Thursday, August 6, 2009

How to Afford Art

Image courtesy of Charmingwall, from "Solo Show: The Hidden World Wakes," by Jordan Bent, running through Sept. 2.

In this economy, where even being gainfully employed is a feat, buying art can seem hopelessly out of reach. But you don't have to have a wallet that's busting at the seams to put something meaningful on your wall. This ARTINFO article, co-written by me, gives you the lowdown on how--and where--to start:

Tips for Novice Collectors
By Jacquelyn Lewis, Marisa Rindone, Reposted from

You love art, and you know what you like, but you don’t have a financier’s funds. So is it still possible to be a collector? The answer is an overwhelming yes. And if you have any spare cash, an economic downturn is an excellent time to buy. With fewer buyers in the market, there is actually a wider variety of interesting, affordable pieces available.

“A lot of galleries are working with their artists to try and meet this market need. Economic and political crisis always shakes things up and creates a more interesting dialogue,” says Helen Allen, executive director of the Pulse contemporary art fair, which runs annually in Miami and New York. “It’s a difficult time, but it’s a time when people can really think outside the box and be a little bit more creative in their outreach.”

The Art of the Risk

Invisible Exports’ Artist of the Month Club is one such nontraditional endeavor. The young, Lower East Side gallery offers a program in which members of the club get a dozen original, exclusive pieces for $2,400 a year. “You can sign up for a year’s subscription, and every month you get a new work,” explains Allen. The catch? Collectors won’t lay eyes on the purchased pieces until they arrive in their homes. “The club involves a wonderful element of chance," adds Risa Needleman, the gallery’s co-owner. "When you sign up, you know all the curators but none of the artists. You make a leap of faith, and a 12-piece collection is curated for you and dropped at your front door.” Essentially, subscribers have professionals begin their collection for them, with each piece costing only $200 (shipping and handling is included in the price of membership).

The World Beyond Chelsea

If you’d prefer to wander out on your own, however, “art fairs are a fantastic place to start,” Allen says. “They offer a level playing field. As a beginner, you can come in and see 30 or 100 or 200 galleries,” as well as take advantage of programming like a lecture or a demonstration that might be useful when you’re just beginning to learn your tastes. Pulse, which hits Miami December 3-6, offers a lot of lower price points. Art Forum Berlin stands out as a staple when it comes to finding great emerging work, as it features galleries under five years old. The fair runs September 24-27 this year.

Off-the-beaten-path galleries are also a likely place to find bargains, since they’re often committed to supporting newer artists. Galleries in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn may be slightly more accessible than those in Chelsea. Small art blogs and Web sites with the same aim, such as, are good places to look.

“It doesn’t have to cost $100,000 to be good,” says Rob Kalin, founder of Etsy, which offers hundreds of thousands of artworks and other handmade items, many with a price tag of less than $100. “Our big goal is to enable people to make a living making things. There are probably artists on the site whose work will be very collectible in 10 years, but it’s more about what art should be about: surrounding yourself with work that you want to see and experience in your everyday life. It’s great to know you’re supporting the artists too.”

Buy Direct

Of course, some of the best prices can be had by going straight to the source. Get to know the artist and you’re more likely to get a deal.

“Find art walks and open studio events in your area where you’ll have the chance to meet artists and buy directly from them,” says Cris McCall, director of the Hollywood, Calif.-based Tinlark gallery, which specializes in affordable art and offers lots of diminutive pieces.

She also recommends M.F.A. shows and school Web sites. “Graduating artists are affordable and keen to sell their work,” she says. “If you see a piece you like, call the school — they should be happy to pass along your information to the artist.”

Use Your Intuition

Tap into the sense you get about the person you’re purchasing a piece from, be it a gallerist or a painter. “Make sure you have an open line of communication,” says Allen. “If you don’t have a good feeling about it, that’s an indication that something’s not right.”

And don’t let the current economy influence your choices, Allen warns new collectors who aren’t necessarily familiar with the market. “Don’t try to buy for financial investment. The market is very fickle. It’s highly risky to be betting on a fourfold return. It’s more important to buy what you love.”

Here, some great places to start building your collection:

Invisible Exports’ Artist of the Month Club

The Artist of the Month Club "is a wonderful way to start a collection — or to add to a growing one — with the help of a dozen of the country's most plugged-in curators, a kind of dream team of art advisers. It's a perfect way to acquaint yourself with the work of great living artists, many just on the verge of real breakouts and others who have already received wide acclaim,” Needleman says. She adds that new collectors don’t have to wait until January to sign up; late subscribers can still join and receive the full 2009 collection.

6671 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Calif.

ARTINFO stumbled across this Hollywood gallery during last year’s Armory week at the satellite fair Red Dot. “Carefully curated, affordable art — that’s what I do,” gallery director Cris McCall told us, and she has the prices — starting at $25! — and selection to prove it. If you can’t make it to Hollywood, look for Tinlark online or at smaller art fairs.

191 West Fourth Street, New York

This little gallery, standing alone amid the tattoo and novelty shops in New York’s West Village, offers a curated selection of quirky, open-edition prints that never go above $80 — and that includes framing and matting. How does Charmingwall maintain such affordable prices? The owners are in the boutique printing business, so production costs are minimal, and the gallery maintains personal relationships with all of its artists, who approve each print, according to gallery director Katie McClenahan. The prints are available online too, and the gallery has small monthly exhibitions of original art priced anywhere from $50 to a few thousand per work. “We’re trying to get up-and-coming artists out there and provide affordable art for the masses,” McClenahan says. Less than two years old, Charmingwall has already attracted media attention from the likes of New York magazine and DailyCandy.

(FYI: Charming Wall is opening a new gallery, Six by Six, featuring 6" x 6" original works of art, in October.)


Rob Kalin dropped out of art school and founded Etsy in 2005. The result is an addictive online marketplace where you can buy anything from original artworks to handmade jewelry and clothing. According to Kalin, art is the third most popular category on the site and accounts for 10 percent of Etsy’s overall sales. “This is about the idea that art is a craft,” Kalin says. Etsy’s selection isn’t curated, so quality is hit or miss, and it can be time-consuming to page through its thousands of offerings. Still, the site features some great finds.

Tiny Showcase

True to its name, the four-year-old Web site Tiny Showcase showcases prints that are, well, tiny. You can sign up for its newsletter and snatch up a limited-edition piece each Tuesday for minimal dough — from around $20 to $100. But you have to be nimble — the works usually go within hours. Imagine covering an entire wall with these exquisite little pieces, all printed on archival paper in ink. And the best part is that a percentage from each work sold goes to a charity of the artist’s choice.