The Affordable Art Fair

'Silver Back - Gorilla' by Nichola Theakston 'Silver Back - Gorilla' by Nichola Theakston - © the artist, courtesy Lena Boyle Fine Art
Posted: Mon Oct 22 2012

Roll up, roll up, for all the fun of the fair! The Affordable Art Fair, in fact, which sets out to dispel the myths surrounding the collecting of art.

The Affordable Art Fair stops off at Hampstead Heath this week, offering original painting, photography, sculpture and prints by both emerging talents and household names. All the works at the AAF are priced between £40 and £4,000. But the real key to AAF's success is its accessibility.

Held in a vast tent, it has more than canvas in common with the experience of going to the circus, as I discovered at last autumn's Hampstead Heath event. It was relaxing and informal. The bar was full of couples and friends discussing artworks they'd fallen in love with over a glass of wine. Kids sat at trestle tables, creating masterpieces of their own. The vibe was Selfridges rather than Tate Modern. There was no pressure to buy, although one in four visitors do make a purchase.

I wasn't always a fan of the Affordable Art Fair. The first time I visited, soon after its launch in Battersea Park in 1999 by art-world iconoclast and entrepreneur Will Ramsey, I came away thinking: Affording it's one thing, wanting it's another. Everything seemed sentimental or amateurish. Or both. So I wrote it off. Which - as I realised when I finally gave it another chance last year - was my loss entirely.

My lack of support notwithstanding, in the intervening period the enterprise had gone from strength to strength. Now, as well as the London events, there are fairs in Bristol and a dozen other cities worldwide.

The AAF's website offers practical advice for those new to buying art. My personal (admittedly completely impractical) approach is this: if a work makes me cry, I'm probably meant to own it. So, do as I didn't do for all those years… Head for whichever fair is closest, take your wallet, take a handkerchief, take an open mind.

1 Start small (size and cost generally go hand in hand): that way you can hone your taste as you go.

2 If you're hoping to fill a specific space, remember to take the dimensions along.

3 You're not speed dating: if you see something that sets your heart racing, take a break, mull it over, discuss it with a friend.

4 But you don't get a second chance with an original. If you decide you love it, buy it.

5 Ask questions - or, if you don't feel comfortable doing that, eavesdrop shamelessly.

6 To frame or not? Contemporary often isn't framed; it can bump up the cost substantially. If you choose to frame a piece, match the work, not your curtains.