Why is "Affordable" Such a Dirty Word When it Comes to Art?
Since founding Superfine! in 2015, I've personally taken a roller coaster ride through the do's and don't's of art world lingo in order to come up with a strong and cohesive language around Superfine! that fulfills two main criteria -- explaining the fair in a succinct and engaging way to our target market of young professionals on the hunt for original artwork in their budget, and making sure that our core clients -- galleries and artists -- understand what we're about and how much we have their best interests at heart.
Each time we've pioneered and adapted the concept that Superfine! represents we find ourselves trying to do the tango with one particular word (or better, phrase) -- affordable art. Not to be confused with that other chain of fairs of the same name, which has had an incredibly successful run of introducing aspiring collectors to well-intentioned artwork in locations around the globe, affordable art to me simply means that if I like a piece, there's a chance I can actually take it home with me. It doesn't deliver any negative connotations, but I do understand and respect that that may not apply to all people. We've sometimes referred to Superfine! as a curated, affordable art fair and recently a dealer told me that "I'd better take that word out, because it's like poison to us." Again, I understand the sentiment, but let's take a look at this:
Who's buying art today? Times are uncertain, politics are all over the place, and the market in general is conservative to say the least. Of course, there are a handful of billionaire collectors who simply can't be stopped, but for every gallery that's able to grow and thrive off of a small group of very wealthy people, I can show you one whose bread and butter are young professionals like myself and my partners who work very hard, appreciate art and culture, and simply want to find a way to bring more of it into their own homes. With that in mind, I think it's vital that even when we're careful with language, that we do our best to make sure the message is communicated as clearly as possible to the people who are driving at least our little corner of the art world.
Affordable means quite simply that you can afford it, not that the work is cheaply made or the artists are less talented. We absolutely have no desire to hurt an artist's market or inhibit their growth, and when the scarcity and complexity of their creations dictate that their market takes them outside of the price cap of our fairs, we wish them nothing but the best of luck as they continue to grow. However, what we do seek to do is provide a correction to the market at the emerging level, where artists who hold out for years for a big break and the galleries who champion them are able to create economies of scale by showcasing their work, or iterations of it, at prices that are within the reach of a newer class of collector who has the buying power and enthusiasm to support an artist's success over the long term rather than with a short burst of purchases.
There is another word -- accessible -- which is often bandied about as a replacement for affordable, and I do often find myself using the phrase "accessibly-priced" in conversation and outreach both in reference to our own rates and the price points of the art that we showcase, but I think as a standalone word that "accessible" lacks the oomph and straightforwardness of "affordable". It feels a bit euphemistic and a bit saccharine, and I like that affordable tells you point-blank that you'll find something you love, that you can have.
Ultimately, a fair is an ever-evolving project and with each edition (and all of the in between times!) we'll constantly strive to perfect not only our execution of Superfine! and our year-round programming, but also how we talk about what we do. In the mean-time, we'll continue to champion the work of the talented artists and galleries that make up each Superfine! as not only of the highest quality in execution and curatorial fit, but also as affordable to the emerging collector. I firmly believe that with strong artwork, adherence to principles, and a well-curated fair, the message comes through that this is not only less expensive but also a new way to experience art.
We come in peace.
--Alex Mitow, Director of Superfine! The Fairest Fair