Arts: Valuable pictures slashed

With discounted Hockneys, Dalis and Epsteins, Tag Sales offer an inexpensive entry to buying art.
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The Independent Culture
Michael Roosen first dreamed up the idea of a Tag Sale in 1995. His inspiration came from the practice during the Depression in the American Midwest of selling off heirlooms; in the absence of an auctioneer, a price-tag was simply attached to each possession. Hence the name - but Roosen has added a spin to it.

Among the many occupations on his curriculum vitae - textiles, advertising, industrial development in the US, complementary medicine - Roosen also worked for six years as sales director at the David Messum Gallery in London's Cork Street. Having seen that street ravaged during and after the recession, he approached several galleries to ask if they would be receptive to relinquishing some "old friends" - their languishing, unsold stock. Roosen would take the "old friends", market, promote and sell them if the galleries would agree to give a healthy discount; anything between 30 and 60 per cent.

The first sale was held at Bonhams in Fulham. Since then there have been five at which art valued at a million pounds was sold for half a million. And it is not any old tat. Amongst the 4,000 items for sale at the latest sale at the Royal Horticultural Halls in south-west London, there are over 600 artists, including Salvador Dal, Terry Frost, Canaletto, Eric Gill, Patrick Procktor and Jacob Epstein.

There is a Paul Maze pastel originally priced at pounds 2,000 reduced to pounds 1,344, Andy Warhol's Marilyn pounds 1,000 to pounds 560, a Chagall lithograph of Cain and Abel pounds 750 to pounds 280, a David Hockney lithograph pounds 1,250 to pounds 868 and an Edwin Henry Boddington oil pounds 3,250 to pounds 1,601. The concept turns a conventional and elitist market upside down. Art galleries are notoriously based on an "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it" mentality. Slashing prices and sticking a price-tag on a picture or sculpture couldn't be further removed from it.

Roosen believes that he has identified a new market. Art has become a popular leisure activity as witnessed by the overwhelming attendance at the Monet, Ingres, and "Sensation" exhibitions and the explosion in interior magazines and weekend lifestyle features. There are new buyers out there but they don't know where to go. Or, if they do, they are either intimidated by galleries or are still under the mistaken impression that original art is prohibitively expensive.

Roosen wants to cut through these preconceptions. The Tag Sale does not charge an entry fee, jazz and classical music are played, contemporary art is hung alongside traditional art, a pounds 45 painting beside a pounds 2,500, and experts are on hand to offer informed advice. It's all meant to be fun.

Previous sales have attracted totally new collectors: Roosen's taxi- driver to one sale was intrigued enough to see what it was all about and bought two prints for his wife though he had never been into an art gallery before.

There is no selection committee and Roosen makes no judgment on the art for sale. Any artist can apply directly to put their work in the sale as well as galleries. It is up to the seller to describe the painting and its condition. So far, only one painting, a John Piper, has been considered wrongly attributed. It was consequently returned to the dealer and all the money was reimbursed. Roosen rejects the notion of any conflict with dealers as several top galleries have registered interest in becoming involved with the Tag Sale.

"Galleries and dealers are the seedbed for new artists, and integral to the cultural heritage. We are not about stomping on galleries, like supermarkets on corner-shops. We are nourishing that gallery resource by introducing new buyers and freeing up their languishing stock to make room for fresh art and new artists. At every purchase, the seller or gallery gets the name and address of the buyer and vice versa so they can, if they wish, maintain a relationship."

But isn't there a limited supply of good art? Conscious of the perils of going down-market, Roosen believes that the Tag Sale can maintain the quality. "There are many galleries who will always have new "old friends". And there are many, many artists - good unknowns and known artists - who are not represented, or not exclusively represented, by galleries, who want to put their art into this sale."

Michael Roosen has great confidence in the future. He has plans for expansion, taking the Tag Sale on the road around Britain, into Europe and eventually to the United States.

The Tag Sale is at Hall 1, Royal Horticultural Halls, 80 Vincent Square, London SW1, from today, 13 August, until 15 August, 10am to 8pm, admission free