The Affordable Art Fair

Last Friday I attended the Affordable Art Fair. The fair promotes itself as a venue open to new and veteran art collectors alike, and hosts galleries from around the world that show “affordable” contemporary art. While the prices probably still aren’t affordable to most Columbia students – the large majority of pieces have four or five figure price tags – they do provide insight into the state of contemporary art. It is fun to see pieces by working artists that would actually be accessible to someone serious about starting an art collection and  to see work from artists who are working now rather than decades or centuries in the past. And even if the prices put the pieces completely out of reach, it was also fun to mill about such a large collection of work that is actually on sale and try to decide which pieces I would want to buy for my future home if I could.

Some of the art at the show was disappointing, but to a large degree that’s matter of taste. There is definitely some very commercialized art at the fair, which makes sense because galleries want people to actually buy their pieces. As I walked by one of the most commercial paintings – a series of little dogs in costumes – I heard the gallery owner mentioning how they had had a lot of success selling them. For every dog-in-a-pink-bow though, there were many more pieces that were less cute and more thought provoking, and almost all of galleries featured both more commercial art and more edgy work.

Hersilia Alvarez

I found myself struggling to actually answer the question: which of these pieces would I want in my future home? The works that I found most compelling were often not those that I would necessarily want to see everyday or build a decor around. This went for a lot of work from the Argentinean gallery NES ZONA54. Many of their pieces really excited me. I was particularly interested in a photograph of a woman in a bathtub surrounded by and wrapped up in red caution tape with the word FRAGIL on it. I could not however see myself collecting this piece for my home. This began an interesting conversation in my head about art, not just specific to how to choose the art that is going to be in your home, but also about the kind of art that you are compelled by but are fine experiencing just once versus the art that you want to be able to experience over and over again.

That question and idea was one of my greater takeaways from the fair. It started me thinking about how much art we come in contact with everyday, and how we choose which art we surround ourselves with. Almost all of the art at the fair prompted some kind of thought or experience, as art probably should, but how do we choose which of those art pieces and subsequently thoughts and experiences we want to have on a regular basis?

The fair occurs biannually, so even though it has passed this fall it will be around again in the spring. Not only is it a good time to playing house with actually purchasable art, it is also worth seeing just to get an idea of the kind of work that is coming out of contemporary artists. If you’ve spent most of your art-experiencing at museums rather than galleries as I have, this is a great way to see a lot of galleries with a lot of different artists from around the world that are producing work right now.

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