Art Barter: Artists and Artisans

You can swap almost anything for a painting, photo, or sculpture. Andrew Johnson reports

Tracey Emin needs a plumber, and her shoes need re-heeling. So, if you know your way around a U-bend or a cobbler's last, rush down to her former studio in East London today and she may give you one of her art works in exchange.

If her composition is not quite to your taste, there is a host of other artists looking to trade with artisans: Gavin Turk, film director Mike Figgis, painter Gary Hume, and artist Nick Hornby are putting up works of photography, painting or sculpture that they're willing to exchange for whatever people can offer them, as long as it's not cash.

While most of the works on display were produced by people used to charging hefty prices, the UK's first Art Barter event celebrates the tradition of artists swapping work for the basics of life, such as food or accommodation, or, in Andy Warhol's case, a video camera.

The idea, according to curator Lauren Jones, is to highlight the ridiculousness of the overpriced contemporary art market, and take things back to basics. "No one will know whose work is whose until after the bartering process," Ms Jones said. "So they will make their choice on whether they like the work or not, rather than the name attached to it."

Visitors starting bidding last Friday, hoping to snaffle a valuable piece. As of yesterday no one had yet offered the kind of skills that would win them an Emin. There were, however, plenty of offers for other services such as cat-sitting, cake baking, or the loan of holiday homes.

In among the hundred-plus bids was one from BBC presenter Evan Davis. And actor Russell Tovey has also been round the show. Three works caught his eye, for which he offered a day on the set of the TV series Being Human.

Unknown artists and designers will also bring in their works, hoping to trade them in a sort of swap shop.

Last night Ms Emin said she was pleased with the inaugural event: "It cuts out the middle man.... It's looking at the work rather than the artist.

"I need an electrician and a plumber: you try and find one! I need my shoes re-heeling. It's great fun and a good way for people to buy art who might think they can't afford it but have a skill which is of real benefit to an artist."

But you'll have to move quickly – because the swaps stop tonight.

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