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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Artists and gallery owners have their fingers crossed at New York's Affordable Art Fair this week, waiting to see how the economic downturn affects sales of their work even as demand in the high-end market crumbles.
Taking place for the eighth year, the fair aims to lure new art buyers and longtime patrons with prices ranging from $75 to $10,000. Most of the work is priced at $5,000 or under.
Despite the "affordable" tag, attracting buyers is still a daunting task when consumers are shying away from anything expensive or unnecessary in the economic slump.
About 64 galleries are participating in this year's affordable art fair, down from 70 last year. The fair opened in Manhattan on Thursday and ends on Sunday.
Jenny Hirst, an artist from Manchester, England, who exhibited her work at the namesake fair in London and was attending the New York show, said the demand for affordable art "is struggling a bit."
"They (consumers) say it is nice, but walk away instead of pulling out their checkbooks," said Hirst, referring to art buyers.
The economic downturn has ravaged the high-end art market. Sotheby's posted a 71 percent drop in auction sales in the past quarter, while some experts say demand is rare, or in the best case, sparse for expensive art.
"I don't think it's that people are saying, 'I can't spend a million dollars so I'll go out and spend $500,000,'" said Constance Kamens, a private art dealer and appraiser.
"Some of them are not buying at all but when they are buying, they are buying carefully."
Popular belief is that the right piece of art can transform a space, making it an attractive alternative to buying a new home or redecorating in a recession marked by mounting job losses and tight access to credit.
Artists at the affordable art fair were banking on that very possibility.
"It is not like investing in shares," said Izabella Kay, a Polish-born artist based in London, who is showing her work at the fair.
"They won't gain much money, but it enhances their space," Kay said.
Kay sold a $10,000 oil and acrylic art installation called "Random Realities," consisting of 42 bold and colorful paintings. She aims to sell a few more by the end of the show.
Some potential art buyers attending the fair said they would not consider purchasing a work if they did not feel financially secure.
"I would not tempt myself with something that would tug at my heart strings," said Michele Promaulayko, editor in chief of Women's Health magazine, who was at the fair. She was unsure if she would buy anything.
He-Jung Yum, owner of the Newgate East gallery in Seoul, was exhibiting works of Korean artists under the age of 40 and at the lower end of the $10,000 limit.
Although she sold some artwork at the preview show, she remained a bit skeptical about the overall results.
"I'll have to wait until the last day to know," she said.
Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman; Editing by Peter Cooney