The hottest find at the 2023 edition of Frieze New York? It may have been a dinner plate.
Crowds lined up along a snaking path of stanchions leading to the New York’s Coalition for the Homeless booth, which offered a series of plates featuring the work of one of 42 famous contemporary artists to benefit the nonprofit organization. By the end of the second day, it had sold out of its inventory by Yoshitomo Nara, Rashid Johnson, Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and Louise Bourgeois.
The fair’s VIP preview “was a frenzy,” Michelle Hellman, the founder and curator of the Artist Plate Project, as well as a longtime Coalition for the Homeless board member, told Artnet News.
The plates, priced at $250 apiece, come in additions of 250, but only 75 of each were available at Frieze.
“The remaining stock will launch online on Monday so we can make it accessible to everyone,” Hellman said. “We know not everyone can go to an art fair in New York.”
The Frieze drop is actually the third round of the Artist Plate Project, which Hellman conceived in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Food insecurity and homelessness was surging among New Yorkers, but because of COVID restrictions, staging the coalition’s traditional in-person Art Walk benefit was out of the question.
“I was feeling terrible for the homeless community, and I came up with this kooky idea in the middle of the night. And this concept has really been wildly successful,” Hellman said, noting that the first two plate releases have raised nearly $5 million—far more than the gala fundraising had ever generated.
Each plate purchased funds 100 meals for hungry New Yorkers. As of January, the city’s shelter system was providing beds for 72,000 people, including close to 23,000 children.
The plates were almost certainly among the lowest-priced objects on offer at the blue-chip fair. “After seeing million-dollar works, these are really affordable—a student could buy one. Or you could buy the full set from all 42 artists.” (Three collectors did just that.)
Several are joining in for the second or third time. Some even created a new piece for the occasion, such as Virgil Abloh, who turned in his contribution—a black plate with the word “life” with cracks running through it—just months before his death.
“The artists are super generous,” Hellman said. “They find it a refreshing way to fund-raise—as opposed to donating a painting that’s going to be flipped at auction in five years.”
The project taps in to a larger trend for artist-themed home goods, decor, clothing, and other merchandise in the art world.
“Galleries are really going hard on the retail component of things,” Hellman said. “But no one else is doing it for philanthropic reasons.”