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Personal recommendations: the Affordable Art Fair

 

Cornelia Hediger, "02.15.08" (2008)

Cornelia Hediger, "02.15.08" (2008)

I had quipped to friends before attending this year’s New York Affordable Art Fair that I doubted whether I would find anything that was coincidentally affordable and desirable. I am big enough to admit that I was wrong. 

In its new accommodation at 7 West 34th Street – the same place that has recently housed both Volta and the Outsider Art Fair (in a building that is owned by the Armory Show’s parent company) – the AAF is more than worth a visit. Though at $20 admission, plus a $2 charge to use the coat check, the organizers are already putting a surcharge on the “affordability” of anything you buy. (“Is the admission fee refundable if you buy something?” I asked a staffer. A look of blind incomprehension crossed her face.) Of course the question, “What is affordable?” is about as sensible as “How long is a piece of string?” but this week I found myself seriously contemplating buying a $299 camera, so I figured that in my terms anything under $500 was affordable. In the event, I actually saw things at $5 that I now wish I’d bought. (Interestingly enough, the AAF people clearly see things rather differently, because they put a $10,000 limit on individual works in their fair.) In the end I quickly abandoned my $500 rule of thumb (thank God I’ve never contemplated buying anything at auction) because there was so much excellent work here. And at all price points, as the dealers say. Still, I did ask a number of dealers what was the cheapest thing they had available. Their answers – see below – proved intriguing. 

Just like affordability, desirability is up to the individual, and before we get on to my recommendations, I have to report that from my perspective there is some pretty ghastly stuff at this fair. “Decorative” abstraction is rife, all loud colors and impasto-ed surfaces, and metallic paint and resin. There is also stuff that falls dangerously near – and in some cases on the wrong side of – the art/craft divide, and way too many reminders that originality and gimmickry are two quite different things.  There’s also too much children’s storybook imagery, too many things that are almost toys, and too much stuff made out of toys as well. Artists most often plagiarized include Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol, Bob Rauschenberg, and any of the big-name art photographers of the second half of the twentieth century. Surrealism is also apparently seen as a stylistic and thematic supermarket by many of the artists on show here. 

As we are constantly being reminded, these are pretty calamitous times for the art market, so it was interesting to see quite how much effort the dealers here – “The fair that is most like a store” as one of them described it to me – were willing to put into actually sell stuff. Amazingly not all booths had prices on their wall labels. In fact a couple of booths didn’t even have labels at all! One particularly perverse London dealer clearly felt that business was so good that she didn’t need the attention of A Sky filled with Shooting Stars. Because she was ignorant of the site she refused to supply me with a jpg of one of her artist’s pieces. “I’ll have to check with the artist,” she blustered. “She gets ripped off a lot.” Contrast that with the attitude of Catriona Fraser, whose Fraser Gallery is in Bethesda MD. She had discs on hand with images of every single thing on her booth, complete with captions and prices. I know which of these two dealers I’d want to have working on my behalf – significantly enough I found myself talking to Ms Fraser in the first place because, quite touchingly, one of her enthusiastic collectors dragged me right across the fair to introduce me to her because she’d overheard me discussing an artist that Ms Fraser showed.

Scott Griffin, "Up River" (2009)

Scott Griffin, "Up River" (2009)

So, to the recommendations. Those things you can get for $5 are manipulated postcards – unique but unframed, it probably goes without saying – that are offered by the artists’ collective Board of Directors from Toronto. The artists they are presenting here have all been represented by Katherine Mulherin at some time or another, and continue to enjoy her support, it would seem. The best of them, in my opinion, is Scott Griffin, who paints, scrapes, and welds dream-like images on scrap wood and metal. I’ve known his work for some time now, partly because it is collected by one of Toronto’s more sophisticated art patrons, and it really is about time that a New York gallerist picked him up. I particularly liked Up River which Mr Griffin – who was also manning the booth – described to me as a “welded drawing” on an old cooler lid. It’s $500, right up against the top edge of my original definition of affordability.

