Liverpool Biennial first impressions: Cave Art Fair and Sincerity Shoe

THE first day of the Liverpool Biennial, the day after the night before, the day after everyone’s hard work came to fruition, the day after the after party, I found myself in a shed. The shed was the stage for a piece of performance art (or was it? – more on that question later…) located within an art fair, within an interesting comment on the traditional art market, within an innocuous warehouse building, within the Jamaica Street area of Liverpool, on a day when that area was buzzing with life.


I was at Cave Art Fair, a new model of artist-led arts commerce. This was an interesting place for me to start my Biennial experience, as I have been thinking a lot lately about the art market, taste and sustainability. The founders, Flis Mitchell and Kevin Hunt, speaking to the website Seven Streets, said that they wanted their art fair to be “playful and inclusive”. Cave’s USP is that it is not-for-profit and the artists receive one hundred percent of the sale price. Although in one sense a lovely idea, it comes precariously close to suggesting that you shouldn’t put a value on the facilitation of art and the creation of opportunities.

Interestingly, this resonated with the conversation within the shed. Oliver Braid, in the process of presenting a trilogy of power-points, was prompting a debate among his small but highly engaged audience about what motivates artists to share their work. Braid has a very refreshing practise which involves an ongoing critique and analysis of his own strategies. I wrote about his exhibition at the Royal Standard, Liverpool for The Double Negative, earlier this year (here). He also has strong links to the city, having lived here for a few years in the mid-noughties.The framework of Oliver’s performance – he claims it isn’t a performance, but I certainly interpreted it as such – was to repeat three presentations that he gave throughout 2011 and 2012. ‘Sincerity Shoe’ took the audience on a journey through the philosophical and emotional education that Braid engineered for himself over the last couple of years. 2011, he said, was the year of becoming more deserving of love and money; 2012 on the other hand has been his year of seriousness; an attempt to challenge the misapprehension that others often hold that he is always being irreverent.

Braid is part of the duo behind the Ellie and Oliver show, a weekly radio broadcast from the hosts’ base in Glasgow. Similarly to this performance, the show is a platform for discussing the themes that arise from trying to operate as professional artists and navigate friendships, familial and romantic relationships and live a physically and emotionally healthy life. In contrast to the radio show, here Braid introduces a visual element by punctuating his presentation with clipart images. Stacks of Christmas presents, the cast of Friends or the face of Quentin Crisp would appear as if conjured from Braid’s subconscious on the spot. This has the effect of introducing humour but also allowing the audience at least a chance of keeping up with Braid’s complex style of story-telling, a combination of over-sharing and pop-philosophy.

Back to Cave. Although ethically debateable, the tone manages to be simultaneously joyful and professional. The curation is sensitive; works by one artist are not necessarily displayed together so it feels like a group show rather than a shop. The selection is brave and the integration of performance art makes a visit into a memorable experience. Art Fairs are one of the missing pieces of the Liverpool art market jigsaw. There are collectors here, the Biennial, many good galleries, art schools and practitioners but no commercial galleries showcasing contemporary art and, until now, no art fair. The Cave model fits within the DIY spirit of the Liverpool art scene and offers a new solution for enabling artists to make a living.

Elsewhere in the Biennial, so far I have been disappointed by Anthony McCall’s no-show and excited to see so many shop-fronts and formerly disused spaces becoming pop-up galleries. It is only the beginning… so look out for my regular blogs over the coming weeks.

Cave Art Fair continues until 16 September 2012
Baltic Creative Campus, Jamaica Street, Liverpool, L1 0BW
(entrance on New Bird Street)

1 comment
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