Home as Work of Art: Collecting Art

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In Ernest Hemingway’s The Moveable Feast Gertrude Stein is famously quoted to say “You can either buy clothes or buy pictures. It’s that simple. No one who is not very rich can do both.” Ms. Stein suggested buying art of emerging artists and contemporaries in the city you live in. For Gertrude Stein, in the 1920’s, it was Paris. We are one lucky generation because art is everywhere today and simply going online can connect you with artists all over the world without hopping on a plane or even leaving your condo. You don’t even need to break the bank! A simple advice for those starting out collectors is to be knowledgeable about the credibility and authenticity of your vendors and not be constrained by a singular art medium. Where painting or sculpture can be rather expensive, valuable illustrations, limited edition prints and photography can be a good starting ground. Prints and photography are especially good options for getting your feet wet since being printed in multiples makes them more affordable and gives you sizing options to fit your decorating needs.

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Tips on Getting Started:

♦Where to hunt?

I have touched on the topic of virtual vendors in Art Collecting Online but buying opportunities by no means limit themselves to the web. I am a big proponent of flee markets, locally and abroad, as well as estate sales, charity events and art fairs. You can usually google the latter easily and keep the exhibition dates in mind. Even if specific work’s price range is unaccessible at the moment, an art fair is a great opportunity to learn about current art directions and encounter local talent. In other words, do your homework and you’ll be rewarded.

♦Price to pay?

No price is set in stone or at least it never hurts to do extensive research before  agreeing to pay what dealer is quoting. Don’t just accept the price because you are afraid to miss out on the artwork. Before you pull out your wallet, check a free database like Blouin Art Sales Index to see what similar works are selling for in the market. If you fall in love with an artwork you can’t afford to pay in full today, ask the gallery owner or artist if they would consider a payment plan. The worst that can happen is they would refuse and offer to put you on the mailing list for future exhibitions.

♦Print or Original?

Depends. Like I mentioned earlier, anything that is printed in multiples can be a good opportunity to start collecting on a budget. The trick is to make it count from the investment perspective. I would refrain from buying posters no matter the greatness on an artist. Be it Picasso, Warhol or Monet, a poster is akin to printing the work yourself on a large format printer at Kinko’s – it might look good but values at nothing. The only exception would be original vintage posters with signature. When buying prints, do so from a small edition and make sure it’s signed with a certificate of authenticity. Same process goes for photography. Originals are, of course, the way to go if you find something you love and can afford it.

♦Trends 

It is hard to become an insider on art trends when you are just starting out. It is even harder to predict which artist is going to hit it big for an extensive period of time or burn out as a novice curiosity. When you begin collecting try not to chase the trends or fret about what would make a growing investment. Buying in hopes of future resale would add unnecessary angst when you should be feeling inspired, engaged and adventurous. Understanding will come with time, practice and research so focus on having fun and buy to keep. Estates were not build in a day but with patience and passion.

♦Inspiration & Research 

Learning about art is a good way to start feeling inspired and identify which movements influence the art scene today. There are plenty of art history books out there as well as art magazines that review emerging talent. Magazines like The New Yorker have overviews on culture that are highly educational and cover current exhibitions. Even if you do not live in the Big Apple, learning names of the art influencers and looking at their biographies and work online is a great resource to expand your education. There are also fantastic websites that help you locate emerging artists such as Artnet, Saatchi Art and UGallery. And most importantly see more art! Visit museums to view work by established artists, attend gallery openings to see the local artists’ work and talk to the gallery staff, attend art fairs to learn current trends. If you have a university with strong art program, visit the campus and students during their open studios. Don’t be afraid to inquire about their art process. Artists feel flattered when you take interest in their work especially if you come prepared and ask educated questions. The more art you see, the more you will learn about what you like and become confident in starting your collection.

Do you have a personal story or advice on how to begin a collection? Please share your favorite emerging artists and any relevant tips in the comments section!