Gallery preview: The affordable face of British art

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Indy Lifestyle Online
e1, Spitalfields, London

One of the most important events in the British art market diary takes place every year in December - and almost certainly you won't have heard a thing about it. For one weekend, the most prestigious galleries and dealers in London's Cork Street throw a party at which guests peruse the best that the capital's artiest thoroughfare has to offer.

But if it's affordable new British art you're after, says Ivan Tennant, Cork Street's rarefied, gilt-edged establishments typify the art world's negligence of its grass roots. "Cork Street dealers have high rents and so can't afford to have real imagination," explains the man behind e1, the london art house's new space for young and emerging artists in East London. "They have to take on artists with a track record who they trust will deliver instant returns."

Tennant believes that this alienates a new generation of art buyers: "It's not just about getting anyone through the doors, but any gallery not interested in getting more of the public in isn't functioning properly to remove the mystique that still surrounds the art world." Fifty quid will get you a print at e1 but even work by its more senior exhibitors won't exceed pounds 4000.

A resurgent British art scene is also finding a new generation of patrons, increasingly rich in terms of both spending power and confidence. Affluent twenty-somethings who identify with the Brit-artists' rejection of the art establishment are, according to Tennant, less likely to feel intimidated by art.

Tennant hopes that e1's inaugural exhibition of painters and printmakers will also appeal to a computer and media literate generation for whom experimental image-making and distortion is now second nature. Nigel Freake for instance combines print and overpainting techniques to ensure that only the ghost of an original photo remains.

Time will tell whether Hoxton Square and Spitalfields will prove a genuinely nurturing community for the country's up and coming artists or a mere change of scenery for the underground art elite.

White's Row, Spitalfields, London E1 (0171-587 1846)

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