CULTURE

Cheap Art: Low prices, high value

Cheap Art is an organization promoting low-priced yet valuable art. Established by siblings Giorgos and Dimitris Georgakopoulos along with Fiona Mouzakiti and Christos Kehayioglou, among other artists, its aim is to allow a broader public to become more familiar with contemporary art through the purchase of genuine works at very low prices. A non-profit company with a registered trademark, Cheap Art has a strictly artistic orientation. Its role is to plan and organize exhibitions as well as manage the financial aspects that such events entail. The shows are financed by the participating artists, Cheap Art has no one on payroll and exhibitions take place at a renovated building situated at Themistocleous and Andrea Metaxa in Exarchia. The company makes no profit or commission from the sales and the artists are responsible for any kind of transaction. Ten years and 50 exhibitions after the establishment of the pioneering venue, Giorgos and Dimitris Georgakopoulos talk to Kathimerini about the bet that introduced art to student lounges and young people’s bedrooms. How did the Cheap Art idea come about? G.G.: The idea was born when we were fine arts students in Germany in 1986. Around Christmas we would find ourselves at houses and studios and we would exchange works. This exchange was not obligatory and a low price was often set. So, initially, this was a student thing. Gradually, however, it became a broader practice, since various friends wanted to buy too. From 1991 to 1994 we worked with Centrale Kunst Gallery. When the gallery, due to its commercial nature, shut down we came to Greece and established Cheap Art. D.G.: We tried to develop a network of artists, art historians and curators – some kind of community. There is no financial incentive on our side, we are not the kind of organizers looking for a profit in order to survive. This means that every artist showcasing his work is free to do as he pleases, irrespective of whether he wants to sell or not. How did a non-profit organization manage to blossom in such a difficult artistic landscape? D.G.: Our own survival mechanism is based on the artists themselves, all those who have actively participated from 1995 until now. Cheap Art is open and welcoming. That does not mean that we agree to everything. Naturally we make a selection, since we have the capacity to organize five to six shows per year. The criteria is not a who’s who of artists, or whether their works sell well. Our main concern is the artist’s proposal, the idea they want to bring forward, whether they are established or not. We had Haris Kontosfyris’s «Athens-Beijing,» for instance, a project which then traveled to the Sao Paolo Biennale; Fotini Kapiris’s «Tom Home,» subsequently presented at Art Atina; and Dimitris Rotsios’s work, later presented at the Venice Biennale together with Sia Kyriakakou. Somehow it becomes a chain of events. So far, we have collaborated with 228 artists; we started off with a group of 16. Established and up-and-coming artists meet at the shows, they coexist and exchange ideas. Why do you think that your idea was not followed by others? G.G.: One of the problems is the structure. We are a non-profit organization, and galleries have a different kind of logic. Cheap Art collaborates with the artists, it does not represent them. Several times we helped artists create expensive works, works based on technology, for instance. It is cheap art only when it comes to the price, not when it comes to the materials or the quality. We are not into arte povera. Do artists use you as a starting point? G.G.: We can only help up to a certain point. From then on the artists are on their own, they must set their own goals and not censor themselves. D.G.: Our support is not just material, but above all, moral. The best thing to come out of Cheap Art is a sense of trust among artists. Most of the artists we worked with went on to exhibit at galleries, yet they never stopped presenting works at our space, at the familiar lower prices. It is very important for young artists to see their works incorporated in a show with such a large number of visitors. What kind of impact do you think Cheap Art has on the public? D.G.: I believe that the amount of people turning up at the shows has grown. There are about 6,000 visitors coming to the December show, while about 3,000 attend the rest of the exhibitions throughout the year. We have people from all age groups and walks of life. There are 19-year-olds entering an art space for the first time in their lives, on the one hand, and art fanatics who never miss an opening, on the other. What is also noteworthy is that when someone acquires a work by a relative newcomer, they usually follow this artist for years to come. The buyer talks to his friends about the work he bought and therefore becomes the artist’s accomplice – he gets involved in the art process. It’s a way to open up to the world. Why would an established artist whose works sell well at galleries take part in Cheap Art? An established artist’s participation at the December show is an act of good will toward the public. People can buy one of his works for 70 euros and then go the gallery which represents him and buy – if possible – works at much higher prices. Cheap Art participation does not lower prices nor does it lower an artist’s worth. It reveals an artist’s sensibility toward opening up to a different kind of public. Isn’t it wonderful when a 20-year-old can afford to buy your work?