Affordable Art: Buying Online, Buying at Auction

The Affordable Art Fair has arrived in Manhattan (April 2-6) and it begs the question: what is affordable art, exactly?

Published April 4, 2014 3:16 PM
4 min read


afoordable-thmbThe Affordable Art Fair has arrived in Manhattan (April 2-6) and it begs the question: what is affordable art, exactly?

By Margot Clark-Junkins Affordable Art Fair has arrived in Manhattan (April 2-6) and it begs the question: what is affordable art, exactly?

“Mid-career” artists are going to charge $10,000 and up; quite frankly, they deserve to. These artists have been toiling away in their studios for decades. They have a solid exhibition history and a roster of happy clients who can vouch for them. They also have rent to pay, galleries to woo and websites to maintain; they pay for their own materials, travel expenses and shipping costs.

So, what constitutes affordable art? Something you can pick up for between $100 and $10,000 by an “emerging” artist. It looks great on your wall or your bookshelf and has some hope of appreciating in value over time. Some great sources have been discussed in the previous two columns. Here are some more ideas:


Buying Online

Art is all over the Internet. There is so much “out there” it can be overwhelming. To help, try dividing your options into two camps: original and reproduction.

Reproductions of original art (paintings, prints, and photographs) are very affordable because they are NOT original, and they are mass-produced for a commercial market. A work of art can only be reproduced with the artist’s permission, or when a company has an in-house designer churning out ideas for a factory to produce, or because the artwork has entered the public domain and anyone may legally reproduce it.

In these instances, very large, high-tech digital printers are used to jet-print (you will also hear “ink-jet printed” or “screen printed”) images on high quality paper or canvas with high quality inks. The price will vary depending upon the quality of paper you have chosen and the type of frame you prefer.

The term giclée is thrown around quite a lot without much explanation. If you are shopping for art, you need to know that giclée is “the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. The word giclée is derived from the French word le gicleur meaning ‘nozzle,’ or more specifically gicler meaning ‘to squirt, spurt, or spray’ (McGaw Graphics).” A so-called “limited edition print” doesn’t mean much in this arena; it may be signed but if they decide to print another 200, you will never know.

If you have opted for this route, and many folks have, One King’s Lane has a judiciously curated collection of art, as does Restoration Hardware. AllPosters has thousands of good options, too.

Websites selling original art—Artnet, Etsy, Artsy, Saatchi Online, to name only a few—help you shop by running searches by price, medium, size and even color or subject. Guest curators offer suggestions. In buying a one-of-a-kind piece, you will enjoy knowing something about your artist and can track his or her career to determine the market value of your purchase over time. Be advised: buying sight unseen is risky; the colors, size, surface texture and condition may be disappointingly unlike the online version.


Buying at Auction

In the art world, previously owned art is called “secondary market.” Clarke Auctioneers in Larchmont and Woodbury Auctions in Woodbury, Conn. are two great resources. The auctions themselves are highly entertaining and the prices are sometimes downright cheap. Clarke’s next auction is April 6; Woodbury’s next auction is June 1. Stair Auctioneers in Hudson is higher-end, but their monthly “Exposition” auctions move items with values below $2,000 (the next one is April 18).

When previewing an auction, don’t be dazzled by “named” works; these prices are inflated. Select something you love without a pedigree. If the frame is not completely to your liking, or if the mat around the picture is the wrong color, you can change the presentation later. However, if you notice any flaking or water damage on the work itself, move on. And remember: auction houses charge a commission; be sure to factor that cost into your bottom-line.

Finally, if you are looking for original and affordable art, dig up old photographs and your children’s artwork and frame them in fun ways. You can also find great old black-and-white photos and one-of-a-kind art at flea markets (Brooklyn Flea, Elephant’s Trunk), yard sales, and local antique shows. Scan your treasures and upload them to websites like Snapfish or Shutterfly; try ordering prints in a matching size (8×10 is nice), then frame them in Plexiglas (the kind with clips) for very little money. When grouped by the dozen, the arrangement looks very contemporary.




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