The AAF originated when founder Will Ramsay opened Will’s Art Warehouse in London in 1996 to display artwork priced between £50 to £2,500. “Everyone loved the relaxed atmosphere in which they were free to take their time browsing the work—and that is what inspired the idea for the Affordable Art Fair,” Ramsay explains on the AAF website. Three years later, the first Affordable Art Fair took place in London’s Battersea Park. Ten major cities now host fairs worldwide, with plans to expand in the future.
From September 23–26, the Affordable Art Fair (AAF) will give visitors another opportunity to fall in love with original artwork.
After pandemic travel restrictions necessitated a truncated spring fair, the September event at the Metropolitan Pavilion will feature 70 local, national, and international exhibitors displaying diverse work from more than 300 contemporary artists. Galleries, dealers, and established artist collectives may only submit original works from living artists. Multiples are subject to maximum edition limits, and no reproductions are permitted. The remaining criterion is defined in the event name: all prices must be between $100 and $10,000.
Cristina Salmastrelli, the U.S. regional managing director for Ramsay Fairs, says that all of their events have similar local price ranges, taking into consideration both exchange rates and what “affordability” means around the world. While the definition of affordable can be a matter of perspective, given recent auction and private-sale records, a $10,000 cap might seem alluring. Jeff Koons holds the auction record for the most lucrative artwork by a living artist: $91 million for his stainless steel Rabbit, sold in 2019 by Christie’s, while Jasper Johns’ encaustic painting Flag sold privately in 2010 for an estimated $110 million.
Believing that anyone can be a collector, the AAF’s mission is to democratize the art world, making contemporary art accessible to everyone. “It can feel like there are multiple barriers to getting involved with art, and often they exist surrounding price and knowledge [regarding] what it’s all about; but once you discover how much joy there is in immersing yourself into something beautiful or challenging like art, it’s worth taking the plunge [to] become a collector,” Salmastrelli says.
She points to New York’s history as an engaging art hub and cultural center as a reason for this fair’s uniqueness, and enthuses over the accessibility the fair introduces: “Nowhere else will you find art at this specific price point and caliber that you can literally take off the wall and carry home with you that same day.”
Individual fairs are also different because exhibitors have to reapply each time. When describing the curation process, Salmastrelli credits knowledgeable and experienced teams who work locally as well as globally, navigating each selection based on current trends and past fairs, as well as their keen eye for design.
For those ready to start collecting art, Salmastrelli urges visitors to consider budget, space, and taste when buying art—especially for the first time. “Take some time to reflect on your inspiration for starting a collection, and think about what is important to you and what you want to be surrounded with,” she advises.
Perhaps the most important guidance is to follow your heart. The majority of visitors buy for love rather than investment, Salmastrelli observes.
Exhibitors are encouraged to bring works that they know will be popular with their clients, as well as pieces by new artists who they want to introduce to the NYC art scene. Considering that most of their established galleries exhibit emerging and mid-career artists, you never know who might become the “next big name,” and perhaps that is part of the fun—all while following your heart.