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How to Buy Affordable Art

Get experts' top tips on purchasing like a collector -- without spending like one.

Photo: Adam Kuehl/SCAD / The Nest

Every big collector started out with a single piece: It’s likely that the art they bought had heart -- and an affordable price tag. Find out where to start and all you need to know from top art sellers in the business.

Owning and purchasing good, affordable art can be a pleasure, whether you plan on investing in pieces for their return or decorating your home with unique artistic taste. Amy Zurcher, co-creator and director of shopSCAD (shopSCAD.com), and Judith Pinerio, director of the Affordable Art Fair NYC (Aafnyc.com), both agree: In the end, buying art is simply about choosing something you love.

Anybody can be an art collector, regardless of budget
Developing your sense of taste is the first thing to think about when purchasing art, whether online, in a gallery space, or through the artist. Know which pieces you’re looking for and which style you prefer (canvas, photographs, statues) before you start searching. Planning eliminates confusion and can make the choice less overwhelming.

Where to shop for afforadable art
Contemporary local art fairs; stores like shopSCAD or Anthropologie; and curated websites such as 20x200, uGallery, Etsy, and The Working Proof showcase emerging artists who are young and undiscovered and can serve as a welcoming platform for someone wanting to purchase art for the look and not just the investment value. After choosing what you love, Zurcher always advises that people buy only original work that has been signed by the artist. For those looking to invest in pieces for the future, there’s no “magical equation on square footage of fine art to price, so don’t go there,” says Zurcher.


Questions to ask
1. Is this a limited edition or one-of-a kind?
2. Is the work done in such a way that it will last, archival in quality?
3. Where else are they represented: in any notable galleries, museums, or collections of notable people?
4. What does this artist’s work typically sell for?

“If you love an artist’s work and it is out of your price range, ask if there is a smaller work by the same artist or a print or photograph,” says Piniero. That way, you can have a taste of the first piece you liked at a price that you’re more comfortable with spending.

Artist lingo to learn
Cultivate a collector-worthy vocab with our list of in-the-know terms below.

ARTIST’S PROOF: A numbered print added to the prints created for a limited edition; signed “AP.”
COMMISSION: When an artist is paid to create a work directly for you.
LITHOGRAPHY: A printing process in which an image is photoshopped and burned onto four plates. They are inked and pressed onto paper.
LOT: An object or group offered for sale as one unit.
PRINT: An artist-authorized paper reproduction of an original work.
PROVENANCE: The life history of a painting -- where it has lived, what collections or museum shows it’s been in.
RESERVE: The minimum price a seller is willing to accept for a piece at auction.
SERIGRAPH: A print made by the silk-screen process -- color is pressed through a fabric stencil to produce an image on paper, ceramic, wood, or fabric.

-- Leticia Frazao