The Affordable Art Fair made its New York debut at Pier 92 on Oct. 30, 2002, with a gala preview benefiting downtown nonprofit arts organizations. Over 90 dealers are showing work priced under $5,000 and that's not the only unique quality of the fair. One unusual aspect is the emergence of galleries from off beat places like Renfrewshire, Scotland, and Wapole, New Hampshire, giving the collector an opportunity to discover new talent usually unavailable in New York.
Almost half of the galleries represented are based in New York with the remainder of the exhibitors hailing from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. The first AAF was held in 1999 in London and on average it has drawn 20,000 visitors a year, making it London's biggest contemporary art fair. A remarkable one in four visitors purchases art (the average at other fairs is one in ten). Fair director Will Ramsey explained cheerfully that his pet project to draw younger collectors also draws "people with a buying frame of mind." The art is affordable and often good but the question is, will collectors buy art, even at low prices, when they are worried about the contemporary art market bubble bursting?
The non-profit organizations share a space at the front of the pier, which makes it difficult to discern who's showing what. Art In General had copies of Spencer Tunick's new Nude Adrift portfolios selling for $1,800 (from an edition of 150). The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council gave out free posters by Nancy Burson with the words "Focus on Peace" out of focus and Exit Art showed a large colorful painting by Chris Francione.
Among the 16 British galleries included is Philips Contemporary from Manchester. They present a vibrant painting by David Hancock of a heavily pierced, young punk girl playing with her rat in a room filled with twisted toys such as a plush Alf and Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The painting splits like a diptych at the corner of the wall and costs $4,950. Hancock paints his friends and fellow artists who are deeply involved with subcultures and are all under 21.
Performance art -- and one of the only video works in the exhibition -- was provided by Joshua Levine, sponsored by Luxe. Levine was suited up with cameras and Mylar balloons offering a chance to view the fair on small monitors strapped to his back. He will be walking around the fair Friday and Sunday at unannounced times as well. Back at Luxe, proprietor Stefano Stoyanov sold works by Heather Bennett and Emilio Perez.
A couple of booths down, Jay Grimm, which has joined James Graham & Sons to become JG Contemporary, makes a good impression. Among the interesting finds are hypnotic works on paper of biomorphic swirls and spheres by Jess von der Ahe made from gold leaf and the artist's own blood. The small works are priced at $2,000.
Obsession takes over Elizabeth Zawada's works of repetitive numbers at the Gary Tatinsian booth. In one piece she writes the numbers zero to 6,024, turns the paper around and does it again upside-down. A similarly obsessive beauty can be found in Donna Sharrett's "mementos" at Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art. Sharett does needlework with synthetic hair and rose petals creating hybrids between French lace doilies and mandalas while at the same time mourning her mother's death through labor-intensive work.
This reporter spotted a monoprint of herself by Alexis Karl at the Red Dot booth, Alexis Karl's paintings on which her monoprints are based, are on view until Nov. 4 at Red Dot Gallery. Red Dot also featured multiples by Inka Essenhigh, Robert Ryman and Ed Ruscha.
One of the many young exhibitors at the fair is a Chicago group who call themselves the Cynthia P. Caster Foundation. The 3-month old "non-profit" foundation promises to "donate all money to rock bands." They have Warhol-like silkscreens by the JNL Graphics Design Studio featuring Sid Vicious, Ronald Reagan and the World Trade Center, all priced between $300 and $2,400. A whimsical yet morbid sculpture of a dead elf by Joe Cassen is a steal at $2,400. There are also casts of famous and infamous penises by Cynthia Plaster Caster ($1,500 for the set).
Other works to check out are: Markus Linnenbrink's bright resin paintings at Thatcher Projects, Liza Lou's beaded coffee cup and Christina Bothwell's glass dolls, both at Scarsdale's Madelyn Jordan Fine Art, Robert Heckes' banner ad inspired paintings at The Art Movement booth, David McKeran's space invader paintings at London's Clapham Art Gallery, Matt Gray's photograph of a purple lollipop at Albuquerque's Richard Levy Gallery and Gabriel Lalonde's pickled Barbie dolls in jars at the Quebec gallery Le Loup de Gouttiere.
Once purchased, works can be packed by Atelier 4, which looks a little like a performance art piece with its unending rolls of bubble wrap and tape.
The Art Fair will hold two panels this weekend -- both geared towards new collectors. Saturday, there will be a discussion on starting a collection with works on paper, hosted by Art on Paper editor Reena Jana with Artnet columnist Brook S. Mason, collector Steve Kramarsky, gallerist Cheryl Pelavin and art advisor Sharon Coplan Hurowitz. Sunday, Swann Auction Galleries will host a lecture on "Helpful Hints for Emerging Collectors." For free shuttle bus information to the pier from midtown and a full schedule see the fair's website. The fair runs through Sunday, Nov. 3, 2002 and entrance is an affordable $9.
SHERRY WONG is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine.