Buying Affordable Art: Go Small or Not at All?

When I walked by Heist Gallery up the block from me yesterday, I noticed a thin row of Polaroids lining the walls, and this started a long train of thought. It was a group show entitled “12 Instances,” and interestingly the last exhibition I saw there, Papercut, was an assortment of affordable works on paper. Both exhibitions were put together with an eye to being reasonably-priced. Affordable, small-scale works seem sensible given the big “R” word (Recession) and they suit my budget. Affordable art might just be a case of buying small, but I find it interesting, perhaps telling, that given my enthusiasm for art, I’ve opted for not at all over small.

Polaroid by Braden King

Here’s the thing: I love art and I’m no Rockerfeller. I’m democratic and think art should be accessible to all. I like the idea of being able to afford art. YET I don’t want to buy the relatively reasonable Polaroid. I just wasn’t that impressed, and I felt the same way with a lot of the lower end works at the Affordable Art Fair. There were some nice enough postcard-size sketches, but I didn’t fall hundreds-of-dollars in love with them. Maybe my eyes are just bigger than my budget.

I’m more impressed with the website 20X200, which offers limited editions of new works each week beginning at $20. They go up through $2,00o dollars, depending on the size of the print. They have an impressive quality and some really nice images, and I’ll likely buy from there in the near future.

I’m even more impressed with my boyfriend, even if his plans for my birthday didn’t quite work out; he wanted to buy a (smaller, more affordable if possible) painting from an artist in Chelsea that I raved about. So he contacted the gallery, saying he was interested in this artist’s work. Nobody ever responded to his message. (Can you not leave a voicemail saying that you are interested in a certain artists work and expect to be called back?) I’m fairly certain said artist is 10 times above our price range anyhow, but I do find it odd that he didn’t hear back.

Buying affordable art seems to involve shrinking it on cheaper mediums. That’s ok, but I’m going to have to do a lot more scouring to find works that I love. As I have blank wall syndrome, I’ve filled my apartment with paintings of my own as a temporary (and not particularly impressive) solution. Suggestions welcome, both for blank wall syndrome and buying art.

To prove it’s not impossible to buy great art on a budget, check out the Vogels below.

12 thoughts on “Buying Affordable Art: Go Small or Not at All?

  1. I was at a gallery recently looking at the price list for the paintings on the walls. They were all from the same artist, and all very similar abstract works, in varying sizes. The price differences seemed to be based on square footage.

    For some reason I found that odd. Sure, a larger painting costs more to make in materials. But seeing as how the prices are something on the order of a hundred times more than the materials cost, I don’t see how that has much of an effect.

    I sort of understand it, and yet it’s also kind of weird.

  2. Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that too. Certainly a mural wouldn’t inherently cost more than a photograph. (i.e. bad mural vs. great photograph). With contemporary art, I do feel that the works price correlates almost too strongly with its size.

    Like I could afford a postage stamp size Chuck Close. Well, maybe.

  3. sometimes I have found smaller work is as time intensive as larger work. I think it is nice to have access to affordable art, but I found in trying to do it when I was in this one gallery it backfired. People wanted cheaper and cheaper and I spent as much time painting a face on a crushed can as I did a canvas and they still thought it too much. I decided to hell with it and not compromise just for the sake of a sale. People either love your work and want to buy it (always layway options) or not.
    As for the gallery not getting back to your boyfriend, shame on them! Talk about bad business.

  4. It’s not the materials, it’s the time. I know that this doesn’t explain every instance, but for many artists larger canvases take substantially more time to fill.

    And it’s one other thing: price discrimination. The people with bigger rooms and bigger walls are the people with more money. So the galleries stick it to ’em.

    As to the larger issue, I am very sympathetic. My fear of art-buying was shattered several years ago by an experienced painter who made a set of 5″x7″ and 6″x9″ paintings and sold them for $40 to $50, bascially designed to bring in new buyers. Worked on me – I have nine of his larger pieces now.

    The other thing I’ve done is focus on prints, which are so much more affordable, but have at least a little of that Polaroid problem – I just spent how much on a piece of paper?

  5. My only response to that Amateur is that time/size is relative. I have seen artists do bigger work that takes less time than a smaller work. So for me there is a danger of thinking size/time should determine price.
    I think what speaks volumes is when one can see a commitment to concept, craftsmanship etc and that can come in very small packages, (frida kahlo, dalie, comes to mind, or some of the miniature paintings from india, japan or china).

  6. JafaBrit, I think you make a great point about craftsmanship and time-intensiveness being just as possible on a smaller scale. (And probably good you got out of the gallery, if only for your own sanity.)

    But I do think, with Amateur Reader, that there tends to be a correlation between size of a piece and time, which influences price.

  7. I stopped going to art shows because it was just too frustrating to see a piece I really liked but couldn’t afford.

    I really envy Damien Hirst’s dentist who, when Hirst was a struggling artist, let him pay his dental fees in art. Sadly I don’t have any skills to trade.

    I’ve tended to choose good limited edition prints over bad/small originals.

  8. And gosh there are some bad small originals out there steerforth. Art, I agree and understand the point about size and price though! while a larger work may not take as much time, it does require MORE paint, larger stretchers and canvas.

    Some galleries or artists at art shows are open to layway. I have done this myself.

  9. Oh, so along the lines on 20X200 that I mentioned, art blog Thinking About Art wrote today about a website called 246 editions that works under a similar concept.

  10. I do not recommend buying “paper” as a new or beginning collector. Small Works (paintings/sculptures) are the best way to go. Good quality is not negated by its size if the artist’s work was to your liking. I recently saw an 8″x10″ Renoir of “Three Roses” up for sale at Sotheby’s that was exquisite. There were many small pieces of famous artists at this exhibition, which proves my point about beginning collections. I would suggest doing some homework (or get some professional input) to find an emerging artist’s work that you are drawn to, stay within your budget, and enjoy living with it for many years.

    Oh, BTW, you can always put a small painting in a much larger frame with a large size interesting (silk or linen) mat if you need decorative appeal as well. If it is a contemporary piece it will work out very nicely until you can add to your collection.

    By all means, do not give up on beginning an art collection, nor to buying paper because it is cheaper. Do you want timeless art or wallpaper?

  11. I’m going to paper my walls with original prints (only from the first 150!) by Albrecht Durer and Hiroshige. So, I guess that’s a compromise.

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