Visual Arts

Art for the Cash Poor: Collecting on the Cheap

The new tongue-in-cheek DIY book by Amy Sedaris (sister of David), Simple Things: Crafts for Poor People, inspired this blog--only we (naturally) crammed her ideas, which include assembling cutesy candles, ugly earrings and "crap caddies" from household materials into a decidedly more profitable vein, because really, who has time to make anything anymore? Why not buy some crafts--specifically art--that other people have slaved over, people that might, you know, know what they're doing, and maybe make some money off it someday? It's all in the name of a weak economy.

That being said, we wanted to explore the idea of buying affordable art. What does that even mean these days? Sure, we're aware that serious collectors pay tens of thousands of dollars for sculpture, paintings and the like. We're not interested in that level of investment. We set out to discover if there's an art market for the poor.

Mary Lou Swift, a local art consultant with close ties to New York, says it's possible to collect art on the cheap, but it's not easy. "The art world is incredibly complicated," says Swift. There are critics, museums, collectors, artists, and all of these factors are at work at one time." She says that buyers generally fall into two categories: those who buy what they like and don't give a damn, and those who're willing to be educated and commit time and money to the process.

Hmmm. Money.

Buy direct from the studio if you can, Swift suggests. Buying art from an artist who doesn't have a written distribution agreement with a gallery is one way to side-step steep pricing. However, these artists are often difficult to find because they're not being branded or marketed by a gallery. Knowing an artist personally or leveraging a friend-of-a-friend contact is likely your best bet.

What if you're poor and you have no friends?

"Artists and gallerists will kill me for saying this, but [go to] Second Saturdays," says Blakely Bering. An artist herself and soon-to-be gallerist at Spring Street Studios (opening April 2011), Bering suggests attending the open-house that occurs on the second Saturday of each month, like the name suggests, from 2-5 p.m., in an old furniture factory at 2101 Winter Street. Artists open their studios and showcase their work directly to the public. Budget-strapped collectors can garner direct access to up-and-coming artists before local or regional galleries scoop them up and raise their prices.

When browsing these studios, what should a poor art buyer keep in mind? "Look for 'lifetime artists' as opposed to those who are doing it as a hobby," says Bering. She explains that if the artist is full-time, it's obvious that he or she is looking to build a career. It's tough to afford, she admits, for the artists, but in terms of collecting you need to identify those who are dedicated and devoted to the craft. This gives buyers a better shot at the eventual appreciation of the artwork's value (though like any investment, it's never guaranteed).

Bering also suggests hitting international art shows. The Houston Fine Art Fair will premier this September in Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center, with 6,000 artworks from 500 artists. Access will cost as little as $17 per day, or $26 for a three-day pass. Also, the Dallas Art Fair, in its third year, is coming up in early April.

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Hollie Loveless
Contact: Hollie Loveless