Angry artists have condemned the way a London art exhibition - billed as 'the biggest public hanging this century' - is being handled by organisers.

Their complaints against the month-long Art Show at Alexander Palace include: distribution of misleading leaflets before the event which gave the impression 10,000 works of art would be shown, when there are only 4,000; artists found their works were not on display; some exhibits have been damaged; paintings have been hung unsympathetically.

Amateur and professional painters and sculptors from all over the country paid pounds 10 per item submitted to The Art Show. For many it was a rare opportunity to have work shown in London. The show included a competition with seven prizes totalling pounds 24,000. All works are on sale to the public, although the event organisers, The Art Show Ltd, charges 30 per cent commission.

The advance publicity to artists said about 10,000 works would be exhibited - 'It will be the biggest art exhibition and sale ever held in this country and will attract tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world' - but the exhibition is a far cry from what artists might have expected.

Although the organisers had originally hoped for 10,000 exhibits, they say they have received about 4,000. Many artists have gone to the trouble of visiting the show only to find their paintings were not on display.

'We have had a few people say 'why aren't all my pieces up?',' said Art Show director Harvey Flinder. 'But we said we reserved the right to hold exhibits on reserve.'

The organisers set no limit on the size or number of entries allowed from each artist and were surprised to receive so many from each entrant, and such large canvases. 'If somebody has entered four pieces of work we would put two up,' said Mr Flinder. 'During the exhibition we will try to rotate them. During the first week we ran out of space and had to order 150 metres more footage.

Some work has not been shown because it has been damaged, either in transit or at the show. One artist from Wales, Andrew Trotman, 23, only found out that the frame for his picture, an oil on paper entitled Playing with Yourself, was damaged when he phoned the show. 'Apparently it's got a four- or five-inch split in the frame. I've been calling them two or three times a week, but I keep getting fobbed off as to whether it will be in the show or not.'

Mr Flinder accepted there had been problems with the carrier, ANC. 'We have had a number (of paintings) sent by ANC which have been damaged. We have packages downstairs clearly marked 'glass, fragile, stand this way up'. They haven't been unwrapped because we can hear there is broken glass in them.

A spokeswoman for ANC said the company was concerned that a small number

of art works had been damaged during delivery. They are investigating.

Mr Flinder says some paintings have been damaged at the exhibition as well. 'Two or three pieces fell off the wall because people had not wired them up properly.'

The Haringey Arts Council, to which 250 artists and art groups belong, is also concerned at what is going on, says their spokeswoman Dana Captainino.

''We were concerned not only about the damage but the artists had not been informed. Paintings that were shown had been scratched. And they just hung them anywhere. It looked very slap dash.'

Ann Petherick, who runs the Kentmere House Gallery in York, says the show confirmed all her worst fears.

'They have not only put all the same subject matter together, but mixed oils and watercolours. You have got lurid green landscapes in oils and wishy washy water seascapes together.

'Charging artists pounds 10 for each painting is more than the Royal Academy's summer show.'

Unlike most shows, the artists' names were not displayed alongside the paintings, so buyers were forced to buy the pounds 2 catalogue on top of the pounds 5.95 entrance fee. The Royal Academy hung 1,376 of the 13,090 exhibits submitted to the summer show and charged visitors pounds 4.50.

Mr Flinder admitted it was the first time the company has organised an art event like this. The Art Show was set up as a limited company in March this year. It has four directors - Jason Burrows, a television and event producer; Michael Simons, who gives his occupation as a company director and is also a director of two design clothing companies; Harvey Flinder, an advertising and marketing executive; and Paul Stabb, who is also a director of Eventura Productions Ltd.

He says the directors do have experience of running other events, including television-sponsored events in America, but was unable to give any fuller details. He said they had yet to judge whether it was a commercially successful venture. 'We hope to learn by the experience.'

But he dismissed criticisms of the show as just a venture to make money out of artists desperate to sell their work.

'If we had simply wanted to make lots of money there are lots of easier ways of doing it.'

He said 3,500 people had visited the exhibition in the first week and pounds 35,000 worth of art been sold. 'There are lots of artists who have sold their work. The people who feel they have a grievance are genuine, but we have many successes as well.'

But that is little comfort for people such as Shirley Malone, who lives in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and Linda Douthwaite, from north London, who, like other artists who are unhappy about the whole show, will remove their paintings.

'I don't really want to be part of the show,' said Mrs Malone, whose painting was damaged. 'If it is the first time they have organised such a show, then you can give them the benefit of the doubt. But it shouldn't be at the expense of the artists.'

Artists concerned at the way their work was handled should contact Ben Eastop at the National Artists' Association, Interchange Studios, Dalby Street NW5 3NQ (071-267 0420).

(Photograph omitted)