Report from the Affordable Art Fair in NYC

Just back from New York where I took part in that city’s version of the Affordable Art Fair. In the past I have described this fair as being on the front battle lines of the art world, since its aim and price points (artwork from $100 - $10,000) tend to focus the event on both emerging collectors on a budget and savvy collectors of all kinds looking for regional emerging artists and good deals on established artists of all levels.

The fair opened on Wednesday night with a press preview and then a collectors’ preview, and according to the fair’s effervescent and hardworking director Laura Meli, it was the largest opening in the fair’s history.

Held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York’s W. 18th Street, the fair packs galleries from all over the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia into two halls, and it is the New York version of a successful formula that sees Affordable Art Fairs take place in Bristol, London, Sydney and Amsterdam. Curiously, there’s no Affordable Art Fair in Miami.

Preview night was indeed packed, and because our booth was next to one of many free bars, there was a good flow of people, mostly young and mostly drinking, throughout the night.

In the past (I have done this fair before) good sales do take place on this overcrowded night, and although the sales were a bit slower than I remembered, we did manage to sell several oil paintings by Norfolk-based artist Sheila Giolitti as well as a few of my own drawings.
Erosion by Sheila Giolitti
“Erosion,”Mixed Media on Wood by Sheila Giolitti

With price points ranging from $200 to $2,000, the sold work was at the lower end of our price scales, which were dominated by Cuban artist Sandra Ramos gorgeous oil paintings ranging from $7500 to $10,000. We also spent a long time talking to a curator from the Met, who was admiring Ramos’ works and was very well-versed in them. We also had sales of photographs by Cuba’s talented Cirenaica Moreira, whose work ranges in price from $800-$1200.

The rest of the fair saw pretty much a pattern emerging in both sales (at least from the gallerists anecdotal reports) and in people and traffic.

As far as sales, they appeared to be brisk and constant, and the wrapping line for purchased artwork was long nearly every hour of the fair. We saw all sorts of work being sold, and certainly size seemed to matter; the more acreage that buyers got for their buck, the more it seemed to move.

As with any fair, location is key to success, and many dealers in the larger of the two halls were complaining that the new entry pattern, which forced visitors to enter the fair through the smaller hall, rather than through the building’s main entrance. This entry pattern ensured that the people flow initially went to one hall and made the second, larger hall, a secondary (and thus more visually overloaded) destination. One of the galleries on this new traffic pattern (in the first hall) told me that they had doubled last years’ sales by Friday night.

And it did seem that most of the people action took place in the smaller hall and the large areas around the two hall’s connecting hallway. Once visitors entered the maze of booths in the main hall, traffic dissipated significantly by the time it got to the rearmost walls.

In fact, sales seemed so brisk in certain geographical parts of the fair ,that there were people lining up in some of the galleries on the people-path, actually waiting to buy art. Galleries in the rear walls were a bit less busy, but there seemed to be artwork moving nonetheless.

For example, Parisian gallery Envie D’Art, located at a prime location where all foor traffic had to walk by, reported that they had nearly sold out their entire booth on preview night!
Sujeto/Objeto by Ruby Rumie
Teselas: Getsemani Sujeto / Objetoby Ruby Rumie

New York’s Angela Royo Latin American Art was also having resounding success selling panels from a 5,970 piece installation by Colombian artist Ruby Rumie. Each panel held 25 of the miniature acrylic, lacquer and resin pieces – sold for $2,000 each – and by Saturday she had sold out. Rumie’s fascinating work, according to the artist is “a representative section of a historical neighborhood on the Caribbean coast of Colombia… Due to the pressures of the real estate market, this neighborhood will soon disappear. I have created a record of its people with a painted silhouette of each adult, elder, child and adolescent member of this neighborhood, 5970 people in total.” It is a brilliant work of art.

As the weekend progressed our own trend continued to establish itself: a lot less foot traffic and sales focusing on the lower priced items on the booth. By the end of the fair Giolitti had nearly sold out, with only two paintings left from the fifteen or so that she had brought to the fair. I also continued to sell my lower priced drawings in the $200 range, but none of the higher priced drawings were moving.

We did manage to sell the very last print from Cuban artist Sandra Ramos’ set of 50 mixed media etchings of “La Maldita Circumstancia del Agua Por Todas Partes” (The Damned Circumstance of Being Surrounded by Water).

 La maldita circumstancia del agua por todas partes
“La Maldita Circumstancia del Agua Por Todas Partes.” Mixed Media etching by Sandra Ramos

This is Ramos’ iconic piece from her very dissident series from the 1990s and her first work to enter the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was also used as the cover for Holly Block’s indispensable bible of Cuban art, “Art Cuba: The New Generation.” The piece was acquired by a member of the board of the Newark Museum.

At $5,000 for the work, it was our biggest sale of the entire fair.

We’ll be back next year, although we intend to get the largest size booth available and thus hope to be relocated to the main traffic areas of the fair. Although much has been written about the brakes being applied to the art market, it is my impression that at this art fair, and at these price levels, the buyers were still out looking for good art at a good price.

One final kudo to the organizers and worker bees of the fair, they really worked their arses off to make the complex operation of running an art fair work efficiently and well, and my only constructive criticism to them would be to return the entry point to the building’s intended entrance, thus affording either of two halls an equal chance of being selected for the first and most important viewing.

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  1. June 17, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

    Souheil Said,

    Enjoy both of your blogs. I am also an admirer of Sandra Ramos’ work. The print (set of 50) that you show is not part of the original 1990s; those were a set of 8, one of which is in the MOMA. These prints (edition of 50) are a re-release in 2003, for the 10th anniversary of the original prints. There are obviously differences although minor between both edition (the colors of the Washington Monuments, the border and the water).

  2. June 18, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

    Lenny Said,

    You are correct - both are now out of print. Sandra made the differences on purpose, so that each edition would be easily identifiable - and somewhat different!

    Also, I think that the monument on the island is the Morro Fortress in Havana, not the Washington Monument, although now that you mention it… it kind of looks like that!



  3. June 19, 2008 @ 7:45 am

    Souheil Said,

    Thanks for the answer Lenny. I think the 4 “arrows” at the edge of the print are referring to the Washington Monument.
    I could be wrong though.

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