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7 tips for buying art on a budget

Believe it or not, Art Week isn’t just about partying and trying to schmooze your way into parties you heard Solange was going to be at.

It’s about art!

But a lot of times we can get caught up with the hefty price tags, the lavish events, and the crazy traffic. We forget that when Art Basel comes to town, “you can see the works of hundreds of thousands of artists from all over the world, all in one place, which you can’t do regularly,” explains Alex Mitow, the founder and director of Superfine! Art Fair.

“Art fairs are wonderful,” said Mitow, “But the wrong fair can put you off of art completely.”

That’s why he started an art fair that’s all about making art accessible and affordable. He shared his tips on how to buy art when you’re not rollin’ in the dough.

Tip 1: Attend fairs aligned with your taste and budget.

“One of the things we do that’s really different is we try to make everything transparent — that’s something you don’t see at a lot of art fairs for people who haven’t made an art purchase before,” he said.

At many art fairs you walk in and you can’t find a single price anywhere. That doesn’t exist anywhere else you’re trying to buy things. It’s crazytown.

Everything has a price tag, even if you can’t see it. Mitow’s first piece of advice is to find a place that is transparent about prices so you can have your budget in mind as you browse and know whether the art fits it.

Plus, going to a place where you see some things you can maybe kind of afford is a lot more fun. If the first thing you see is a $50,000 Andy Warhol, you’re probably going to be turned off. But if you see something under the $1,000, range, well, that feels a little bit more manageable, Mitow says.

Tip 2: Establish a relationship with art dealers and artists.

A lot of people don’t realize that you can request a studio visit or befriend an artist whose work you like. Sure they probably have major pieces for museums, but they also might have smaller ones that are in your budget.

That goes for dealers too. They often have prints of more affordable works, which is a good way to start, he says.

Tip 3: Start small

When people think of buying art, they often think of massive paintings that can barely fit in their car. It doesn’t have to be that way.

“I’m drawn to smaller works. Maybe it’s because I’ve been living in apartments for 10 years, but I’m not a giant painting kinda guy. I’m more into smaller, quirky, and interesting art,” Mitow said.

You don’t need to get a painting that will hang over your couch forever, dominating your living room. You could get something cool to go in your bathroom or bedroom.

Tip 4: It’s not a competition. Collect what you love.

Do your thing and find a piece you’re into. It’s part of your individual expression.

Tip 5: Make an offer.

“If you see a price you can’t quite afford, make an offer. It’s not a horrible thing to do. If you see something for $15,000 and you’re only willing to spend $1,000, just ask. The artist will let you know and if they say ‘no,’ you have time to go home and think about it. Or they might say ‘I like you and I want to make some money,’” Mitow said.

Tip 6: Ask about payment plans

Payment plans make $3,000 to $5,000 pieces more affordable. It’s possible to walk into a fair and ask the dealer if you can pay off that $1,000 painting in $300 a month increments. You can also try to do it through a third party if there are financiers at the fair.

Tip 7: Have fun doing it!

Sometimes you need moral support or a friend to be a sounding board — either to talk you into a piece you really want or to talk you out of something if you’re waffling. But there’s a limit.

“Take only one friend. I only support teams of two. It’s just like going out. If you have too many people, everyone starts talking and it’s a big group circus of people,” Mitow said. “Two people is a good number.”

We had one final question for Mitow — a more philosophical one. How do you justify spending hundreds of dollars of art when you’re a youngun’ without a whole lot of disposable income?

“We spend a lot of money on a lot of things, all of us do. You go out to eat and spend $100,” Mitow said. “[Instead], I bought a $500 piece. I paid $150 a month. I’ve had dinners that cost $150.”

“It’s the best investment you’re going to have — not to resell it if the artist gets big, in which case you’re really lucky — but more to love it. It’s an aesthetic investment,” he said. “You pay for everything in your apartment then you go and get your art from Target? When you show someone your place, that’s part of your individual expression and artwork is part of that.”

And what’s a novice art buyer living in Miami to do when Superfine! wraps up at the end of Art Week?

Mitow thinks there’s a real market for a gallery or art program that focuses on affordable art here in Miami year around.

“There are three kinds of galleries in Miami: the touristy places that sell Warhols, galleries that try to be like a gallery in New York and be very exclusive, and then it has the hipster galleries that don’t want to sell and they say ‘it’s just about the art’,” Mitow explained.

Right now Miami’s art scene depends on a few wealthy people who want to support it. That’s cool, but if there were affordable galleries, they could be supported by locals who buy from them, Mitow explained. He says galleries like &gallery and Fu gallery in Little Haiti are his jam because they have both affordable and interesting pieces.

“When you’re an artist and people own your work… it feels good.”

[Editor’s note: The New Tropic was a media partner for Superfine! Art Fair through Miami Art Week.]