Big bargains at Solothurn art mart

Paintings by Urs Richle are among those on offer. www.kunstsupermarkt.ch

At a time when art sales frequently total millions of dollars the idea of paying affordable prices for contemporary art sounds like a contradiction in terms - but not in Solothurn.

This content was published on November 16, 2001 - 07:31

For the second consecutive year, this small Swiss city is hosting an art supermarket where works by living artists - perhaps some of tomorrow's big names - are fetching from SFr99 to SFr599 ($60 to $400).

The supermarket is a far cry from Art Basel, the annual fair which generates tens of millions of dollars in sales. But its organiser Peter Meier says it offers a rare chance to purchase works from a selection of up-and-coming artists before they go on sale for serious money.

"By the time we close on January 5, we need to generate sales totalling SFr400,000 to break even," said Meier, "to cover advertising, rental costs and other expenses. The proceeds of each sale are split 50-50 between us and the artist, who for over six weeks is able to exhibit his or her works to a wide public."

Paintings for the people

Only a handful of leading dealers or collectors attended last year's supermarket, but Meier says the event is not specifically aimed at them. "Many young people come here to make their first art purchase," he told swissinfo, "while older art lovers with more money to spare can often find something they like for no more than SFr599."

Selecting the artists whose works go on the supermarket shelves is as painstaking - and difficult - a process as that faced by the organisers of Art Basel. Meier, who makes the final choice with help from an art historian friend, says the emphasis is on quality as well as on the comparatively modest prices.

Some 60 artists from Switzerland and abroad are represented, and in the months leading up to the supermarket opening its doors, each was invited to submit 40 signed and original works. No reproductions are on sale in Solothurn.

So although the brand names may be little-known to the public, at least the items on display on these shelves cannot, for the time being at least, be found in any other store.

by Richard Dawson

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