The Oxford International Art Fair advertises itself as, “Giving art collectors and art enthusiasts a great opportunity to buy directly from the artist that has travelled all the way to Oxford.” So who are these ‘art collectors and art enthusiasts’? If we consider the fair by way of price, all of the work was beyond our student budgets. Meanwhile, serious collectors would never dream of straying from London. This leaves a middle market of people sufficiently invested in art to want to spend hefty amounts but without the means to partake in the excesses of London. A workable model perhaps. The trouble is that if you’re sufficiently invested in art, I’m not sure you could possibly want to invest anything in what this fair has to offer. In fact, I think that goes whatever your finances.
The fair had set up shop in the auspicious setting of the town hall. As I walked in, the sounds of live jazz could be heard while friendly and professional staff ushered us in. So far so good. Entering the main chamber, I encountered a picture of a topless adolescent slouching in ripped jeans, and a cowboy hat. He was caressing a horse, leaning over it with sufficient tenderness to also reveal the shiny Calvin Klein label on his boxers. And I think that’s precisely when things went downhill. In Paris Duchamp presented his urinal, in New York Warhol painted his tomato tin; In Oxford it would seem we too have a market for ironic commodity fetishism – just, minus the irony. That particular work of the ‘twilight muscular guy’ school, in addition to stand out features like the cowboy hat, featured an expert take on ‘low riding’ and a mis en scene of borderline bestiality. Yours for: £500.
Two meters to the right, another artist had helpfully written a description instructing us on how best to appreciate his work. With one work the viewer was promised not only a “deconstruction” of the world around them, but for a mere £900 the artist also promised a “reconstruction” of said world. A two for the price of one deal; no doubt the talk of all the thrifty cubists at the fair. Perhaps the best description of that particular piece is as an example of what would have happened if Picasso had got life threateningly drunk, became color blind and discovered the joys of the Pritt Stick at a coloured paper shop. Picasso must have been disappointed with the result, as there was a big rip in the canvas as if somebody had kicked it in. I’m still not sure if that was supposed to be the deconstruction or reconstruction bit.
Admittedly, it wasn’t all bad; some of the works were well executed and some quite pretty. The trouble was that you could mostly guess to which recent Tate retrospective the artists had gone to in the last year or two and simply produced a competent copy. Matisse, Late Turner, Chagall, Mondrian, and even Rembrandt, were all pillaged. Tate posters seem a better alternative, and are much friendlier to the student budget. With a doodle of Taylor Lautner and a good kick, you might even land a spot at next year’s fair.