Thursday, February 28, 2008

Anxiety About Buying Art

I always have my finger on the pulse, don't I! (At least when I'm not posting links to month-old magazines.) One step ahead of the mass media: after yesterday's post about my shock at someone's large profits from an investment in art, today's New York Times House & Home section has a couple of articles about buying art!

The Terrible Toll of Art Anxiety

“'Mr. No-Name Hedge Fund Manager'”... [is] in his 30s, probably worth 20-some million and feels poor because his personal net worth has gone down from 26 million since last summer,” Mr. Greenspan said. “He buys a Park Avenue apartment for $7 million, spends another $7 million decorating it, and now he quibbles over $15,000 or $18,000 for a painting.”
Art paralysis: It is a widespread and often crippling malady, striking everyone from the new college grad in his or her first apartment to the super-rich banker, lasting anywhere from a few months to a lifetime. How many are affected is not known, perhaps because the victims are often too embarrassed to come forth. Who wants to admit that “I’ve had these posters since college, I know that as one of the American Top 10 Orthodontists I should get some real art, but I don’t know what that means”? Or that “It’s not that I’m trying to make a minimalist statement with these empty white walls, I just don’t know what to buy”? Or “I walk into those snooty galleries in Chelsea and feel like I just don’t belong”?
I totally have art paralysis. The most I have ever spent on a piece of art itself is about $50, if you don't include framing. (Framing would bring it up to somewhere under $200.) It's not that I don't like art: I love a wide variety of art, I go to museums and buy lots of postcards, just to keep, and I probably have a couple thousand dollars worth of beautiful art books. But when it comes to buying art, I choke. I value art, but not enough to carve out a big chunk of my budget for it. I also have this weird thing of thinking I should just create my own art. I studied art, I'm at least somewhat good at it, and the one big painting of my own that is hanging in my living room often gets compliments from people who are then shocked to hear that it's my own creation. But it's not like I can just whip up some masterpiece: creativity takes inspiration and time, and often, expensive materials. I should reconsider Rule #9: DIY vs. PAY in relation to art, perhaps!

Back to the NY Times article, they recommend these sources for people who either can't afford expensive art or don't have the emotional energy needed to deal with snooty galleries:

Shop Online

TINYSHOWCASE.COM Offers a quirky selection of small, inexpensive art and letterpress prints.

Limited edition prints of contemporary drawings and paintings starting at $20.

GIANTROBOT.COM Eclectic art and prints from a store that specializes in Asian and Asian-American pop culture, from $5 to $1,000.

CEREALART.COM Multiple-edition sculptural objects by established artists like Kenny Scharf and Takashi Murakami, from $100 to $20,000.

Offers two new high quality prints a week in limited editions.

Limited editions by well-known figures like Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood from a major London gallery, starting at around $250.

Buy From Arts Organizations

BLINDSPOT.COM Limited-edition photographic prints, 11 by 14 inches and 16 by 20 inches, starting at $700

APERTURE.ORG Limited-edition photographs from $350 to $25,000 that you can browse by price, category or photographer.

PRINTSHOP.ORG Single pieces and complete installations by emerging artists from the Lower East Side Printshop, from $1,500 to $10,000.

WHITECOLUMNS.ORG Specially commissioned editions by emerging and established artists from $150 to $1,500; work can be viewed online and ordered by phone or e-mail.

Try Fund-Raising Auctions

Fund-raisers at hospitals, private schools and other organizations often auction work by emerging and established artists at cut-rate prices, as do arts organizations like the Kitchen in New York (

Attend Art Fairs

Public art fairs — small, neighborhood events and large shows like the Affordable Art Fair in New York (June 12 to 15, — allow visitors space and time to figure out what they like and to buy in a shopper-friendly environment.

Attend Thesis Exhibitions

The chance to discover artists before their work hits galleries. In New York, Cooper Union, Columbia, Hunter College, the School of Visual Arts, Parsons and Pratt all have such shows.

I personally would also add the group shows put on by the Brooklyn Working Artists Coalition in Red Hook. Not all the stuff is great, but some is, and everything is usually quite reasonable in price.

Finally, the Times also profiles Jen Bekman, the woman who runs, who has had an amazing roller-coaster of a career: from switchboard operator to dot-commer, to gallery owner to online art dealer!
Few people in that world had heard of Ms. Bekman five years ago, when she used credit cards and the $20,000 in her 401(k) to open Jen Bekman Gallery, on Spring Street near the Bowery.

