Inside the Affordable Art Fair, where artists pose as dealers and paintings fly off the walls

The gallery owner at booth E14 approached me first, diving straight into a sales pitch. He explained that what appeared to be paintings on the wall behind us were actually ultra-high resolution photographs taken by artist Dan Piech with a camera about 140 times more powerful than an iPhone. The technology had transformed the paint-splattered sidewalks of New York City into a series called “Concrete Canvas,” with each large-format image costing around $5,400 each, according to the artist’s website.

“And you want to know a little secret?” the Merchant said leaning over. “I am the artist. I am Dan Piech.

The Affordable Art Fair does things a little differently than its more prestigious brethren like Art Basel and Frieze, where blue-chip dealers schmooze their high-flying clients between sips of champagne. For starters, the inventory price cannot exceed $10,000. There is no veteran dealer selection committee choosing who gets a spot on the showroom floor. A good opening day at the Affordable Art Fair can fetch nearly $300,000, about half the price of a single Chris Ofili painting presented by David Zwirner at this year’s Armory Show. And yes, here, sometimes the artists pretend to be their own dealers.

The affordable art fair. Photo: Philip Reed.

While the tippity-top of the art market often grabs the headlines for big sales figures, it’s smaller events like the Affordable Art Fair that form the backbone of the art market by offering young galleries and new collectors an entry point. And despite fears of an impending recession, falling prices meant paintings were flying off the walls in quick succession. The gallery owners seemed happy, if a little exhausted, to manage one sale after another in their bright and tight corners of the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

On average, booths at the New York edition of the Affordable Art Fair cost $13,600, with most exhibitors getting 200 square feet at $68 per foot. For reference, that’s a bit more than the $11,500 package required to attend Art Basel Hong Kong’s Discoveries section, but less than half the cost of its Insights section, which tops out at around $41,500. (For prime real estate inside Basel’s exhibition hall, prices can hit six figures.) The Affordable Art Fair is also much smaller than most other fairs, at just 15,000 square feet. exhibition space squares. To compensate for a more intimate experience, merchants fill their walls with paintings, one above the other.

Many visitors from surrounding art schools like the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design receive free tickets to see the show. Others are drawn to the fair as one of the few places to find paintings that won’t break the bank or scream Homegoods. According to data from this year’s edition, the average cost of an artwork is just under $1,700; however, there were also plenty on sale for as little as $100.

Amanda Schneider, a media professional in her thirties, found the atmosphere on the floor more welcoming than many top art world events. “I’ve been to galleries before, but nothing was ever in my price range,” she explained, speaking to a Jessie J pop song in the background. “Things are not so hoity-toity here.”

the gallery.  Photo: Reed Photographic.

the gallery. Photo: Reed Photographic.

Schneider was a loyal customer: the last time she bought a work of art was at the fair several years ago. Behind her was a stand dedicated to Art Money, a startup founded in 2015 by Australian entrepreneur Paul Becker, which offered to finance purchases at the fair if customers were willing to pay 10% and commit to a payment schedule. monthly repayment.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the New York edition of the Affordable Art Fair, which exists alongside other editions in cities such as Amsterdam, London and Singapore. It’s just one of many franchises in the ever-expanding universe of Ramsay Fairs, the company that acquired the Volta Art Fair in 2019.

In January, Erin Schuppert became the Affordable Art Fair’s final director for the New York edition following the departure of previous director, Vanessa Seis, in October 2021. Schuppert, 31, had spent most of her career in the auction world, but left blue-chips behind to pursue this more accessible market.

“To put it bluntly, it’s just a lot more fun,” Schuppert said. “I think what stands out from our event is that our audience is very engaged and most people who come to the show arrive really ready to transact.”

This year’s edition included nearly 70 galleries and received around 7,500 visitors before the fair ended on September 25. A spokeswoman said $1.8 million in business was made on site, although more sales will continue to be reported over the coming weeks.

The majority of galleries come from the tri-state area, as do clients, who might take their newly acquired canvases to a bubble-wrapping station before hopping in a taxi home. The pace of sales was so rapid that many dealers could be seen dragging new paintings to occupy the walls, tearing packing tape at breakneck speed.

Buyers line up at the Affordable Art Fair, Fall 2022. Photo: Reed Photographic.

Buyers line up at the Affordable Art Fair, Fall 2022. Photo: Reed Photographic.

Some galleries have closed their storefronts during the pandemic to save money on rent. When they realized that most sales were through their websites and occasional fairs, there was no reason to return to their physical stores. Additionally, many dealers had to deal with their day-to-day work.

Sherri Littlefield, who works as a content creator for Nordstrom, founded Candy Gallery in 2016 with a mission to help emerging artists. Like many small galleries accustomed to selling online, it has seen little change in sales volume during the lockdown.

“But when we came back to art fairs, it really felt like people were eager to buy,” she told Artnet News. “People wanted more art in their homes if something like Covid happened again.”

Duret Gallery.  Photo: Reed Photographic.

Duret Gallery. Photo: Reed Photographic.

Shivang Jhunjhnuwala, a 27-year-old retailer from Hong Kong, founded Young Soy Gallery in 2020 to give voice to the artists of his city. But often the dealer had to weigh the benefits of the exhibition against the costs of participating in the international art circuit.

“It’s expensive to bring in art,” Jhunjhnuwala said. Rising prices in the shipping industry squeezed his profit margin, so the dealer got creative and sourced most of his stall’s works from artists in the tri-state area or of those who lived on his way to the fair via London.

Partly because of these difficulties, Shuppert said future New York editions of the Affordable Art Fair will focus on American galleries.

“Currently more than half of our exhibitors are based in the United States,” she said, adding that the fair also requires galleries to feature living artists. “We support their commercial viability.”

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