The Affordable Art Fair: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Kitsch

I think the title of this post accurately describes my experience at the Affordable Art Fair on W. 18th street a few Sundays ago, but since I’d actually like to give you a more comprehensive picture, I’ll expand on the title a little. Let’s start with the self-explanatory name of the fair, designed to sell affordable (think in the hundreds and thousands, not millions) but semi-okay works such as prints, paintings, photographs, and sculptures to the general population. And the wonderful thing is, people were actually buying. I walked in with my friend around 4 o’clock, and the fair, which closed at five, was not only packed but overflowing with patrons on long lines to pay for their purchases.

Wondering what could ever be the cons I alluded to? Well I suppose it was what people were buying, not the fact that they were. The fair played host to a slew of galleries, most of them especially well-known, and most of whom had these eye-catching, tacky pieces on display that to me seemed hollow and vapid. It was art of the new social order, the digital media world, works to snap pics with because they match your outfit or snap up because you think it will go with your hipster furniture. But in the heat of the moment, I got swept up in the fun too, laughing at emoji busts and cheery skull and flowers posters derivative of Murakami. Everything at the fair was indubitably derivative of something, so although affordable can mean groundbreaking, here that proved not to be the case. While the time I spent wandering from gallery space to gallery space was enjoyable, in retrospect it was utterly meaningless. Do I actually remember any of what I saw because I considered it valuable?

I’m not sure yet if this lack of depth points to an issue with the art at the show or a general absence of substance in mainstream art when anything can be called art. This is obviously a very bold claim to be making, so I’d like to call it a guess for now, and another guess I’m going to take is that maybe there’s some kind of beauty in the futility of the show; maybe it’s simply there to be a distraction from real life. Having an authentic connection to a piece of artwork before buying it? Now totally optional.

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