Affordable art

Tips on finding the right piece for your home  


When does an art sale resemble a footrace?

It does every November on the weekend before Thanksgiving when the Minneapolis College of Art and Design throws open the doors to its annual sale. It’s not unusual to find dozens of people queued up on opening day to get first crack at the thousands of pieces by recent graduates, said Rob Davis, the school’s director of communications and external relations.

“Last year we had people running down the halls to get a couple of pieces off the walls,” Davis said.

Lacing up the New Balance sneakers for an art opening? Well, that’s one way to find affordable original artwork to decorate your home.

It’s certainly not the only way, though. Conversations with Southwest-based gallery owners, decorators and artists turned up a number of suggestions for homeowners and apartment dwellers seeking to decorate in style without straining their budgets.

One repeated piece of advice was to look at art first, price tag second. After all, an original piece of art is something the buyer may live with for years to come.

Soo Visual Arts Center owner and Executive Director Suzy Greenberg prefers peace and quiet when considering an addition to her collection, so it’s unlikely to see her at the MCAD Art Sale.

“I tend not to go for crowds,” Greenberg explained.

“I like to go to galleries during the week when it’s quieter,” she said. “I just like getting to experience the work.”

Gallery going

Gallery 360 owner Merry Beck is patient, the type of art-buyer who will preserve a blank space on a wall of her home for as long as it takes to find the perfect piece of art to fill it. Beck advises her customers to take the same approach.

“I tell people it may not happen overnight,” she said. “I think the biggest thing is really … finding artists you like, first. The piece will come.”

Visit a variety of area galleries, all of which represent their own roster of talent. Keep going back when new shows open and new works arrive.

Don’t forget gallery websites, either. They not only feature work by artists not currently on display, websites often include artist’s statements or links to personal pages that can give buyers greater insight into an artist’s work.

Talk with gallery owners. They can use their connections to track down a particular piece or establish a dialogue between an artist and a potential customer.

“Many of my artists will be able to work on a commission basis,” Beck added.

Occasional gallery sales are worth checking out. And some gallery owners, like Beck, offer layaway payment plans.

If a prized piece is just out of reach, it can’t hurt to bargain. In fact, negotiations have “always been a part of the art world,” Greenberg said.

“As long as you’re respectful about it, I don’t think (bargaining) is a bad thing,” she said. 

“If someone is interested in a piece, especially if it’s a higher-priced piece, oftentimes the gallery of the artist might be willing to cut a deal,” she added. “… If something’s already $100, you’re probably not going to get a deal on something that’s inexpensive to begin with.”

Where the deals are

There are a few truisms to keep in mind when art shopping, like this one: Work by young artists generally will be less expensive than work by their better-established peers.

“If you want affordable art, that’s the place to go — before they’re famous,” Greenberg said.

That’s part of the draw for events like the MCAD Art Sale, where last year the average price was $75 and nothing was priced over $1,000.

Certain types of art, like prints, can be cheaper to collect, as well. 

“Even if you’re talking about (prints by) a very high-end artist who is a painter, the prints will sell at a lower price point,” said Carla McGrath, who runs Highpoint Center for Printmaking with husband Cole Rogers — and collects prints with him, too. “It makes owning a work by someone pretty well-known fairly accessible.”

Highpoint’s collaborations with established artists Julie Mehretu and Jessica Rankin are sold though Highpoint Editions, its publishing arm. Deal-seekers may prefer to show up for the twice-a-year exhibitions by members of the print shop’s cooperative, one in late summer and one just before the holidays, or to flip through the rack of co-op prints in the gallery.

Noting the thriving Minneapolis printmaking scene, Greenberg also suggested browsing works by Burlesque of North America and Aesthetic Apparatus, two local shops with national followings.

On display

Once that perfect piece is in the home, the question remains: How best to display it?

Lyons Design owner Lisa Lyons is sometimes asked to match décor to art, as when she designed a guest bedroom around a “really pretty, fairly simple painting of a Nebraska landscape” featuring golden grasses and blue sky. The color and texture of the oil paint inspired the mix of “nubby, textural” materials and “light, airy” cottons, Lyons said.

“We really took those colors and those textures and brought them into the feeling of the room,” she explained.

Large pieces often pack the most visual impact, but Lyons said a well-framed and lit smaller piece or group of artfully arranged items could be just as striking. Beware the cluttered look that comes from packing a small room with little art objects, and don’t be afraid to make a statement.

“You want to be bold with it,” she said. “Go all out. Either do it or don’t.”

Don’t be overly concerned 
with matching artwork to 
décor, either.

McGrath and Rogers think nothing of displaying their collection of contemporary prints in their Arts and Crafts Movement home. Said McGrath: “We’re not match-the-couch-to-the-artwork people.”

Nor should art collectors be so concerned with matching, suggested Beck.

A beloved artwork could hang for decades, she said, but “think of how many times you move in a lifetime or change a couch.”