'Notice that it's an oral sex doll . . .'
'Yes. I think the . . . the mouth is quite good here, the lipstick . . .'
'Yes, yes, flaking away . . .'
'As if it - the doll - had been used . . . recently.'
'I see. By the artist, I wonder?'
'I wonder if that was intended . . .'
I'm at the London Contemporary Art Fair, talking about art; the piece we're looking at is called Kiss That Frog by Bili Bidjocka. It's an inflatable doll in a box, about five feet long, wearing a dress made out of - what? Dyed lace curtains? A torn mosquito net?
The dress has been artfully hitched up around the doll's waist - there's no fake pubic hair between the legs - and it's in a shallow box next to a picture of a frog. It's the kind of thing you're slightly more likely to find in an art gallery than an old skip, or a rubbish dump, but not much; also, you're invited to peer at it, rather than what you would do normally: avert your eyes, turn away, hoping nobody noticed even a hint of curiosity. Like a lot of the art here, it's aesthetically repulsive, but easy to talk about; attention-grabbing but totally undirected. What is it - ironic? Sincere? It's so vague in its meaning that you can say anything you want about it.
'Do you think it's a reference to Diana?'
'You know - the frog . . .'
'Oh - I see . . . no, I don't think so. But - good point.'
Next to Kiss That Frog is a large egg-shaped object with spikes sticking out of it; this is 14 Black Paintings. It's stuck high on the wall, possibly part of a medieval weapon, or a terrible mutation.
The artist, Jonathan Baseman, has set up a video with headphones so that he can tell you about how he came to make this object. And how did he make it? He bought an ostrich egg and stuck some rose thorns on it. 'I got up and had this idea to get an ostrich egg,' says Baseman, his long, wavy hair bobbing around his throat. 'I was determined to buy an egg that day, because I needed to make it that day.' This, you feel, is really . . . art. Baseman says: 'I can't dissociate the day I spent
looking for this egg and the thorns from the object itself.'
On the surface, contemporary art is the most undisciplined zone of behaviour you could imagine; next to this, anything - pop music, computer-games, pornography - looks drilled, regulated. Here, at 'the most important contemporary art fair in the UK', you can find anything you want, and you can say anything you want about it, and people will listen, and nod, and . . . not laugh. This is because rich people, the buyers of art, are a more diverse group than they have ever been in history, with more diverse needs and desires, a wider range of kinks, perversions, dreams, ways of showing off. Art buyers used to be a pretty much unified set of people; now they can be anybody - they're Essex yobs, they're strike-it-lucky developers, they're East End boys who sold their design companies in the 1980s.
In the last 80 years, we've had cubism, fauvism, abstract impressionism, pop, op, minimal, photorealism . . . and now we've got everything at once, as well as sweet little pictures of hills and trees with fuzzy clouds in the sky (Southern Down by Gordon Radford, pounds 1,450). Over the years, realism became more and more unfashionable as photography got better; now photography is too good; we're beginning not to trust it any more. Photographs are being shredded, reconstituted, humiliated in more and more imaginative ways, like Come Talk to Me by David Mach, in which a man's howling face is made from hundreds of slices of the same picture of a clump of trees.
What kind of rich person wants to buy a piece of wood with holes in it and snail shells in the holes? (David Hugo - Small Trug With Snails, pounds 700). Or a life-size fibreglass cast of two people, a fattish woman in a spotty dress and a man with a gargoyle face (The Kissing Corner by Graham Ibbeson, pounds 8,000)? Or a composition of tiny human figures, made out of painted stainless steel, the size of a paperback book (various works by Zadok Ben-David, each pounds 763)?
Here are pictures of horses made out of bits of paper stuck to a cardboard base (Daisy Chase by Sophie Ryder, pounds 12,500); a wooden rhino on a stick, with various other figures (Act Of God by John Baldwin, pounds 3,500); a picture of Daffy Duck - Daffy Duck - saying 'Now I ask the jury - does my client look like the kind of person who would harm an innocent bird?' (Untitled, pounds 395), an original celluloid from The Simpsons (The Family Test: A Testing Time for the Simpson Family, pounds 500). These celluloids are a brilliant wheeze - each episode of The Simpsons contains thousands of them. But the demand for 'cels' is so great that copies are being made, particularly of stuff such as Bugs Bunny; the only difference is that the copy isn't part of a cartoon that was actually broadcast - it didn't have the light pass through it. Which makes it . . . what? Less aesthetically pleasing? Harder to talk about?
And here's something that looks cynical, cunning, ironic: a mixture of paint in angular shapes and painted-over bits of newspaper, a sliver of a cubist face drawn over the top (Mediterranean Head by Bryan Ingham, pounds 4,000); this is screaming 'Braque' at me.
Me: 'It looks . . . just like Braque.'
Frances Graham-Dixon, who is exhibiting it, says: 'It doesn't look anything like that to me.'
Of course it doesn't. I meant: 'It looks more like Braque than that bronze Coke Bottle (Clive Barker, Gold Coke, pounds 1,600); more like Braque than that television with feet sticking out of it (Kill TV, by Mick Kirkby, pounds 850). Maybe if I bought it and looked at it all the time, one morning I would wake up and it wouldn't look like Braque at all.-