Hanging out for real art

Get those framed posters out of your trolley - you can afford to buy the bona fide product, says CHARLOTTE MULLINS
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Indy Lifestyle Online
As the decade of minimalism draws to a close, nesters are turning away from the bleak simplicity of plain white decor. And about time too. Walls were made to hang things on, and I don't mean a pre-framed photograph that you chuck into your trolley at Ikea along with the tablecloths. I'm talking about the thing that artists make. Art.

Art doesn't have to cost a fortune. Work by such artists as Chris Ofili (last year's Turner Prize winner), Tracey Emin (this year's people's favourite) and Anthony Gormley (of Angel of the North fame) can be purchased for the cost of a meal out for two. Picking up a Leonardo da Vinci at a flea market may be a thing of the past, but contemporary art is becoming increasingly accessible - Homebase, Habitat and Harvey Nichols all supply affordable real art these days. Just work out your budget and read on. Under pounds 50

Every year, before Christmas, London's Royal College of Art runs Absolut Secret, an art jamboree that's more cut-throat than the January sales. Artists contribute paintings and drawings on postcards and each is sold for pounds 35 - this year's artists include Paula Rego, John Bellany, Christo, Chris Ofili and Cornelia Parker, plus celebrity contributions from Brian Eno and David Bowie. The catch is that you don't get to know who you've bought until the end of the show (tel: 0171 590 4444).

In its April issue every year, Contemporary Visual Arts magazine gives away a bona fide artist's print (albeit an unlimited edition) to every subscriber. For pounds 26 a year, you could have had work by Patrick Caulfield, Tracey Emin and Paul Morrison - the artist for 2000 is New York abstractionist Jonathan Lasker(tel: 0171 740 1704).

Under pounds 100

There are now quite a few outlets in Britain that offer art at discount prices: Will's Art Warehouse and the Affordable Art Fair (both tel: 0171 371 8787), and the Art Supermarket (tel: 0171 359 2750). But it was Barcelona- based Bazart that started the ball rolling, and it is in this country for the first time, at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London, from Friday. There are 1,600 works by 32 artists, ranging in price from pounds 55 to pounds 145 (tel: 0171 437 5660).

If you fancy something more practical, pop down to your local Homebase. It has commissioned nine artists, including Antony Gormley, Alison Wilding, Anish Kapoor and Tony Cragg, to produce relatively limited editions of objects for the home - Gormley has produced coat pegs for pounds 6.99, Wilding a prickly bowl for pounds 55.99 (tel: 0181 784 7212).

Increasingly when an artist has a solo show, they are commissioned to make a small edition of more saleable work. Galleries such as Camden Arts Centre and the ICA in London, the Ikon in Birmingham and the Arnolfini in Bristol often offer small objects by artists in limited editions; the Multiple Store is a new initiative dedicated to such works (tel: 0171 514 7258).

Another option is prints. The Serpentine Gallery commissions solo show artists to make a print edition (about 200) and these are then sold (see special offer below).

Under pounds 250

You can buy for this amount from art fairs and some graduate shows. Prints by contemporary artists are often much cheaper than you imagine. Try the big art fairs: Art 2000 in January at the Business Design Centre, London (tel: 0171 359 3535); Battersea's Affordable Art Fair in October (tel: 0171 371 8787) and the London Print Fair in April at the Royal Academy in London (tel: 0171 300 8000).

Also check out Harvey Nichols' Art Supermarket, which crams exhibition stands with small-scale paintings and drawings for between pounds 145 and pounds 345 (tel: 0171 359 2750).

Habitat sells limited-edition prints by artists such as Gary Hume, Gillian Wearing and Gavin Turk for around pounds 200. For pounds 15 a year you can join its ArtClub, with private views and a quarterly magazine.

Under pounds 500

This is enough to buy some items at graduate shows, and one-off drawings and sketches by some contemporary artists - just don't set your hopes on a David Hockney or Lucian Freud. Try galleries such as Alan Cristea in Cork Street, London (tel: 0171 439 1866), which deals solely in prints by artists such as Michael Craig-Martin, Peter Blake and Langlands & Bell for under pounds 500, and Nylon in Hammersmith, London (tel: 0171 602 6061), with work by Charles Avery.

pounds 500-pounds 1,000

Most off-Cork-Street dealers will be able to offer you something in this range: a Callum Innes portfolio of three limited-edition lithographs and a watercolour for pounds 800 (Richard Ingleby, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 556 4441); paintings from the series "After Campin" by Tom Wood for pounds 750 (Hart Gallery, Nottingham, tel: 0115 963 8707).

If this suddenly feels out of your league and you're tempted to spend you modest savings down the pub instead, remember this. Currently you can pay pounds 25,000 for a David Hockney limited-edition print - imagine if you turned over your pounds 35 Absolut Secret postcard to see one of this year's contributors' signatures - David Hockney. And it'll be a one-off work of art, too.

`Independent on Sunday' readers can get a 20 per cent discount (pounds 64 instead of pounds 80) on the Jane and Louise Wilson print (pictured far left) created to coincide with their Serpentine Gallery solo show earlier this year. The artists are joint favourites for this year's Turner Prize, so this could be a sound investment. Visit or call the Serpentine Bookshop and quote the offer (tel: 0171 298 1502).

THE GROUND RULES

The artwork you buy should be with you for ever so it's important to work out a few ground rules before you start looking.

Be practical

If you have a pale avocado living room with a pink sofa, you are probably not going to want a primary-coloured geometric wall-hanging. If you have the less-is-more approach to furnishing, you are unlikely to want a figurative watercolour of children playing in a stream. Your art will live in your surroundings. Yes, you can decorate around it, but are you sure you want to?

Keep your options open

You know you hate abstract work; you want a painting of two cats in moonlight. This attitude will a) frustrate you as you fail to find what you want easily b) stop you seeing other work. Keeping your options open will allow you to be surprised by your likes and dislikes.

Don't forget the frame

A clipframe may be OK for a postcard, but if you want your artwork to last, you need to have it in a frame that is sealed around the edges. You can buy ready-made frames, but the best option is to take it to a professional framers - budget for this. Costs vary, depending on the type of frame, glass (non-reflective is generally better) and mount. If you buy a print, the current trend is to have these float mounted - the print appears to float inside a slim box-like frame - but this is one of the most expensive types of framing (float-mounting an A1 sized page can cost over pounds 100).

How to make a fortune

Buying for investment only is daft - what's the point of buying something you don't like just on the gamble (and it is always a gamble) that it will make you money in 20 years? Choose an artist whose work you really like. That way, you can't lose - you get enjoyment whether it's resale value goes up or not.

Set a budget

This will save you wasted time shopping where you can't afford. And be realistic. You can't get a decent poster for less than pounds 10 - don't expect an original artwork.

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