Art has a reputation for being really expensive. Even now, still coming out of a long recession, we continue to hear about works of art fetching record-breaking prices at auction.
By Margot Clark-Junkins
Art has a reputation for being really expensive. Even now, still coming out of a long recession, we continue to hear about works of art fetching record-breaking prices at auction. While these headline-grabbing sales reinforce the idea that art remains a valuable investment, the news tends to perpetuate our belief that good art could not possibly be affordable too.
Despite what you may think, “affordable art” is not a contradiction in terms; in fact, it is widely available and need not come from auction houses or famous galleries in Manhattan. You can find beautiful works of art for under $3,000, and for as little as $80, right in this area. The tricky part is knowing where to shop.
These days, most artists have their own websites, though many continue to rely on gallery representation. Gallery representation is a good thing for the artist and the buyer: if you don’t know an artist personally and need ideas, a gallery can introduce you to a range of artists, providing helpful advice along the way. There are many details to consider: an artist’s training, exhibition history, preferred medium (for example, oil or pastel), the long-term value of the work, its physical condition and durability in particular settings (outdoors or inside, moist or very dry).
Kenise Barnes Fine Art (KBFA) on Palmer Avenue in Larchmont is an excellent local resource for affordable art. The brightly lit street-level space is judiciously sprinkled with colorful, elegant canvases and some contemporary sculpture. The downstairs gallery space is used to present works to private clients, architects and interior designers. Barnes, who established the gallery in 1994, wants visitors to feel welcome, and not daunted (as so many of us are), by the gallery experience. Two of the most beautiful works on display during a recent visit were Vivian Kahra’s Missing Hut (oil and watercolor on canvas, $2,200) and Eve Stockton’s Woodland Skyscape Var. 10 (woodcut print on paper, $3,500). Kahra’s works are serene landscapes with dashes of color; Stockton’s works are nature-inspired and quite intricate, often large in scale.
Barnes notes that the current trend favoring works on paper is an economical option for collectors of affordable art; works on paper happen to be “about one-third the cost of works on canvas.” She recommends that you always view a work first-hand before buying it, and remember to “ask about the durability of the work.” Buying several small works rather than one large piece, she says, can save you money while creating a pleasing wall display; arrange them together on one wall and, as your collection expands and your tastes change, you can always add a larger piece to anchor the group. The art you choose to display on your walls will ultimately say infinitely more about who you are and what you think, she believes, than the sofa and drapes.
Many of the 50-plus artists at KBFA have MA degrees and teach in addition to having a studio practice, which seems to be “a very holistic approach.” Barnes explains that, “because we have personal, long-term relationships with the artists, collectors may have the opportunity to meet the artist; often they can visit the artist’s studio.” Don’t miss the gallery’s upcoming shows: “Sublime” (through February 22) and “We Love Art” (February 8, 6:30-8 p.m.). The latter will feature 50 small works of art with a nod to Valentine’s Day; each piece will be priced at $214.14.
The Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP) in Norwalk (next door to Stepping Stones Museum for Children) is a not-for-profit artist workspace in an old carriage house where artists teach printmaking, hold group shows and make their own work. Roxanne Faber Savage has been an active member of this organization for quite some time; she also works out of her Fairfield studio. Faber Savage’s aquatint Mighty Idy, Pinky ($1,000) and her monoprint Moon Swim, XII, Stalactites ($950) are boldly colored and playful; the artist has a sure hand and a strong sense of style.
CCP currently has an exhibition of miniature prints by over 200 artists on view at the Bendheim Gallery in Greenwich (through February 9). All the prints are for sale and the catalogue is also online, with prices. Three etchings by DeAnn Prosia — City Lines, Wings, and Half Off — feel monumental in spite of their diminutive proportions. When bought as a trio, you have a seriously good-looking triptych for a mere $225. Theresa Haberkorn’s color woodcuts Winter Pines and Raking Light feature the snowy slopes of Colorado; the pair will run you just $120. This wonderful exhibit goes the extra mile by providing all sorts of technical information about the various printmaking processes.
The Piermont Straus Gallery & Bookstore is just over the Tappan Zee Bridge in Piermont, on the Hudson River. Owner Laura Straus, a photographer and author in her own right, has a keen eye for beautiful work and she knows many artists. Barbara Bordnick’s stunning flower photographs were recently exhibited in the gallery; a fresh exhibit of Kellyann Monaghan’s “Cityscapes: Bridges, Rivers and Towers,” has just opened and will be on view through April 5. With quick dashes of white and stripes of yellow, the painter beautifully evokes the city lights at night in her work Williamsburg Bridge, East River At Night ($600).
If you want to invest in something sculptural, check out the Clay Art Center’s gallery in Port Chester. Artist-in-residence Ron Geibel has created a playful series of white porcelain domes called Inconspicuous. They rest on invisible mounts and resemble a colony of sun-bleached sea urchins ($200 each).
As you get more serious about collecting contemporary art, you might consider joining a “Museum Collectors” group (usually these groups require that you buy a membership to the museum at a higher level), which offer guided tours of curated exhibits, visits to artist studios and outings to art fairs and private collections. The Neuberger Museum in Purchase has an excellent group, as does the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.