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How come black and white abstract paintings are in so many NYC apartment listings?

Look familiar? If you're shopping for real estate, they probably do. 

West Elm 

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2020
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Anyone looking at listing photos for New York City apartments has probably noticed there's a modern, urban look that developers and apartment stagers are trying to nail—and as a result, the furnishings look very similar.

You may have noticed the exact same products being used—like this omnipresent rug or the popular globe chandelier. And as they say, once you see it, you can’t un-see it. 

Add to the list—both IRL and in digitally-staged listing photos—black and white abstract artworks distinguished by bold brushstrokes. 

A digitally-staged bedroom by MAQE at 5 Court Square in Long Island City. 

MAQE

There are a few variations on the theme (which to us looks like an homage to, or ripoff of, the work of abstract expressionist Franz Kline). One of the more popular takes are a pair of artworks sold at West Elm for $349 each. Perhaps no truer product description has ever been written: “This bold, brushstroke canvas print works great as an abstract statement piece everywhere from entryways to guest bedrooms.” Everywhere, indeed. 

So what gives? We decided to ask around to find out what it is, exactly, about this black and white abstract art that makes it so appealing right now. 

Shawn Wilson used this art to stage a one bedroom in Bushwick, which is now in contract. 

Compass

Shawn Wilson, an agent who is in charge of staging for the Martin Eiden team at Compass, is on board with the look. He bought a pair of black and white paintings back in October. 

“It’s clean and refined. It’s like something you would see in a high-end home, a museum, or an art gallery in Soho,” he says. The look is especially useful for staging because of its versatility. “It appeals to people across the board. The main thing is that whether it’s in a home on the Upper East Side or Chelsea it evokes the same feeling.” 

As for the art’s repeat appearances, he credits its classic look. “I saw it and it immediately appealed to me,” he says. “It looks like ‘now.’”

The artwork shows up in a two-bedroom condo for sale in the East Village.

Compass

Jason Saft, an agent at Compass, who also runs the staging company Staged To Sell Home, notes that some agents aren’t as comfortable using color in a space or taking design risks. Of the black and white paintings, he says, “They work with everything. It’s like a little black dress. It’s hard to go wrong with it,” he says. “Black and white has a chicness and elegance and global appeal.”

It's not really a surprise to Saft that this look has become so widespread. He points out that trends in design are no longer exclusive but widely accessible online and via social media. Cheaper manufacturing and the ease of online shopping means styles leap quickly from influencer to the masses.

Black and white abstract art on a bedroom wall at 39 Plaza St. in Brooklyn. 

Corcoran

“It’s what happens in every field,” he says, pointing out that luxury design and staging company Interior Marketing Group, which creates its own art, and has used a lot of black and white abstract art in its projects.

“The way in which people buy things has shifted. You can go on Amazon and type in ‘black and white abstract art’ and you have options and you can get it in two days. You couldn’t do that 10 years ago.”