In Conversation With
Andy Balman started his career in events and moved into the arts when he jointly set up and ran the Biscuit Factory, Europe’s largest commercial art gallery based in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 2007 with co-director, Vincent Woods, Andy moved from the Biscuit Factory to develop the NewcastleGatehead Art Fair into an internationally recognised event. 2009’s Fair ran from 2 – 4 October at the Sage, Gateshead. www.ngartfair.com.
What motivated you to start an art fair?
My experience of being directly involved in the gallery world and participating in fairs in London and Scotland commercially, as an exhibiting gallery. Art fairs provide a difference to the physical set-up of galleries that exist in any city. They offer a variety of choice, obviously for a short period of time, but for those days it’s a bit like an art circus coming into town. You have access to a wide range of art from around the world, pieces that collectors and buyers, unless they’ve travelled around the world, wouldn’t normally access. Again it was something new in a fairly small city, so quite a risky venture, but that was the motivation.
NewcastleGateshead Art Fair is now in its third year, what can visitors and collectors expect in 2009?
We’re at the Sage, Gateshead again, so the location is absolutely stunning. There will be many new galleries, as well as the returning ones, so there’s a range of work on offer, from printmaking through to the street art and graffiti, as well as more traditional gallery pieces. Last year we launched an emerging artists section, which we’re expanding this year. We had a number of respected curators from around the region that selected 14 artists who were all given an exhibition space within the main body of the fair, so we’re going to increase the size of that space, and we’ve also allocated more space to the non-profit sector galleries.
How do you think the recession has affected art sales?
That’s extremely difficult to answer. I’m not currently working in the gallery world; I can only receive feedback from the Fair. The Tallantyre from Morpeth are taking a double stand this year, they participate in several fairs around the UK and abroad, and they say the market is better for them now over the £3,000 level. Others say that the top end has gone and that they’re selling the more accessible work in terms of price. I think there have been so many opinions about the recession in general, for galleries starting up it is tough. I think people are more prudent about making spending decisions, but saying that, we’re on target and ahead of ourselves from last year. I think gallerists are trying out new fairs and once they’ve decided that it’s “not actually quite as bad as first expected,” they’re signing up.
Do you think that the role of the art fair has changed?
In the case of NGAF, we’re probably rolling it out a little further than other art fairs. There’s always an area that’s not particularly based on the commercial sales, like the London Art Fair or the Affordable Art Fair, which both have separate areas for post graduate work, this is an element which adds interest to the fair and offers opportunities for artists that are not necessarily picked up by the commercial galleries to get involved. With NGAF and our location at the Sage, as well as it being well received by key organisations such as BALTIC and the universities, we have a lot of added value, so apart from the commercial operating galleries there are demonstrations and talks. Possibly we’re working a bit harder explaining to people what collecting and buying art is about, because we’re starting from a much lower base than we would be if we were working from Edinburgh or London; obviously in the major cities people will have a history of collecting and buying.
What would you say is different about NGAF?
Fairs are, ultimately, commercial events, and at the end of the day, we want to make a pound and not lose one, but it’s much more than a business turning over money, we’re creating an event. We spent the better part of a year planning for these three days, so it’s incredibly ambitious to put on something like this but it has worked really well on the level of the commercial galleries wanting to return year after year. The galleries are at the core of the art fair activity and I can’t lose sight of that. However, to find out that one of our emerging artists has been asked to exhibit at Tate Modern because the curator attended last year, adds an extra angle to what we’re doing, and makes it all worthwhile.
Being an international art fair situated outside of the capital, why is Newcastle/Gateshead such a successful location?
Geographically Newcastle/Gateshead has a history with Europe with the connection to Norway and the Netherlands through the ferries, but we are in a city that has now become recognised for building itself, regenerating itself, and of course Newcastle and Gateshead are working closely together, regenerating through arts and culture. It’s an area which was traditionally industry based, there was an insular feel, but now it’s an outward looking city. We’ve done very well up here, it’s given Newcastle/Gateshead the lead and it’s an amazing place to be.
Can you tell me about the duality of the art fair with regards to the division between collectors and enthusiasts?
Last year we sold a Damien Hirst for £15,000, so we cater for the more serious collector, and critically acclaimed artists such as Chris Gollon and Maggi Hambling will be exhibiting with their galleries, so there is work at that level, but the young emerging artists are also coming through. There is something for the serious collector, as well as something for the new collector and the casual buyer who just wants a nice image for their home.