Yikes! But apparently the business has done well. And here's another thing I liked about the story:
But unlike city dwellers who celebrate their success by moving to a nicer apartment or by upgrading their appliances, Ms. Bekman, now 38, is content to remain in her old space [a small studio in the East Village]. She lives there with her dog, Ollie; a white vintage Chambers stove she bought at a thrift shop for $400 seven years ago; a goofy ceramic bulldog with glass eyes from Woolworth’s; and a few new inexpensive furnishings, like brightly colored striped sheets.

Glad to hear she's keeping her overhead low and can appreciate inexpensive pleasures. Her only problem may be that she'll start running out of wall space for all her art!


Peachy said...

We just purchased a painting for $1000 which included framing and shipping. We had a hard time finding something we like. Ironically it was more of an impulse buy, but it looks great.

I have no doubt that it will never appreciate nor be worth more than the frame, but we like it and that was our concern.

I also hate buying photos or prints. Someone did the work once and is selling multiples and making a killing. Give me the negatives and I'll fork over hundreds.

Anonymous said...

Art fairs are great, because they're like going to museums. You see the work of a lot of artists; you get to talk with them, hear what they were thinking, and what techniques they used. (You don't get to talk with Rembrandt or Kandinsky!) There's often stuff you can afford, and if nothing makes you say, "I must see that every day of my life!", you can still enjoy the visit. Two of my sisters and one brother-in-law are artists, but aside from their work, most of the art I've bought has been at fairs.

I especially like to buy ceramics. Bowls and cups are more affordable than big paintings, you can easily have small pieces by many artists, you can use them every day, and if you don't have display room, when you're finished with dinner you can put them away in the cupboard.

MEG said...

Everytime I visit another city, I try to buy a piece of art. Usually this is something local, off the street even, that costs $25-$100. I haven't framed any of them, but if I did I could make a magnificent display in any room. Now they adorn my bookshelves.

I love doing this because each piece is meaningful, and they reveal different things about me. When I'm traveling I'm probably more "alive" or at least open, and so whatever pieces jump out at me are probably even more special/important than things I would pick out at an art gallery just to fill my new apartment.

As I get older/richer I may in fact buy "real" art, but I would still prefer to do so on impluse and/or while traveling.

Anonymous said...

also try, which is a repository of a huge amount of rock poster art - mostly limited edition screenprinted work - by up and coming artists and big names alike. they have a selling area, and some of the stuff is gorgeous (and a good investment). i have one poster that was originally $20 and i've now had offers around $1500 for it. i'm not taking them, because i love the poster and it's framed in my dining room, but still...

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the longish post, but the topic of buying art stirred up some strong feelings.

As has been already implied, if not actually stated, don't buy art as an investment; i.e. buy art based on what you like, not because you expect it to appreciate in value.

And don't get hung up on buying "established" artists, especially for their so-called investment value. For example, a Dali print or Chagall print might seem affordable, but the odds are that the work is simply not that valuable, and you can, in fact, be paying a high price for something that simply isn't worth it.

My wife and I were on a cruise to Alaska last summer, which featured the typical "Gallery at Sea" set up. Raffles were held, with art lectures, all leading up to the final auction at the end of the cruise.

The artists featured were primarily ones that the art gallery which ran the show was hyping, with some well-known artists mixed in. Many of the works were lithographs or prints, as opposed to originals.

The same company that ran this, Park West Gallery, also did roadshows at Costco. There's nothing wrong with buying art in this fashion, but the experience doesn't seem all that special, especially for what you're getting.

It just seemed rather ironic that we were in Alaska, where you can find fascinating native art, and yet the art on our cruise was totally disconnected from that.

So we bought a couple of pieces of native art, rather than anything on the ship. I can only tell you that we enjoyed looking and choosing something related to our travels, regardless of it's a good investment or not.

I was lucky enough to have parents who valued the experience of buying a piece of art they liked more than its investment potential. There are thus personal stories behind each piece of art they passed on to their children, which makes those pieces even more treasured by us.

Anonymous said...

I like original art for since everything is $99. you can "try out" new artists. And they have great stuff. I love the piece I got. I think they just launched last fall.