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Buying Art on a Budget

You don't need a disposable income of seven (or six, or even five) figures to buy compelling art. You need to know where to look. And if you're on the hunt for high-quality but affordable contemporary art to enhance your home or portfolio, we suggest some of the following stops.

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Update July 2005

art fairs
AAF Contemporary Art Fair
The art world equivalent of a designer sample sale, the annual Affordable Art Fair (recently renamed the AAF Contemporary Art Fair) features thousands of original art works, 75 percent of which are priced below $5,000, and all of which are priced uner $10,000. (At the 2004 show, the average selling price was about $2,500.) The AAF is significantly less snooty than competing fine art fairs like the Armory Show, with lectures and workshops catering to first-time buyers and budding collectors.
2005 fair takes place October 27-30 at Pier 92, 12th Ave. and 52nd St.; 212-255-2003; aafnyc.com.

Scope Art Fair
Held the same weekend in March as the Armory Show, the Scope Art Fair aims for a younger, trendier, and less affluent crowd. The concentration is on up-and-coming artists and galleries, which by default means lower-priced works. Like previous Scope shows in Los Angeles, Miami, and London, the New York fair descends upon a hip hotel with the public ducking in and out of guest rooms to peruse the cutting-edge cache.
2006 fair takes place March 10-13 at Flatotel, 135 W. 52nd St.; 212.268.1522; scope-art.com.

Frere Independent
The not-for-profit Frere Independent takes a decidedly indie approach to contemporary art selling. It amasses emerging, underground, and experimental artists, none of whom are represented by galleries, at its its two fairs, including the twice-annual Pool Art Fair. Like the Scope shows, Frere's fairs are held in hotels, with guest rooms and suites serving as exhibition spaces.
For info on upcoming fairs, call 212-604-0519, or go to frereindependent.com.

open studio tours
Often, the best way to get a good deal on contemporary art is to avoid galleries all together. Open studio tours, which give art world neophytes the chance to snoop around artists' workspaces, can give buyers a leg up on the commercial competition. (That is, unless an artist has an exclusive selling arrangement with a particular gallery). Most of New York's artist communities open their doors to the public at least once a year, giving the public unfiltered access to new works of art. Many of the artists will sell pieces right on the spot, so haggle away.

DUMBO Art Under The Bridge
The three-day DUMBO Art Under The Bridge festival held every October showcases hundreds of artists' studios stacked like Lego blocks inside converted waterfront warehouses. The atmosphere is festive, with parades, dance parties, and live art installations entertaining the crowds along DUMBO's cobblestone streets and riverside esplanade.
October 14-16, 2005; dumboartscenter.org/festival.

TOAST: Tribeca Open Artist Studio Tour
Every spring, the Downtown art scene opens its basements, lofts, and rooftops in honor of TOAST: Tribeca Open Artist Studio Tour. For three full days, emerging and established artists come out of the woodwork to talk about their methods and cut deals with interested buyers.
toastartwalk.com.

Lower Manhattan Cultural Council
Two times a year, the non-profit Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's 14 artists-in-residence premier their last six months of work at 120 Broadway; 212-219-9401; lmcc.net.

ELS-LES
Once a month, the Lower East Side's private artist studios and independent artist-run galleries become part of an organized "art loop" during ELS-LES (Every Last Sunday on the Lower East Side). Both guided and self-guided tours of the neighborhood's art offerings are free, but donations are accepted. Go to elsles.org or call 646-602-2338 for upcoming dates and tour meeting places.

non-profit exhibition spaces
Unlike their commercial brethren, non-profit galleries exist to nurture artists, not sell art. Non-profits take anywhere from zero to 25 percent in commission (as opposed to the usual 50 percent tax at commercial galleries), which allows artists to price their works at significantly lower levels. In addition to year-round exhibitions, many non-profits hold annual fundraisers or sell limited edition print portfolios featuring donated works by more established artists.

White Columns
The 35-year-old White Columns gallery has a reputation for introducing future stars like Jeff Koons, John Currin, and Sarah Sze to the art scene. Browse its online registry to find hidden gems, or attend its annual benefit auction in the spring.
320 W. 13th Street, btw. 8th Ave. and Hudson St.; 212.924.4212; whitecolumns.org.

Art in General
An open submissions policy and non-commercial ethos drives Art in General, where more than 4,000 emerging artists have exhibited their works over the last three decades.
79 Walker St., btw. Broadway and Lafayette St.; 212-219-0473; artingeneral.org.

Exit Art
Exit Art's annual print portfolios are a hot commodity, containing donated pieces from six well-known artists. (Past editions have included pieces by Sol Lewitt and Louise Bourgeois). For pre-publication price of $5,000, you can have yourself an instant art collection.
475 10th Ave. at 36th St.; 212-966-7745; exitart.org.


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