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Stacking the shelves with contemporary art

Art enthusiasts sifting through some of the 6,000 original works

(swissinfo.ch)

Supermarkets belong to one world and art belongs to another, unless of course you happen to be in Solothurn where the two are cheerfully merged in the Art Supermarket.

In the heart of the old town in central Switzerland, the Art Supermarket is open for business with almost 6,000 original works of art ready to be piled into your trolley.

The art supermarket concept aims to take the mystique and elitism out of buying art by bringing a large range of contemporary work to a wide, new audience.

This is no regular exhibition. The clear, four-tier pricing system, brash marketing style and ease of access to the art combine to give the feeling of a bargain basement.

But despite the light-hearted tone of the publicity, the main organiser Peter-Lucas Meier says the selection of the 82 artists is taken very seriously.

"The irony is that the content is seriously examined and chosen. This is an exhibition operating under a supermarket marketing concept and our task is to show a very broad spectrum of good quality," Meier told swissinfo.

"Appalled at first"

The Solothurn event is now in its eighth year and a very effective vehicle for selling original work. Last year the Art Supermarket sold almost 3,000 paintings, with the artists earning on average SFr10,000 ($9,060) each.

Meier, who also runs a publishing business, had some convincing to do in the early days to get the idea off the ground.

"I came across the idea in Germany and I was very impressed. So I came back to Solothurn and spoke to the artists here but they were appalled at first to hear the words art and supermarket together."

Meier is pleased with the success of his art supermarket and the opportunities it gives to artists to move to the next level.

"The Swiss art scene is very regionalised with many artists only known in their own part of the country and each city sticking to its own scene. The Art Supermarket is one place where artists can make the leap from their own circle and region to a broader profile."

With price categories of SFr 99, 199, 399 and 599, the art on offer in Solothurn could be considered "cheap". But does cheap art necessarily mean bad art?

Art critic Konrad Tobler told swissinfo the relation between price and artistic merit is not that simple. "It is not necessarily true that the more one pays, the better the work is. What matters is the quality of the piece and the experience behind it."

"I think the Art Supermarket fulfils a certain need and it is a special segment in the art market. What is on offer is different from what you would find in specialist contemporary art galleries," Tobler commented.

Found its niche

For better or worse, the Art Supermarket has found its niche. Within minutes of the exhibition's doors opening last week, many visitors had selected their favourites and were gripping the paintings carefully while they continued to search.

"We have people who choose their painting from the catalogue photo before we open. Then they come in and say they want a certain painting, before they even know how big it is," Meier said.

The crowd on opening day came in and dispersed quickly around the exhibition, browsing through the stacks of art in an atmosphere of earnest concentration.

An hour later one visitor queuing at the checkout who had travelled from Geneva for the event told swissinfo she had gone completely overboard.

"I'm buying three pieces, I tried to eliminate one but I couldn't. Once I got round and had a good look, I picked out what I think are fabulous pieces. I don't do it to make money, I think they make wonderful gifts."

One browser from Bern was still deciding between two pictures, studying both of them side by side. He said it was his fifth time attending the Art Supermarket. "I always buy two small pictures for myself to enjoy at home."


swissinfo, Clare O'Dea

Key facts

The Kunstsupermarkt, or Art Supermarket, concept originally came from Barcelona and is now well established in Germany.
The Solothurn event is the only Swiss art supermarket and is now in its eighth year. The exhibition runs from November 16 to January 5.
82 artists from 14 different countries are showing their work at the art supermarket. In all, there are almost 6,000 paintings.

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