Artscape: Affordable art

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The art market never dies, but when money's tight, it takes its blows along with the rest of us. The effects of the recession have been felt from art fairs to individual galleries, to collectors who've had to cut back, but trying times require adapting, and new opportunities can result.

At South Campus Gateway, the launch of the Arts in the Alley project has given a new collective a site to offer affordable works by emerging and student artists. ARTillery operates a retail shop in the Shoebox space it shares with two other groups through October 2010, focusing on art priced under $250. On Dec. 12 and Dec. 19, they'll host a craft fair for the holidays.

As organizers Kate Dowell, Jesse Mills and Eric Rausch explained, a retail operation made the most sense for the shared space. Each of them has work for sale at the Shoebox: Dowell knit goods, Rausch functional ceramics and Mills substantial objects in sculpted foam.

The selection also represents their network of friends, but the group explained that involvement doesn't hinge on who you know.

"We have a website ( with an application for people who want to show here," Dowell said.

"We want to have accessibility for artists and buyers," Mills stressed. "High-quality work for more affordable prices."

Added Rausch, "It's surprising the amount of sales we've made."

Levent Isik is trying something similar on his own. On his Facebook page, the well-known self-taught artist has set up a photo gallery of about 20 small works he's offering at reduced prices to friends and family through the holidays.

According to Isik, he'd already started uploading artwork images on Facebook for dealers and buyers, but galleries prefer his larger pieces, and those aren't selling like they used to.

"I decided to make a few dollars by selling the smaller works from my studio," Isik explained. "It's hardly enough to make ends meet, but enough to pay a utility or two."

Still, Isik said he's had to turn down a few offers. "Legit collectors and even regular art dealers have tried to take advantage of this situation by trying to barter even lower."

At Rivet Gallery, the lowbrow art and designer toys on display generally have lower price points than work in other galleries. "We have original art as cheap as $80," said co-owner Laura Kuenzli.

Regardless, she added, "Right now, the economy has pushed toy designers to stick with $5 to $10 items rather than pushing $50 or $60 toys."

In response, she's stocking Rivet with blind assortment collectibles on the lower end of the price range and $3 zipper pulls from artists like Frank Kozik, whose limited-edition Labbits can go for more than $1,000.

Mahan Gallery owner Jacquie Mahan has taken another, so far successful approach to keeping sales up. "I'm pricing work lower in response to what people can afford," she explained. "If you make it a little less expensive, you'll sell more and make as much money."

Working with local artists allows Mahan to negotiate pricing and reduces the exorbitant shipping costs related to out-of-town art. She's also expanded the retail offerings in her space, from locally handmade buttons to jewelry by Brooklyn artist Lauren Haupt, to help make buying an option for virtually everyone.

"I want to provide different price points because I want to grow collectors," Mahan said. "Even teenagers buying buttons for a dollar, I think that's important for building relationships.

"Some galleries refuse to lower prices because they believe it will devalue art, because a certain artist has always sold for so much," she added. "I totally disagree with that. I think everything expands and contracts, people have to try new things and be humble."