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Friday finds: navigating an Affordable Art Fair

From Gallery MANO. Euphoria #15. Jung, JaeHwan. Mixed media. $2,800

My first foray into the world of affordable art

The sad truth is that the word "affordable" can often read as "cheap". I must admit that I was skeptical for my first visit to the Affordable Art Fair.  Especially after visiting world class fairs like Art Basel, I couldn't help but imagine a warehouse filled with cheap, tacky art. Basically, a step above Ikea. I went more with the intention of taking my then-newborn son on an outing than actually enjoying (or gasp - buying) any art.

Fast forward to me perusing the galleries (while simultaneously breastfeeding) and negotiating not one but three purchases.

Such is life, I suppose.

Starting an art collection is a very personal thing. I have strong feelings on the subject but it is a post for another day. Suffice to say, I think it's important to create an environment for ourselves that speaks to who we are and what we love. I can't say I'm much in favor of buying mass produced reproductions or generic pieces that look as though they belong in a min-range hotel room. Which is exactly where the AAF comes in handy.

The AAF focuses on largely unknown artists, although you can usually grab a few limited edition prints, drawings or small works from the big guys too. The pricing is below USD $5,000 with many pieces going for much, much less. In fact, there's a whole wall of pieces selling for less than $100. So not exactly a throw-away expense, but one you can probably afford.

Yes, there are certainly some god awful pieces. But surprise, surprise you'll find some at Basel too.

This crazy guitar playing lady is my favorite AAF find

Building your art collection

When I visit the fair, I almost always have my eye out for new additions to my collection. I definitely don't look for a particular style, size or color scheme. In fact, I think a lot of the fun is building a collection that's eclectic and a bit mismatched. 

The key is finding the pieces that speak to you, that make you smile, that make you think.

Oddly, I often find myself attracted to the pieces I find ugly or displeasing. I always think "why?". I end up spending more time with these pieces wondering "why is the art displeasing?" "what is the artist communicating?" and "what is the intention behind this piece?"

Bringing her home

The key is to be very selective. You no doubt have limited wall space and you don't want to go out and get just any old thing, where's the fun in that? Look at the art as an editor would and plan to reject 99.9999% of what you see.

When you actually find something you love, it's great to chat up the gallery owner. Get some background on the artist and her work and you're bound to fall in love any more. I currently have a piece in mind that I wouldn't dream of putting on a wall (a Mongolian yak) but I was incredibly touched by the story behind the piece.

A bit of dialogue between you and the gallery can also be helpful in the event that the piece you love isn't quite right for you, for whatever reason. If it's too big/small/expensive/whatever, it's worth speaking with the gallery. Maybe they have prints from the artist which can definitely change both the sizing and pricing. Or perhaps they have another artist they could introduce you to. Regardless, it's worth an introduction. You never know what you will discover.

You should also ask about the cost of transportation and framing which can quickly change your opinion of what's considered "affordable" .

For the other 50 weekends a year

Those in London, New York and Singapore are lucky. We have the AAF in town twice a year which is probably perfect. Not too often but bound to be right around the corner if you're in the market.

For the remaining 50 weeks of the year, keep in touch with the people at the galleries you met. They can keep you in the loop as to new works coming in as well as introduce you to new artists.

Personally, I love browsing Saatchi Art and Paddle8, where there are sure to be lots of great finds.

Happy hunting, and please tell me what you find!

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