One of my first attempts at journalism is an interview taken while covering the first of three Free Art Fairs, organised by Jasper Joffe and held from 8th-14th October 2007 just north of Mayfair:
Interview with Jasper Joffe
How has the exhibition been for you? Are you happy with the level of response from contributing artists and the public?
It’s been a great experience, I feel really happy about it. The artists were brilliant, agreeing to give art even before we had found a space. The public response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am still getting nice emails about it, asking me to do it again.
The Portman Estate have been very helpful with the show (as well as others). Had they not let you use the spaces, was there a plan B for somewhere to show the works?
The Portman Estate were great (hopefully they’ll be happy with the way I filled all the holes we made in their walls). It all came together at very short notice, the Richmix centre in Shoreditch was a possible alternative.
The idea of time seems very important to me in this exhibition. Is there a dialogue you wished to promote from the outset, between the artists and the public who have both given up their time for this event?
I hadn’t thought of the time aspect at the start. Although I am aware that artists work at different speeds, Alex Hamilton taking months to make his drawings, Harry Pye taking days to make his paintings, some artists finishing work in a few hours. I myself once painted 24 paintings in 24 hours. Time has always seems a silly way to judge the value of the work, you spend as much time as you need to, and more time doesn’t necessarily make art better. Also in many ways the queue is not an idea I am that fond of, but it was the best way we could think of to allocate the work. Any other way would have been random ( a lottery) or relied on subjective judgement (some kind of competition). I am open to other ideas about the distribution of art if we do it again. In a way you have a meeting of generosity on one side from the artists and patience/dedication from the public, a meeting of virtues!
Do you feel that there is a greater value to the works because of the length of time people spent queued up for them? Have the works gained in importance, from your point of view as a contributing artist, because of this?
I think the point is more general. The people queuing up seem to have exposed the fact that people really love and appreciate art in general, and are willing to sacrifice their time for it. Individually I don’t see an increase in the value of the art works (except in that they were part of the first Free Art Fair), more that we as artists rarely get to find out that people actually like and care about our art, and as an artist it is heartening to have this revealed so physically.
There were quite clear definitions between the three gallery spaces. Large format pieces were generally in one space, most sculpture and three-dimensional works in another, etc. Why did you choose to hang the pieces the way you did?
When hanging shows I always find it helps to have a concept, even a simple idea like big work in one room, small in another etc, otherwise you’re just stuck with slightly random aesthetic judgements, which any two people will always disagree about. There was also the important element that we couldn’t put work on the walls in one gallery which determined that we would use it for sculpture.
Was it easy to co-curate the exhibition with Harry Pye? Were there any disagreements?
Harry and I weren’t co-curators. We worked together on the magazine (he did most of it. Myriam Blundell helped with the organisation and hanging of the show, and we didn’t have any major rows.
You said the large piece you entered had taken two weeks to make. Do you feel differently about giving away a part of your creative energy and output, than about selling a piece?
I prefer selling in general, but The Free Art Fair had such a special feel, I forgot I was giving it away.
Referring to Steven Nelson’s stolen jug, what do you think about something intended to be completely democratic gaining such a competitive agenda, such a form of ‘one-up-manship’? Was this inevitable?
I think once the fair started getting a lot of publicity it was inevitable that it would attract some negative elements. I wonder what had happen if you were to give away work worth 100s of thousands, would the queue turn nasty?
In conjunction with the last question, you have shown the exhibition in the same week as the hugely well known large art fairs across London, and exposed the inherent elitism within them. In your opinion, has this been tainted by the ‘first come first served’ selectiveness of your own show?
Well, queuing seemed the most democratic method of distribution, especially on a Sunday, when most people would have time off. We were selecting recipients on the basis of geography (they had to be able to reach the area) and dedication (they were wiling to sleep there over night). Frieze has the criterion of ownership based on how rich you are, which happens to be the way most things are distriubuted in our society, so really although our method was selective it was different from the dominant method of exchange.
Do you think that the range of work you exhibited is representative of what is exciting in the contemporary art world?
Yes! We selected the artists for the reason of their excellence and because we think they are some of the most exciting artists around. We could have had a lot more artists involved, but weren’t willing to compromise the coherence of the show.
Are you planning to make this fair a long-term annual event? Is there anything you would change in the future?
I am thinking about this. I think there are a lot of questions about the best way to give the art away. But the idea of giving people art they love for free worked out so well, I can see that we might do it again, perhaps in another country.
Matthew Reeves, October 2007