Contemporary Art Market: Galleries make most of fun of the fair

FIGURATIVE work proved the popular draw at the London Contemporary Art Fair, Art 93, last week, though environmentally friendly abstraction also caught the eye. Prices above pounds 12,000 were too high and the pounds 3,000-pounds 5,000 range was preferred. Anything with style and priced in hundreds sold like hot cakes.

Buyers poured into the annual fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London. When the doors closed last night, there had been more than 20,000 visitors compared to 16,000 in 1992 and a high proportion left the fair with pictures.

Leslie Waddington, whose business is concentrated in international art, was hopping mad. He had only managed to sell one Sean Scully abstract at an 'undisclosed' price in the region of pounds 39,000. Instead of selling, as he had hoped, he spent his time buying from competitors.

The galleries that were laughing all the way to the bank included Flowers East, Jill George, William Jackson and Francis Graham-Dixon. 'It feels very good this year,' Michael Flowers said. He had sold two bronze cockerels by Nicola Hicks, splendid impressionistic creations with a powder red, rust finish, at pounds 4,500 a time, and every one of her drawings that he had brought to the fair; he also sold two small Peter Howsons at pounds 4,000 and pounds 2,000.

Jill George sold a ghostly townscape by the Glasgow artist Martin Kane, Shadowlands, to Unilever for pounds 4,000; two highly coloured figure subjects by another Scot, Crawfurd Adamson, at roughly the same price; and five works by Harry Holland at pounds 2,000 a time.

David Mack, the fun artist from Fife, was the undoubted star of William Jackson's stand. Two Japanese sumo wrestlers holding up a British Rail goods wagon, produced in an edition of 10, attracted two buyers at pounds 5,500, and three more 'seriously interested' inquiries. Leslie Waddington bought one of them; he also bought two from an edition of five Mack sculptures of the Parthenon priced at pounds 8,000 each, made from 12,500 Dinky toy tyres glued together and positioned on a glass- fibre rock.

Francis Graham-Dixon's coup was Brian Ingham who paints nostalgic post- Cubist abstracts on a lonely peninsula in Cornwall. An American collector was so dazzled by the small works on show that he went to Mr Graham-Dixon's gallery and bought a large one for pounds 12,000 and reserved another.

The top ecological seller, however, was David Nash, who uses only naturally fallen trees, cutting them and burning them into images with primitive figurative associations. The Annely Juda gallery sold two explorations of a canoe image, Vessel and Volume, for pounds 7,000 and had two buyers interested, at the same price, in a sliced tree trunk, Leaning Sheaves.

An indication that wood working is 'in' came with the sell-out of Matthew Calder's work, priced between pounds 95 and pounds 375, at the the Moving Gallery stand. Calder is only 28 and currently 'artist in residence' at Buckland Abbey, a National Trust house in Devon which provides him with plenty of tree trunks. He makes wooden vessels in shapes inspired by ancient cultures and religions; the texture of the wood and its natural faults make them irresistible. After the first four sold, he had to drive up from Devon with another nine offerings; all found buyers.

(Photograph omitted)