Karen Ashton Interview – Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair
Ahead of this weekend’s Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair in Margate, Art Matter spoke to Karen Ashton about the popular art fair. Read the interview below whilst there’s more on this year’s fair in our feature here.
Art Matter: Hi Karen, the Art Car Boot Fair has gone from strength to strength since the inaugural event in 2004, how did it all begin?
Karen Ashton: It actually began with an Art Car Rally to promote the first ever Brighton Photo Biennial in 2003 with about eight cars driving from outside the Serpentine Gallery to the end of Brighton’s old pier, windows covered with images by Martin Parr, Elaine Constantine, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane and boots full of art including a mystery box given to us by Jake & Dinos Chapman which we auctioned unopened at the end of the day. The winning bidder opened the box to find a mouldy tangerine, a copy of The Beano and a few cast-off small casts from their Turner Prize show that year! We enjoyed the car boot sale part of the day so much that we approached Vauxhall, who’d sponsored the trip, and they agreed to support a standalone London event. The great thing about this model, working with our sponsor in the way that we do, means that the event has always been completely free to invited artists to take part in and they take what they make – so we have a nice clean relationship with them, no financial involvement at all.
AM: What was your own background before founding the Art Car Boot Fair?
KA: I began my working life working in advertising and PR for JWT and Mathew Freud, but after a couple of years I left to do a fine art MA in photography and after a spell curating photographic exhibitions and working on projects like the Shoreditch Photo Biennial I realised that there was a role for me in brokering successful arts sponsorships and I worked on various projects with clients including the RCA, Beaconsfield, the Finnish Insititute in London, The Lisson Gallery, Nat West Bank, Matches and Bloomberg and of course have had a long working relationship with Vauxhall for the Art Car Boot Fair.
AM: The fair will be in Margate this year; home to Tracey Emin, the Turner Contemporary and not to mention, the mysterious Shell Grotto. How did this opportunity in Margate come about?
KA: We’d successfully taken the event on the road last year, joining in with the opening weekends of both the Folkestone Triennial and the Liverpool Biennial – and were planning to do it again this year, when we had a timely call from Sam Lloyd at Turner Contemporary (who’d come along to our Folkestone event) inviting us to hold it at Turner Contemporary. We visited a few days later and realised what a great place Margate has become again – there’s so much going on creatively and it’s turned out to be a perfect place to hold the event.
AM: What can fair-goers expect this year down by the sea?
KA: Hopefully a clear calm day with light white clouds and a gentle breeze…but whatever the weather there are some serious art bargains to be had in an atmosphere of frivolity – eclectic performances, a full three hour cabaret presided over Richard Strange (Cabaret Futura), opportunities to make your own custom screen prints for free at Ian Dawson’s COPY SHOP – plus the chance to barter and do business with over a hundred artists including Tracey Emin, Sir Peter Blake, Keith Coventry, Matt Collishaw, Polly Morgan, Rachel Howard, Vic Reeves and fabulous installations from Margate based studios Resort, Crate, Limbo and new kids on the block Bonvolk – and wonderful promenade performances including Dan Chilcott’s knitted swimsuit posse and Francis Thorburn’s wonderful vehicle powered by men in socks and underpants – members of the public are encouraged to don the outfit and join in! Oh, and a dog show.
AM: The fair is characterized by it’s lively, relaxed and friendly atmosphere; is this a draw to the big names in art that take part in the fair?
KA: Yes, most definitely – plus the opportunity to do the business of selling art directly to buyers and the chance to make work especially for the day which gives artists the chance to let their hair down a bit, without the expectations of their galleries!
AM: Finally, what’s in store in the future, will the fair venture further afield in years to come?
KA: We love holding the London event once a year, to retain the energy and fun of it, we’d also like to hold one or two boot fairs elsewhere in the UK in 2016, perhaps heading north to Yorkshire and/or Scotland. We’re also in early stage planning to take the event to New York, to see how it goes down Stateside. It’s a very personal project so we can’t franchise it out or anything like that as we see it almost as a curatorial project.