A guide to collecting art

Get in the know on how to start your art collection with this sage advice.

The art world can appear foreign and daunting to the uninitiated. The fact of the matter is that the world is populated by an extraordinary number of artists and creative types all desperate to have the manifestations of their expressions appreciated. Showing some dignified respect to your fellow human by way of investing in their creative endeavours can be a truly rewarding pastime, and one that can pay off handsomely in the future.

From the hunt for a new piece to the thrill of discovering a little known artist, once you’ve dipped your toes in, it’s highly likely that you’ll keep coming back for more. Here are some tips to get your collection started:

Rationalising the cost-per-squarecentimetre of a piece is a hideous way to begin a collection, but experiencing ripples of excitement at the first glimpse of an artwork is definitely a good sign. Do watercolours of pansies make you weep? Then bust out the cheque book. Does silly street slang spelt out in bright bold neon make you turn away in horror? Skip and move on.

Art’s primary purpose is to enrich your life, and if you’re lucky it may one day prove to be a solid investment. Some of the world’s most outstanding collections were founded on a single purchase of $1,000 or less, proof that while greater quantities of money might be required further down the track, you don’t need riches to kickstart a collection.

Honing taste and aesthetic takes time. The art world practically chokes itself on contradictory opinions: who’s hot and who’s not, what to buy more of, who to ignore and what to hold on to. It’s testament to the mystery of taste and of course, art as a value-driven industry. Starting an art collection involves viewing lots of it, both highbrow and lowbrow, until you begin to recognise work that you’d love to own.

Spend weekends visiting the very best public art galleries available to you, before branching out towards art fairs, established galleries, friends’ galleries, and heavy stock art books. Like something? Ask the important person in the room about it, whether that may be the dealer, curator or the artist himself, and never pretend to know more than you do. You’re better off expressing honest ignorance than coming across as a fake.

Set a reasonable budget to keep you sane – even proud owners of healthy eight digit bank accounts have these. Look to purchase small works by both established and lesser-known names, keeping in mind what draws you in. For those who prefer a helping hand to begin with, start with reputable galleries that appear trustworthy: slip on your very best pair of shoes, adopt an open mind, and introduce yourself to the dealer. If you like a particular artist’s work, ask if they hold more of it (many do).

Alternatively, you could land a steal or two by seeking out early-career artists before the galleries catch on and encourage prices to rise dramatically. Making an effort to visit art fairs is also worth your while, where there is a lot to see, and you’re able to view work from an outrageous number of galleries all in one day. Mark out notable events worth travelling for, such as the Sydney Contemporary, Australia’s newest and most intriguing exhibition of contemporary art. Or head further afield to visit the Miami Art Fair and its various satellite shows such as NADA, for a hotbed of new and under-exposed art.

If a particular gallery is showing work that appeals, take note of their permanent address and schedule a visit. You may chance upon more work that’s up your alley, or better yet, forge a solid relationship with a dealer who recognises that you’re truly interested in what he or she represents.

Image credit: The New York Times


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