sunday, are telling people that now there are discounts on offer, but that sounds to me like this year's sales pitch. I was aiming for a lot more than 20 quid off the asking price. It has always been common practice for galleries to give 10 per cent discounts to favoured customers, even in the boom years. Traditionally, 20 per cent has been the standard dealer discount, which everyone in the trade demands.
Some dealers are prepared to admit that prices have dropped by 30 per cent at auction. So where does the bargainhunting punter go with all that information?
I thought I'd trawl the fair for a full 50 per cent saving.
I love a challenge, but on the downside, I'd set myself the task of navigating through the fair's 112 stalls, phalanxes of off-piste galleries from the shires and Notting Hill Gate, full of crumbly- textured abstract paintings, cute landscapes and street art. And I'd have to look hard for an art dealer prepared to admit that he'd slashed his prices and met his Dunkirk.
CORNELIA PARKER'S DIFFERENT DIRT, 2008 (Series of six prints in an edition of 30, [pounds]690 unframed, Alan Cristea Gallery) I had barely walked 10 metres into the fair when I found my first steal. The critically acclaimed British conceptual artist Cornelia Parker, who has never swung with the Britart scene, was selling new work for under a grand. They were photographic prints, but in a small edition.
Parker has had exhibitions in many big museums in Britain and Europe.
Her work is witty, delicate and rebellious. In Different Dirt, she used a metal detector to dig up historical artefacts in parts of America, relating to American history, then she reburied them in parts of Britain, and vice versa. Thus a collection of musket balls, thimbles and clay pipes found in Surrey had been reburied in Nevada. It looked like the definition of sowing confusion. But was it halfunder price? "We would never lower our prices," Alan Cristea told me, "I don't think you'll find anyone here who has done that. If things take longer to sell, then we just have to wait." KLEIO GIZELI'S LOVES ME LOVES ME NOT, 2008 (Unique construction, mixed media, [pounds]1,850, Flowers Gallery) At the Flowers stand, Gizeli, a young Greek artist only four years out of St Martins, has built a beautiful model like a room from a doll's house.
A man sits in chair watching a slideshow with romantic pictures of a girl. It is full of detail the soundtrack evokes cars and police sirens and there is a letter pushed the door. It slots into new trends, part of the "return to narrative" in contemporary art. And I love models. "No, this isn't 30 per cent off," said the blonde gallery assistant. "We sell everything Gizeli does as soon as we show it." For a unique piece, it's still good value.
SUSANNA MAJURI'S SAVIOUR, 2008 (Photograph, edition of five, [pounds]4,250, Purdy Hicks) A beautiful work by one of the hot new generation of Finnish photographers caught my eye at Purdy Hicks. A picture of a house, printed on plastic, that has been dropped in a lake, into which a female is diving. The result is a fairytale image that harks back to 19th-century photography, but it's priced far too high. "Isn't [pounds]4,250 last year's price? …