Who’s Afraid of Affordable Art? The Founder of Andy Blank Most Certainly is Not
The first article I ever wrote for Cultbytes was a compilation of tips for millennial art lovers on a budget because, unfortunately, having a passion for art, collecting and your budget doesn’t always come hand in hand. That article was written in 2018, 2019 is done and dusted, and with 2020 in full swing, it’s time for a quick reflection on what has and hasn’t changed in the art world.
A lot has not changed─blue chip galleries are still moving forward with their blockbuster shows (it’s hard to go on Instagram without seeing people posing in front of Doug Wheeler’s new neon installation at David Zwirner), with smaller yet just as talented galleries trying to find their equal footing. The auction houses are still making jaw-dropping sales—Artnet calculated that in 2019, there were 3,791 Picasso sales, 11 multi-million dollar KAWS lots, and even the Old Masters are making a quick comeback (shout out to Artemisia Gentilesschi who achieved her record high at Parisian auction house Artcurial who successfully sold “Lucretia” for $5.2 million dollars). Even with the cold temperatures, public art installations are popping up all over, specifically Antony Gormley’s “New York Clearing” at Brooklyn Bridge Park and Heart Squared, featuring 125 tilted mirrors within a heart-shaped steel frame in Times Square.
What has changed is the conversation around affordable art, and artists are trying harder to fill this void in the art market. Don’t get me wrong, the concept of ‘affordable art’ isn’t new by any means and many of the independent art fairs such as Clio, The Affordable Art Fair, and Super Fine, have long been on this bandwagon. Expanding my art collection, finding new artists, and supporting artists are things I think about a lot, and it was interesting to hear from the perspective of an artist.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the founder of Andy Blank, an art handler/artist turned businessman. His goal is to bring affordable art to the art market, but at the same time, to not compromise the integrity of the work that his studio makes. That being said, Andy Blank’s art is very modestly priced. Depending on the piece, they range in price from $99 to $199, already framed and ready to hang—his packaging even includes a nicely branded measuring tape, nails, a pencil, and instructions.
While affordable art companies and collectives are making it easier for people to come across art that won’t break the bank and is still quality, I pose the question: how do you develop a kinship or affinity with an artist when you were initially drawn to his or her work because of it’s low price point? And, at what level will making a sale no longer be good enough when artists are seeking so much more than just a bit of recognition? Even in the case of Andy Blank, there is so much more than meets the eye. Will people be actually interested in learning about Andy Blank’s ‘background’ and to really invest in ‘him’ as an artist and innovator?
Many limited-edition low-price art companies simply rip off the aesthetic of established artists and those struggling to succeed and using manufacturers operating beyond the art world. At least, Andy Blank employs a team of artists and creatives that both design and produce the works, allowing them to sustain their own artistic practice on their own time. The question remains, will Andy Blank be able to shake up the art market?
Previous Andy Blank, “The Might Jungle.” Above Andy Blank in his studio. All photographs courtesy of the artist.
In an older factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (thank you Hypebeast for sparking my curiosity about what his studio looks like!) that serves as a collective of sorts, Andy Blank consists of a number of artists, designers, and curators that create different collections of original works. Scroll down to learn more about Andy Blank’s debut in the art world, as well as his thoughts on how to keep art collecting costs low:
As a millennial on a budget, I can’t tell you how much it resonates with me that you work hard to keep your prices under $200. Affordable art is hard to come by, which is unfortunate given how many people are passionate about collecting and just don’t have the funds to do so. How do you do it? Given that your pieces are handmade, every piece already comes framed, and to top it off, you provide tools for even the clumsiest!
I’ve been in the art industry for a long time as an ‘art hanger’, framer, and eventually in sales selling pieces for exorbitant amounts of money. I absorbed everything I possibly could from the art industry and completely fell in love with it. I became obsessed! I needed to know everything I could about how pieces are made, framed and how galleries work. When this idea came to me, I decided to take a year to build the back end of the business. This mainly consisted of what you mentioned: the enjoyable feeling of buying an artwork, the handmade aspect, museum grade materials, beautiful framing, and making my art accessible to those who don’t normally collect or buy contemporary art.
I feel like affordable art has become a hot topic, yet the market doesn’t seem to be shifting. Of course, I don’t totally blame artists – materials, studio space, shipping, studio employees are all expensive costs. Do you think more artists will get on board in the future?
I’m not an expert on what the industry is going to do and I don’t think the industry itself knows what’s going to happen. The art world is a very historic, proud and wonderful place. That’s what makes it so appealing – it’s full of radical artworks, personalities and cloaked in mystery. It’ll grow, not change, to incorporate businesses like mine which are trying to make art more accessible for millions of new people.
It seems like anonymity places a large role in your identity as an artist, and your business. How do most people find you and your work?
At the moment through press, word of mouth, and social media. Anonymity came naturally as I consider myself a private person. I didn’t realize how much of a talking point it would become but when you think about it, it kind of goes against what you see a lot now on platforms. I don’t think it should be about me, it should be about the art, what I’m doing every day and what I’m trying to show.
Andy Blank, “Space Underground.”
This might not have been your original intention, but I love that even the spray-painted “Fragile” on the painting boxes fits in with your brand. If I had more space in my apartment, I would have kept one of the boxes! Was that something you consciously thought of ahead of time?
Great question because no, it wasn’t. I did want the packaging to be unique in a way, hence the 100% recyclable aspect and including hanging equipment/instructions. The FRAGILE was sprayed on the box so FedEx wouldn’t miss it. Shipping can destroy pieces, unfortunately. I’ve always believed that shipping and art don’t mix well so I will continue to add the word FRAGILE on all works. I still amaze myself as I think I’ve sprayed FRAGILE thousands of time and still misspell it sometimes…
Andy Blank, “Hoops.”
Are you currently represented by a gallery? I feel like at one point in time, artists were dependent on gallery representation in order to gain exposure and to be able to show their works. And to follow-up on that, have you done any shows here in New York or elsewhere?
No, no gallery. I don’t consider myself an independent artist. Andy Blank is more of a business. I agree that the gallery landscape is changing but I don’t think that galleries are going anywhere. You also never know; our definition of a gallery may change in the future as new players enter the game. I haven’t had any shows but I do plan on opening some brick and mortar locations in 2020 with a unique twist to show my work as opposed to a typical whitewall gallery
Can you share a little bit more about your team? Are a lot of the ideas and pieces that come to fruition a group collaboration?
My team is wonderful! They all have different backgrounds – it’s not all artists working at Andy Blank. They are all great with their hands, have a creative flair, and bring a fantastic vibe to the studio. I come up with most of the ideas but I always consult with my team beforehand so we can all bounce ideas off of each other.
What is coming down the pipeline for you?
A couple of things for next year. I’m working on finalizing international shipping and, as I mentioned, brick and mortar for 2020.
You can learn more about Andy Blank on his website, or his Instagram.
What's Your Reaction?
Writer, Cultbytes PR specialist. Alexandra Israel graduated from Bates College in 2010. A museum aficionado since her introduction to Jean Dominque Ingres' portraits as a small child, she enjoys spending her free time at museums and finding off-the-beaten-track gallery shows. Israel has been working in PR for over seven years, primarily within book publishing and in the art world. She has held positions at Penguin Book Group, Aperture Foundation, and Third Eye among others. l igram l