How and where to start collecting art

If you are wondering how to start collecting art, then the best place to start your journey is where you can’t buy any. I refer to major public art galleries that have large permanent collections covering many periods and styles. Of course many of the artists whose works you will see there are either very difficult or expensive to obtain, but that isn’t the point. Looking at the best examples will develop your ‘eye’ and help you to learn what what kind of art consistently speaks to you.

Once you have a sense of what you like, you will then need to familiarise yourself with the market in more depth. Consider that there are other buyers who have been around for much longer and you may well end up competing with them for pieces you want. Buying from reputable sources is very important and relationships in the art world matter. If you don’t have the time to do homework and you just want to dive in, then I would suggest that you limit what you spend to begin with as you will probably find the first pieces you acquire don’t always age well in your collection.

Speaking of reputable sources, here are the main ones to be familar with:-

Commercial Art Galleries

If your interest is in collecting quality contemporary art, you will need to visit the major commercial galleries which are nearly always clustered together in capital cities.

These galleries represent a stable of artists and they are run with the utmost professionalism. Most of their artists will have a solo show with them every 1-2 years. The most in-demand artists tend to sell out quickly and there may be a waiting list for their work.

Fortunately you can preview shows on gallery websites and look at past shows to identify artists that you might want to collect. Make sure to read the artists CVs and see where they trained and where their work is represented. One good way to get to know these galleries is to attend their summer shows or group shows, where they exhibit a range of work and often the pricing is more accessible than the solo shows.

You will be an unknown quantity when you first start looking and some galleries can be intimidating in feel. Hence the benefit of doing some online research first. Talk to the staff about your interests and signal your intention to buy. The gallery staff should be more than willing to spend time with you to discuss the art they are showing and the artist behind it.

Moving up the waiting list, if there is one, will probably only happen if and when you start to buy. If you really want a work by an in-demand artist you will have to be very persistent, or you may have to use the services of an art consultant who has a pre-existing relationship with the gallery.

Art Fairs

Good Art Fairs are great social occasions and offer much to see and enjoy. Usually there are previews and events which preference seasoned buyers over the general public. If you are attending with a view to buying, just be aware that the very nature of the fair will make it a more public and possibly a more stressful process. Check the programme and visit the booths that interest you first before looking about more generally. Don’t jettison your collecting principles for novelty or feel pressure to buy because everyone else is.

Artist Run Spaces

You’ll generally find these kind of facilities in the inner-city but they sometimes also pop up in regional towns where artists congregate. If you like the idea of ‘discovering’ an artist, or supporting an artist at the start of their career, then this is where you might find some interesting and affordable pieces. Due to the vagaries of the art market, there is no guarantee that your ‘discovery’ will go on to have a lucrative selling career.

Auction Houses

If you want to collect art of the past, or artists that are in their mid to late career, then auctions might be your only source. I worked for a Fine Art Auction house for over 20 years and I can assure you buying at auction might be a little nerve-wracking but it is much easier than it might appear. Staff are generally very accessible, and the catalogues offer a wealth of information. Do check their buyer’s premium, what warranties they give and what their cataloguing terms mean.

The auction system is quite egalitarian as everyone has an equal opportunity to view and buy. As you control what you bid to (subject to the reserve price), the onus is on you to gather your information and make your own valuation and I think that is where people can get intimidated. I have a forthcoming article on how art is valued so you can understand how auction houses come up with their estimates.

Private brokers

Not every work that is re-sold goes through a public auction or selling exhibition. Offering privately through a broker or dealer is a discrete option that many collectors prefer. Some brokers operate with their own gallery, others through a network of connections. If you are chasing a particular artist or work, you may find it’s just too difficult to acquire it in open competition and working with a reputable broker will make the difference.

A final word

Often art collectors are just advised to buy what they like, but you will certainly like your collection more if it has some real and lasting value. Quality attracts quality – the leading galleries and auction houses are an excellent filtering system although they are not immune to trends.

As an interior designer, I’m also going to encourage you to also give thought to valuing, insuring, displaying and caring for your acquisitions in the best possible light to enjoy them properly. Please get in touch if you would like advice on any of these services,

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