I have a friend who runs a yard. A horse yard. As such she has, naturellement, a plethora of doggies. My unashamed favourite is Jez, a red border collie I adore to such a degree that were he a person I would surely marry him. He is without doubt the most splendid canine in the world. Handsome, laid back, affable, sense of humour etc. Then there’s Jack, a black border collie. A touch of neuroses going on here but infinitely sweet and I adore him too. Then there’s a cocker spaniel bitch. And here’s the rub. For some reason, and despite my usual love of all things spaniel, my relationship with her suffers from a certain froideur. She’s a perfectly nice person and I’m a perfectly nice person, but together the chemistry just doesn’t work. And we both know it. I can see it in her eyes. She wouldn’t go as far as to say she dislikes me, but she ain’t shedding no doggie tears when she sees my Ariat climate controlled all terrain boots heading for the car park, is about the size of it. And the feeling is pretty much mutual.
I was remarking on this fact to a buddy whilst visiting her in hospital, whence she had been dispatched by a horse related incident that had resulted in her being airlifted from the commons of Surrey writhing in agonies with a punctured spleen and various cracked ribs. Hoping aboard a flight animal and taking it for a spin about the Surrey countryside is not, it turns out, a pass time for the faint hearted. Anyway, apparently glad of the company irrespective of the randomness of its conversation, she responded, as if it were almost too obvious to need saying, “she’s a Princess, that’s your problem.”
“Oh, I don’t mind a Princess,” I chirped, always one to speak first, think second.
Then I thought about it.
“Oh, you mean this yard isn’t big enough for the two of us?”
She raised an assenting eyebrow.
Which is how I discovered, at the age of thirty-six, that I am a Princess.
The thing about Princesses is they don’t mix well together. Like oil and water in fact. There’s nothing wrong with a Princess per se, just take it one at a time and you should be ok. But any more than that and you’re eyeballing disaster. In life as in the movies, there is one leading lady and one best friend. And if you’re not cut out to play the sidekick, don’t audition for the part. Which maybe explains why I loathe exhibiting at art fairs with such a passion. Upwards of eighty art world princesses all under one air-conditioned roof? And I, being amongst the youngest, stuck at the back? That is just not going to be fine. Not fine at all. (“Ahem, excuse me Madame, could I ask you to lean a little to the left please, I’m afraid your ego is blocking my view of this fine Nicholson.”)
So this year was the first time for a while that I’d visited the LAF on foot rather than tear-arsing around the capital in a white van and a state of near blinding agitation at the prospect of a week of torture at the gnarled hands of the art buying arm of the general public. As a visitor rather than an exhibitor I saw the fair from a completely different perspective. Oddly enough I had an almost enjoyable time - the words enjoy and art fair not normally appearing in the same sentence. Not one of mine anyway. Although, come to think of it, it probably wasn’t so much enjoyment as pure intravenous relief. It felt deliciously indulgent to be pottering about the Business Design Centre without the Fuselian demon of costs and sales perched menacingly on my chest, ripping to a bloody pulp even the merest hint of a lighter mental state, should such a thing have the audacity to poke its head above the parapet at all.
I was so happy in fact that I celebrated by purchasing a shamanistic Marcus Coates’ print from the Whitechapel stand, this being as near as LAF gets to performance art. Cheered on by the prospect of a 35% discount and my artist-cum-collector chum pointing out that a trip to Sainbury’s would cost more (for her it would, she’s got four kids) I handed over the flexible friend and… right on cue, the Whitechapel credit card machine broke down. Oh the waves of sheer joy that this technological nightmare was somebody else’s waking torment. I can barely describe it to you. It was pleasure such as I’ve never known. I was so happy I’d have waited a week. The poor darling woman showered me with apologies. I felt her pain as a distant but unforgettable memory.
On attempting some form of vaguely objective reflection I suppose I’d say the LAF is ok. It’s probably the best of the London fairs outside of October. There’s a healthy Modern British contingent and we saw some nice Mary Fedden’s. It’s very safe though and if you’ve been before you’ll know what to expect. But then some people like predictable, the good old tried and tested. And why not?
The Project Space was my favourite spot of course. Not that it was exactly balancing on a knife-edge, but hey, it was ok.
One interesting thing I noticed about the London Art Fair this year was the unmissable stream of advertisements for the Affordable Art Fair on the final haul of the escalator journey up to the Angel from the bowels of tube land. They’re a canny lot that AAF bunch. Don’t miss a trick. The subtext of course being, whatever you are about to see you’ll be able to get cheaper from us in a few short months. That’s not quite how it works, but what does an advertising man care about such technicalities? Competition is competition and when it comes to art fairs you’re in it to win it. There’s only room for one Princess and if you’re not she, then by default you’re the sidekick. And let’s face it, who wants to be that?