This holiday season, why not give the gift of art? It might sound tacky, and a little daunting, but it's never been simpler. More and more galleries and online stores are realizing that there's a market for affordable work by new and established artists. As the art world reels from big name collectors and patrons' shrinking budgets, many have started commissioning smaller works, artist editions and prints to offer young and discerning art fans an opportunity to make a difference.
Sure, auction houses are starting to see huge numbers again—the Andy Warhol above, "200 Dollar Bills," recently sold
for a stunning $43.7 million, a figure that seems especially astronomical given the self-conscious comment the painting conveys about art as a consumer commodity—but the collectors who make up most of the sales in galleries are becoming more cautious. In a recent Bloomberg
article, Katya Kazakina noted that many of the galleries she visited on the Lower East Side, where rents are cheaper and the art, in turn, is often appealing to a younger audience, were sold out. As the art world adjusts to a market that seems increasingly polarized between super-collectors
and everyday people who care enough about to contribute, there are more and more ways to find, browse and buy good, affordable art.
Some of these services are massive and require very savvy, patient perusing, others are tightly controlled and curated to make sure your money is going to art that isn't just worthwhile and interesting, but also a wise investment. The art world is in the midst of a massive restructuring, and for what seems like the first time in ages, collectors with a normal person's budget stand to gain the most, and exercise an unprecedented influence over which artists succeed. The following are some of the most interesting, innovative, comprehensive, specific, uneven, exclusive, slick, gritty, local, global and, above all, affordable places for art enthusiasts to start building a collection without spending a fortune.
The Artist of the Month Club
Probably the most interesting and exciting new model for collecting art on a reasonable budget was created about a year ago by Benjamin Tischer and Risa Needleman, co-founders of the Artist of the Month Club (AMC) and Invisible-Exports
, a gallery on the Lower East Side. The AMC works like a monthly magazine: you pay an annual subscription fee and receive an original edition every month by a new artist, chosen by a new curator. At $3,000 it sounds expensive (you can pay on an installment plan), but that works out to $250 per piece, which is very affordable considering the caliber of artists and curators involved.
"It's been really great," Tischer explained by telephone, "because a lot of the people have turned out to be people who we'd hoped to work with anyway." Needleman elaborated: �ƒ¢â�€š¬�…�€œWe realized that we have a really limited knowledge of new artists out there. Obviously, we're only two people, so that if we invited really great curators who we were already friends with or curators we wanted to work with and had them each curate a month that would even widen the scope of the artists who we could involve in the project." In the first year of the AMC, which wraps up next month with a public exhibition of the 12 works for 2009 at Invisible-Exports, curators have included Lia Gangitano, an associate curator at P.S.1, Shamim Momin, an associate curator at the Whitney, and Matthew Higgs, artist and director of White Columns in the West Village, whose piece "Not Worth Reading"
was the edition for March. Other artists who created works for the AMC in 2009 included Anne-Lise Coste
, the artist duo Ms & Mr
and William Powhida
Powhida's piece, the first in the AMC, was a commentary on the state of the art market that tried to predict how hot gallery artists (like Ryan McGinness
, Kehinde Wiley
and Cory Arcangel
) would fare in the recession. In an email, he explained the inspiration for the piece: "I wanted to create something that would be a discussion piece, and offer the viewer the possibility of playing a sort of game with me about predicting who will matter." It seems like an especially apt first piece for the AMC, which in many ways shifts the terms and criteria for determining which artists will matter.
"I don't think it's going to replace the traditional gallery format by any means," Powhida said, "but I think [Tischer] and [Needleman]'s model for AMC is unique in that it creates an element of surprise by keeping the artists and the work a mystery." He continued: "I think if other galleries can find similar, inventive ways of packaging art, they might be able to create steady revenue streams through different kinds of subscription services or low-cost editions." Low-cost doesn't necessarily mean low-value, though. "We know that at least one AMC edition has already been re-sold," Needleman said, "for $1,000, which is a huge profit." She continued: "We really have collectors from all levels participating, from young people buying their first piece of art to established collectors looking to pick up work by younger artists who they might not know about." As the club goes into its second year, a whole new slate of curators will be picking a completely new group of artists to create works for adventurous collectors who don't mind giving themselves over to the discerning tastes of art world professionals. (Don't miss the chance the see the first twelve AMC works at Invisible-Exports
, December 12-20.)
Kelie Bowman and Sto, the artists who founded this tiny Williamsburg art and 'zine gallery in 2005, make the most of the space they have, packing the walls and small store for every exhibition, and offering many more works for sale on their website. With their focus on showing Brooklyn artists, many of whom are friends and acquaintances, there's a palpable sense of community to the work and exhibitions. That emphasis on young and emerging artists also means that most of the art is very affordable, with pieces and indie publications ranging from $5 to $3,000. Even when they work with fairly well-known artists and groups (this month the French collective Le Dernier Cri
has taken over the space, through December 19) the prices are always accessible.