Michael Fitts, "Spoon" (2009)

Michael Fitts, "Spoon" (2009)

Also on a metal lid, this time from a tool box, is Michael Fitts’ Spoon at the above mentioned Fraser Gallery. It’s $900, and worth every penny I think. Ms Fraser has a wall full of Michael Fitts’ pictures, all on scrap metal, and she told me that she had sold $10,000 worth of work at Wednesday night’s opening reception, as against total sales of $70,000 last year’s fair. “There were the same numbers at the opening,” she told me, “and they seemed just as enthusiastic. But less of them were actually buying.”

Suzanne Marshall "Feathers" (2008)

Suzanne Marshall "Feathers" (2008)

More scrap metal at New Grounds print workshop and gallery from Albuquerque, NM, but this time in the second-hand frames used by Suzanne Marshall to contain her beautiful collages – each one unique – made from fragments of her own etchings and gravure prints. I particularly liked Feathers at $350, framed. (The cheapest thing on this booth was a pretty little mezzotint by Pamela diMauro at $85, unframed.)

Tim Tate "Give and Take" (2008)

Tim Tate "Give and Take" (2008)

Then, at Mayer Fine Art, there were a number of Tim Tate’s glass and video pieces at $6,900. I enthused about Mr Tate’s sculptures here on A Sky filled with Shooting Stars when I saw them at the Bridge art fair earlier this year and I was just as impressed with them this time around. There is something immediately poignant about his combinations of blown and cast glass and video-making – it would be hard to imagine two (or three?) more different art techniques – and I am very taken with the intelligence, at once ironic and romantic, that underpins these pieces. My favorite here was Give and Take which will set you back $6,900, which is way beyond what I would actually regard as affordable but a snip given that a Tate sculpture (without video) went for $41,000 at auction last year, which apparently makes him Washington DC’s most expensive living artist. He’s someone else that is yet to find a New York dealer. Are you reading this, Pavel Zoubok?

Greg Krauss, "The News" (2007)

Greg Krauss, "The News" (2007)

While I’m making matches between artists and dealers, let me draw Greg Krauss’s work (on the booth of the ever-enterprising School of Visual Arts) to the attention of the city’s photography specialists – Mike Foley? Yancey Richardson? Young Mr Krauss is the stand-out artist among this year’s SVA exhibitors. His prints are available at $900, and I particularly like this one.

(I also enquired what the cheapest things the SVA grads were offering. You can get a Julian Gilbert photograph for $300, though the “very cheapest thing,” SVA’s Dan Halm told me, was a “little sculpture” that went for $200. One of seven pieces that sold at the opening reception, apparently.)

David Rhys Jones

David Rhys Jones "Door Knocker" (2008)

Also down in “really affordable” territory, are a number of pieces on Will’s Art Warehouse’s booth. I was very taken with Ros Davis’s exquisite Porcelain Shards pieces – little pieces of hand-painted porcelain, that are more like wind blown leaves than “shards”, I thought. A set of nine will cost you $350, or three come at $120. Even cheaper are David Rhys Jones’ witty photographs on curved ceramic panels at $75 each in editions of twelve. Yes, $75.

Then, to conclude, a real discovery for me on Klompching’s stand. Cornelia Hediger is making a wonderful sequence of six-frame photographs in a series called Doppelganger. Each print features the artist’s own image twice. She sets up the scene herself, poses six times, takes the photographs with a self-timer, and messes around with scale from one image to another. I suppose these could result in nothing more than a technical tour de force, but the real fascination of Ms Hediger’s work lies in the curiously unsettling fractured narratives that her twins-that-are-one-person enact. Her prints come at $2,000 each at the beginning of editions of 15. I couldn’t afford one, but I really recommend them to anyone who can. That is why I’ve topped and tailed this post with images of them.

Cornelia Hediger, "06.21.07" (2007)

Cornelia Hediger, "06.21.07" (2007)

 

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3 comments to Personal recommendations: the Affordable Art Fair

  • umm, i believe Washington, DC’s most expensive living artist would be William Christenberry whose sculptures sell for well over 6 figures. But thanks for the aaf roundup, good stuff.

  • Robert Ayers

    Thank you for visiting A Sky filled with Shooting Stars, susana, and also for the correction! I should have pointed out that I was quoting Tim Tate’s dealer …

  • Great article! I’m loving your website;