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Leisure: Best Art Bargains

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The auction houses, where Van Goghs go for $71 million and movie-star dresses for $70,000, hardly seem like places for most of us to fill our walls. But look beyond the high-priced, highly fashionable painting, clothing, and period-furniture markets, and prices drop zeroes. Many, many zeroes. The decorative arts and prints provide opportunities to get pedigreed pieces for unknown-artist prices. Don't use the word cheap, however -- auction types like to call this "accessible" art.

Marc Schwartz, a twenty-year collector who prefers works on paper to bigger, flashier paintings, recently acquired a 1971 James Rosenquist print, Cold Light, for $2,800, and bought Kiki Smith's first print for $650. "I purchased a print by Robert Rauschenberg three years ago at auction," Schwartz says. "I bought a spectacular work at a reasonable price, and it was included in the Guggenheim retrospective of Rauschenberg." He suggests others follow his lead and buy Claes Oldenburg's unlimited edition NYC Pretzel prints ($50 at Susan Inglett, 100 Wooster Street; 343-0573).

At the May 1 contemporary-print sale at Sotheby's (1334 York Avenue, at 72nd Street; 606-7000), for example, one can acquire an Andy Warhol flower lithograph for $3,000 or a Roy Lichtenstein silk-screened still life for $2,400. Of course, 100 other people might own the same image, but how likely is it that you know them? (And in Pop Art, accessibility was half the point.)


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