Galleries can come across as elitist and reserved only for buyers with unlimited funds. “I would always advise, like, just ignore all of that,” says Nicola Charles, who runs 11:Eleven in Washington, D.C., a gallery of contemporary art that spans a wide price range. “If you like the vibe, then that’s where you should be. If you don’t like the vibe, just leave.”
Still, Charles can relate. Even as a gallerist, she says she’s gotten the side-eye from art dealers who assume she can’t afford what’s on the wall, and she knows the lack of price transparency in some venues can feel like a barrier. She lists all the prices next to the pieces in her space, where works currently range from $80 to $11,000. Charles recommends being upfront with gallerists about your budget, because once you strip back the pomp, what’s occurring is simply a financial transaction. She shares another pro tip, too: “Something that isn’t often publicized is don’t be afraid to ask for a payment plan.”
Commercial galleries aren’t the only option, either. Nonprofit, artist-run, and artist-centered galleries actively try to recruit newcomers into the art world, thus they’re often more welcoming. “We seek to really support underserved emerging artists,” says Victoria Reis, director of the nonprofit Transformer gallery in D.C. “The majority of artists that we work with … are BIPOC artists, queer artists, women artists.”
Transformer provides multiple ways to buy modestly priced work, such as their FlatFile program, which features original works and limited edition prints all priced at $500 or less. Many galleries also sell small, unframed works on paper at affordable prices.