"Because we have so little space we really try to make the most of it," Sto told me last month, "by covering the walls with art and letting artists really take over." When I asked if he could see running Cinders without the brick and mortar space he shook his head. "It's really important for me and Kelie to have this place where people can come to meet," he said, "and have a good time and look at the work, plus we get lots of people who might never look at art wandering in off the street, looking around, maybe buying a 'zine or a poster." Given how much work is available through the Cinders website, I wondered how significant walk-in sales were compared to online purchases. "I'd say about 40 percent of our sales are through the website," he explained, "and the buyers are all over the world. I've shipped things to Brazil, Australia, all around Europe." And it's not just young Williamsburgers coming to Cinders to find affordable art. "We have a very diverse group of clients," Sto told me, "One of the people who buys from us sort of regularly has their collection at the Whitney, so it's really everyone from collectors to first-timers." Sto and Bowman curate many of the shows themselves, offering their insiders' take on who is worth knowing and collecting in Brooklyn's perpetually evolving art scene.
Obviously, the go-to for all things hand-made and crafty is increasingly serving as an online gallery for artists whose work isn't available through galleries. This makes it a bit of a double-edged sword: with no middle-man (save a cursory Etsy fee) artists can sell their wares at reasonable prices and received all the profits; but with no guiding taste-maker involved, there's no quality control. So while browsing Etsy you'll come across a lot of mediocre things like this
, but also some really beautiful work, like this
. Also, with the start-up's recent move to Dumbo, it's technically both local and global.
When I reached Adam Brown, a press contact at Etsy, by telephone, he explained that he saw the site's main shortcoming as the inability to see something before you buy it. As far as curation and filtering out the good from the meh, some areas and systems help the best work rise to the top. "There are certain sections of the site that we do curate," Brown explained, "we also have gift guides accessible from the homepage, and those are all handpicked by the staff here." And ultimately the site's inclusive nature makes it easier to find the good stuff. As Brown put it: "Etsy becomes more useful the more people use it."
Funnily enough, Sto from Cinders remembered being invited to guest curate a page at Etsy once. "It took me hours of searching to find something I liked," he explained, "but once I found an artist whose stuff I liked, then it was really easy to look at artists they liked and find more interesting work." He continued: "I know at least two people who live in small towns and make a living by selling their work on Etsy." For patient viewers, then, it's a one-stop art shop, but the inability to see the work in person, and the fluidly structured and often unclear curation systems can make it hard to find art you're sure you'll like. Plus, from a soulless "art market" point of view, it's impossible to know what artworks will appreciate in value as artists' careers continue.
Regarded by many as the first site to successfully create a comprehensive and broad online art store that retained a strong curatorial direction and high level of quality, Soho gallerist Jen Bekman
's 20x200 launched in earnest back in the fall of 2007, selling limited editions of artists works in different sizes ranging from $20 to $2,000. The current show at Bekman's Spring Street gallery, Mixtape
(through January 9), showcases 45 works added to the site in recent months, including pieces by William Swanson
, Tyson Anthony Roberts
, Scott Listfield
, Jorge Colombo
and James Griffioen
. The site offers an impressive range of art from very accessible works like Colombo
's street scenes drawn on his iPhone (like his famous New Yorker cover
) to more conceptual creations like Brooklyn-based artist Mike Estabrook
's Google image searches
. Though pieces bought through 20x200 aren't likely to appreciate in value like works from the AMC might, it's a much cheaper option, plus you know exactly what you're getting.
Increasingly, galleries are offering editions, prints and cheaper works through online stores on their websites, and some terrific street art and illustration galleries are leading the way. Bushwick galleries Ad Hoc Art
and Factory Fresh
, for instance, both offer original works and prints through their websites. Factory Fresh's online inventory features mostly original works (and some T-shirts
) by the slate of graffiti artists and painters who've had exhibitions with the gallery. Pieces can range anywhere between $15,000 for a more traditional expressionist oil painting of a street scene by Tim Kent
to just $30 for a screenprint by Armer
from the gallery's current exhibition
Ad Hoc Art also keeps a vast online inventory of works by the gallery's artists and those who've been featured in past exhibitions. So there are pieces by emerging Brooklyn artists going for $100 or less, but also some art by cross-over art stars who got their start in street art, like Swoon
(!). Another of my favorite galleries, Jonathan LeVine
in Chelsea, offers an amazing selection of original works and prints through their website, including works as affordable as Nouar's portrait of a tomato lady "What a Tomato"
to an elaborate portfolio by Ron English
for $1,200. Whatever your budget or taste, there's never been a better time to get involved in the art world and start giving back to the artists you like. Whether it's $5 every few months or $200 every other week, you can get great work for your money.