You don't have to be as rich as a Rockefeller to collect original art. Look no farther than the variety of works produced by local talent.
Suzy Greenberg has a suggestion for people who buy mass-produced artwork from catalogs and department stores, based on whether it complements the color schemes in their living rooms:
"How about buying your furniture to match your art?"
As director of Soo Visual Arts Center in south Minneapolis, Greenberg has a vested interest in this view. She also makes a salient point. Original works of art are the ultimate expressions of individuality, adding unique touches of beauty and interest to any home. But many people don't even consider buying them, because they think "original" translates into "out of my price range."
Not necessarily. For the price of a fancy outing or two, you could own a painting, sculpture, print or photograph that will give you many more hours of pleasure than one date night.
You have to graduate from those Vikings posters and stretched-fabric wall hangings from Ikea sometime. Beginning an art collection can be easier and more affordable than you think, simply by being worked into your entertainment budget.
"People think of it as something too far-fetched for anyone but the very wealthy," Greenberg said. "But it's similar to going to see plays or dance or music. Couples will shell out hundreds of dollars for dinner and a musical. Why not art? It'll last a lot longer."
While those on beer-bottle budgets can't even think about dropping 10 grand or more on a popular mid-career artist's work, less pricey alternatives abound.
One example hangs on a wall at Soo: "Give It Back," a painting of figures riding piggyback in a wood against a white background by Minneapolis artist Lindsay Smith, a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Large enough to be a room's focal point, it was priced at $250, although much of Smith's work costs three times that figure.
Many Twin Cities galleries feature works in a wide range of prices, said Howard Oransky, director of continuing studies at MCAD and one of 13 established artists who own and operate the Warehouse-District gallery Form + Content.
"You might see one that costs $10,000 and on the other side of the room will be one for $500," Oransky said. "Many of us have worked in museum collections and sell at higher price points. But there's this sort of invisible $900 line here in Minneapolis that I think many experienced artists understand, so they'll be careful to include work under $1,000 because they want to sell, and they realize not everyone's rich."
Since many galleries now also supplement income with little shops stocked with impulse-buy purchases, it can be tough to tell what's a bona fide gallery, what is a combo gallery and craft store and what is a gift shop that happens to carry some art. Original work by local artists may be found, and bought, in many places in the Twin Cities -- direct from the artists in studios housed in the rehabbed factories and warehouses of northeast Minneapolis and Lowertown St. Paul, in galleries spread from downtown Minneapolis to Grand Avenue in St. Paul, even hip little gift boutiques like the Minneapolis stores Corazon and I Like You. Generally, serious collectors will stick to galleries where shows are actually curated.
Despite the art scene's concentration in urban pockets, don't rule out the suburbs. At Savage Art Studios in the southwest suburbs, a wide selection includes pieces by amateur or emerging artists for under $150, as well as higher-priced work by more seasoned talent. A recent annual show included a lovely $45 photograph of a peony and a charming $125 painting of the local farmers market.
If you fall in love with a work by a particular artist but can't afford it, find out if smaller, lower-priced original works or limited-edition prints are available. On the prints, Greenberg advises: "Make sure they are signed and numbered and come from relatively small editions."
Beyond cost concerns, another fear keeping nascent collectors from diving in is that they don't know enough about art. If you're not an insider, you worry that gallery staffers will size you up the minute you walk in the door, sniff, and suddenly become very busy dusting and adjusting frames.
"People think it's an intimidating experience," said Lisa Nguyen, manager of Circa Gallery in northeast Minneapolis. "Maybe it is, in Chicago and New York, but here we don't have a ton of galleries, and we all communicate. It's not as snooty as people think."
Nguyen suggests that summer, the slowest season for galleries, is a good time to shop around, but says that it's never a bad time to do so.
"Art doesn't go down in value," she said. "It's a sure investment."
Perhaps the best gauge of an artwork's value is this:
"The more time you spend with it," Greenberg said, "the more you can learn from it -- whether it's the brush strokes, the texture or something about it that you never noticed before."
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046
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