Like moving into your first apartment, putting up a piece of art and transforming your bare walls is one of those things that can make you feel like you’re a full-fledged adult. But choosing art is intimidating, and you might be tempted to pick up a mass-produced piece at the same place you buy your bookshelves and Swedish meatballs simply to get it over with.
You’ll be happier in the long run if you don’t take the easy route. You don’t have to buy the same print that everyone else has (like the overused Franz Kline-esque prints that are in almost every apartment listing)—you can go for something eye-catching that matches your personal aesthetic. Whether you’re on a tight budget or want to start a fine art collection, there are resources that can help you buy original art.
That's because New York is an art mecca and you can find unique artwork, both online and offline, for an affordable price. Whether it’s a custom-framed print of an Andy Warhol silkscreen or an original painting by an emerging artist selling his work on Houston Street, there are options for New Yorkers in all price ranges.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article ran in January 2021. It has been updated with new information for January 2022.]
Here are eight places, including online retailers, virtual art fairs, and street vendors, where you can snag one-of-a-kind wall art for your NYC apartment.
Society6 sells original work from emerging artists as well as prints from famed artists like Rothko and Matisse. Each print is available in an array of sizes, available framed or unframed, and if you go for framing, there are several styles and colors to choose from. The pricing depends on your customization, but you can easily order a framed print for under $100.
If you’re looking to invest in fine from either NYC-based galleries or international ones, Artsy is the place for you. Artsy sells art of all styles from artists like Damien Hirst, Jean Dubuffet, and everyone in between. Of course, this isn’t cheap art at all, but they also have live auctions, work for sale from international art fairs, and they do have smaller works and those of emerging artists if you’re looking to spend less than $1,000.
Etsy is a staple of the online independent artist world, where you can buy handmade and original everything. And when it comes to wall art, there’s just as many options. You can also custom-order original work from the artists. Think: an artsy typography map of your hometown or prints of zoo animals with your newborn’s name and birth date. When you buy original art on Etsy, you’re buying directly from the artist.
Curina has a rent-to-own program for over 1,500 original works from emerging artists. You can pick work on your own, with the help of curators (for free), or through a style quiz. There are three plans for $38, $88, and $148 a month depending on the size. Monthly fees go towards the price of the work if you decide to buy it out. If you don’t like the art, you can swap it or return it after three months.
Do you consider yourself a foodie? If so, or you’re just looking for art to hang in the kitchen, All The Restaurants has prints of popular restaurants in New York City, London, and Paris. There are several NYC restaurants available like P.J. Clarke’s and Katz’s Deli. You can also request a restaurant. The custom-made prints are hand-drawn by John Donohue who started the project in 2017.
Many art fairs are set to return to the city after being canceled or held virtually during the pandemic. Affordable Art Fair, which features contemporary works ranging from $100 to $10,000, is scheduled for March 24-27 and you can also buy works online. The Armory Show is set for September 8-11. You can go here to find other upcoming art fairs.
Artist street vendors
If you walk around Manhattan, you’ll find street vendors selling many kinds of art. For the most options, look outside of art museums like the Whitney and Met, along Madison and Lexington avenues on the Upper East Side, and in Soho. Now that museums have reopened, most of these vendors are back and selling their work, so you can buy art and help out an artist who probably was left without sales for months.
While some are vendors selling prints, there are also artists selling their original work. Prices will vary. I once asked an artist selling mixed-media collages in Soho how much he wanted for a large work. His price was $175, proving you can get a deal for something special that you won’t come across in your friend’s apartments.
Art school shows/fundraisers
Young artists from around the world move to NYC to study at one of the city’s many art schools and a lot of students sell their art to pay for their expenses. Most art schools host open studios and fundraisers year round, where you can buy affordable art—and who knows, perhaps that student will be the next de Kooning and it’ll be worth millions one day.
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