How to Spend $1,000 at NYC’s Affordable Art Fair

I was admittedly grumpy when I arrived at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan to see that the line for the Affordable Art Fair entry wrapped around three-quarters of the block. For what it’s worth, the line moved quickly and I got to daydream about organizational solutions while peering into the neighboring Container Store, but even then, I still couldn’t believe how many people were waiting to get in on the preview night alone. Thankfully, the fair runs through September 24.

It was my first time at this fair, and I knew that the crux of it was that artwork prices ranged from $100 to $12,000, which made it a hub for both young and first-time art collectors. I gave myself an imagined budget of $1,000 and set out to find artworks in various categories, from art for your dorm room to a housewarming gift for that friend who loves crystals.

So, with a make-believe band burning a hole in my pocket, what will I walk out with and to whom will I gift it, if I choose not to keep it for myself?

For that special someone who never really outgrew their childhood “Marine Biologist” phase: Starting with the first floor, the London-based Cube Gallery had a pretty dynamic booth that drew me in with Myung Nam An’s urchin friends (real title: Eye Series) fastened to the wall. The smallest ones were priced at $500 and $800 — a significant depletion to my imaginary $1K budget, but my instinctive attraction to the shiny and colorful knows no boundaries. I actually had a nice chat with two ladies about which urchin we identified with the most, too, since there were so many to choose from with such different personalities. If I had to part with these, I would gift it to someone whose interests intersect at aquarium touch tanks, fancy drawer knobs, and hedgehogs. But they’d have to really deserve it …

On a similar note, these “mini” and “small” painted plywood “Portals” by Laurie Skatnoz were available for $400 and $700 respectively. I think these would be good for the person in your life who loves crystals and geodes, new age spirituality, and aesthetics of Coachella.

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Myung Nam An’s various “Eye Series” ceramics are glamorous sea urchins, but I still wouldn’t dare to touch these either!
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Laurie Skatnzos’s “Portals” at the Spence Gallery booth on Floor 2

For the future Instagram influencer’s dorm room or college apartment: Hailing from Los Angeles, Art Unified Gallery had a wildly colorful booth full of mixed-media resin sculptures, t-shirts and sneakers, and printed portraits of important historical and cultural figures as postage stamps. The melting popsicle sculptures started at $250, which is neither here nor there in my opinion, but the most affordable options were the printed t-shirts that were $49.95 each. Meh … Wasn’t for me, but it seemed to be a smash hit with a lot of grandparents and godparents looking to get ahead on their holiday shopping. If $50 to $250 still seems a bit much, try again at your local yard sale in the next two years, because I don’t think this is the type of work that ages with you.

To bring a lively pulse to even the most corporate office cubicle: On the second floor, the Arts Gowanus booth was full of these delectably playful works by Mark Zlotsky and Karyn Lao, formally known as the art duo Mookntaka. The inflatable “friends,” equipped with on-off dials for deflation, were out of our $1K budget, but the smaller, fluorescent paintings and static “figurines” which Karyn said were like character designs for the inflatables could liven up your bedroom, office, or work-from-home space! I love my friends but they’d have to pry one of those paintings out of my cold, dead hands …

Sadly, the enlarged inflatables, though interactive, were not for sale. Not even for $12,000. Zlotsky shared that this was Mookntaka’s first art fair, as their practice is suited for public spaces. “This fair is a way to support ourselves in our mission to keep making more public work at this scale,” he said. Lao added that visitors are really disarmed once they find out they’re welcome to touch and play with the art, noting that “you can see them visibly relax a bit.”

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The normal scale at which Mookntaka works!

For those of us with small square footage and big concerns about the price of groceries: Dialing it back a little bit, I mentioned earlier that this fair and its price points (to a limit) were a great introduction to the art market for both young and first-time collectors. There were lots of families perusing the available works, and more college-aged and young professional attendees than I’ve ever seen at any other fair. But with inflation, rent hikes, and wage stagnation eating us alive, and with me being the self-appointed town crier about the fact that eggs are currently $7, I had to keep my eyes peeled for work under $500, with special bonuses under $200.

The fair selections for the “Best under $500” and “Best under $1,000” works on the second floor were a bit dry, so I would say that the best bang for your buck is better found in actual booths. I liked these dimensional bisque shards with graphite drawings on them for their variety, curatability, and extremely approachable price points. I also thought that I Le Gallery’s “Under $1,000” wall was really eye-catching and versatile!

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This would normally make me cringe but if it’s what people want, then I must let them appreciate and collect in peace. Who am I to rain on anyone’s parade?

As expected, there were a lot of booths leaning on Pop Art, paint pours, gaudy text pieces, and printed canvases with posterized portraits of Audrey Hepburn or John Lennon with rainbow splatters to sort through. And even though my favorite insult is to call something Pier 1 Imports-aligned, I actually had a hard time being as callous about the stuff I didn’t like since there were so many people that were excited about bringing it home with them. In fact, the venue was alight with joy and overt friendliness — a welcomed mood shift after wading through the stuffiness of the first half of September’s art fair season. And giving credit where it’s due, there were some really compelling, technically exciting works between the Audrey Hepburn portraits and paint pours … The best part was that nearly every work had the price listed on the wall text, too. Sure, there were quite a few works that pushed the affordability boundaries at $11,995, but there was a surprising amount of well-crafted, sizable works that were $1,000 and under.

I’ll leave it at that, otherwise you won’t get to do any discovering of your own. But you better act fast, because people were purchasing, packing, and walking out with their new works on opening night! I’ll just say that some things are worth the price, though …

For the person in your life who calls themselves “a silly little guy” on their dating app profile:

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No notes. But if you get this, can I borrow it?

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