Fine Art for $120? It’s Not Impossible

How do you make art seem attainable? A price tag, as it turns out, can work wonders.

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, New York Times

How do you make art seem attainable? A price tag, as it turns out, can work wonders.

“You wouldn’t believe how intimidated people are at art fairs,” said Iwona Blazwick, director of London’s Whitechapel Gallery, which founded Allied Editions, a consortium of art nonprofits.

Allied Editions sets up shop at Frieze, where it sells artists’ editions, such as prints, to raise funds for the participating nonprofits. Though some editions can be a few thousand dollars, others cost as little as $120.

When Allied Editions first appeared at Frieze London in 2011, cards with the prices were placed prominently in front of the works. Some attending the fair seemed almost shocked by how affordable the art was, Blazwick recalled.

Visitors love to be able to take home a piece of the fair. They may not think they can afford to collect art, but buying a book or a print? That is another story.

Allied Editions was an instant hit.

“It is a wonderful way of introducing people to even the very notion of being able to own a work of art,” Blazwick said. “I think for many people that seems impossible, a dream.”

After seven years at Frieze London, Allied Editions is coming to Frieze New York. The London organizations Whitechapel Gallery, Studio Voltaire, Camden Arts Center and the Institute of Contemporary Arts are partnering with New York’s Artists Space, the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, SculptureCenter and Swiss Institute, a fixture of New York’s contemporary art scene.

Even before Allied Editions was established, Frieze had a tradition, dating back to the first London fair in 2003, of offering free booths to nonprofits.

That tradition was important because the cities that host Frieze are not only major art hubs with museums and galleries, but also home to artists and artist-driven organizations, said Victoria Siddall, the director of Frieze Fairs and head of the board of Studio Voltaire.

“There’s a really interesting ecology in the art worlds of New York, London and Los Angeles,” Siddall said. “So this is about wanting to showcase that, but also support it.”

As time passed, Frieze focused on local nonprofits.

Each one works with a handful of established and emerging artists who donate editions, or limited runs of artworks, to be sold to benefit the organizations’ community and educational arts programming. The number of works from each artist and the price depend largely on the medium; works include prints, sculpture, photography and fiber work. Studio Voltaire produces wool blankets featuring the work of their artists, proving that art in the home does not have to be relegated to tabletops or walls.

“More and more, institutions are leaning on ways of self-income generation,” said Niamh Conneely, head of development and communications at Studio Voltaire in London. “It’s a way that artists, patrons, collectors, first-time collectors can really support institutions in a very genuine way.”

Artists Space in New York has long created boxed sets of editions, a sort of minimuseum, that sell for $1,000 and include work from five or six diverse artists, to raise money for its public programming. This year’s box, a fabric creation by Susan Cianciolo, will contain works by Liz Deschenes, Juliana Huxtable, Donald Moffett and Heji Shin.

These are usually sold around the holidays, but Artists Space jumped at the chance to participate in Allied Editions alongside other local nonprofits.

“There’s a generosity to a format like this,” said Jay Sanders, executive director of Artists Space, which supports emerging artists through exhibitions, talks and performances.

It is also a great networking opportunity. Showing at Frieze can help these organizations raise their profile and introduce them to local art enthusiasts who become supporters. Likewise, pairing art by both established and emerging artists can be a good way to introduce collectors to new artists.

“It’s quite egalitarian, but without compromising on the quality of the work of the artists,” Siddall said. “This is a way of buying works by artists whose work you’ll see all over the fair, but at a much more affordable level.”

For the New York-based artist Sanya Kantarovsky, his participation is entirely about supporting an institution — Studio Voltaire — that he said had supported him and some of his favorite artists. Although he is primarily a painter, he did a woodcut for Allied Editions.

“I also collect art myself, in a small capacity, and one of the few things that I can afford are prints and work on paper,” he said. “I do like that about prints, that they somewhat democratize ownership and collectorship of art. The fact that this would allow a broader group of people to live with my work is, of course, an exciting thing.”

The booth attracts a crowd of casual fairgoers and serious collectors alike.

“It means that anyone coming to the fair can really afford to buy work by a great artist,” Siddall said.

“I personally have quite a collection of editions.”

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