9 Tips to Master the Art of Collecting

9 Tips to Master the Art of Collecting

By: Ana Bambić Kostov

Art collectors are a peculiar bunch. Often perceived as elegant, wealthy people, with substantial connoisseurship of the art they collect, they appear to have a certain status in society. Whispers and hidden gazes follow them around the openings, while their collections are veiled in secrecy until they decide to lift this cloak. In truth, art collectors have everything in common with collectors of any other kind. What makes them stand out is their love and dedication to art, often a defining factor to their public personas.

An unpretentious art lover might feel fairly intimidated when names of Francois Pinault or Ileana Sonnabend are thrown around. But, the truth is somewhat different. Both Pinault and Sonnabend had to start from somewhere. Surely, advantages these renowned art collectors had at the beginning existed, but who’s to say that a contemporary collector doesn’t have something else. We live in the digital era, a time when everything and everyone is one click away, in an endless sea of information with the easiest, most direct ways to connect in our hands. Times have changed and so did the path of an art collector.

Here are the ten tips on how to enter this world without making too many beginner mistakes.

Educate Yourself

Education is the most important, unavoidable step if you are to embark on the collecting journey. Learn about art as much as you can, focusing on your special area of interest. Go to museums and exhibitions, visit private venues and foundations to get inspired and to better understand how the great minds of the past had done it. Places like the Frick Collection in New York, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, The Phillips Collection in Washington DC, Foundation Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Fondazione Prada in Milan, or me Collectors Room in Berlin are all museums that have grown out of private collections. Ask yourself – what do they have in common? What defines their collections?

Further the educational adventure by attending curated tours and lectures. Become a regular at art fairs in your area and go to every relevant art event available. Many major cities across the world organize gallery weekends and open studio days, occasions to uncover contemporary gems.

Throughout this experience, you will learn a lot about the current market, about the price levels, artistic expressions of the moment, techniques and general opinions. Season the educational trip with reading. Major art history books and some of the latest theories on art provide an additional insight into the art world, while art critics from newspapers and magazines might give a hint on what is worth the attention. Always stay informed – there is no such thing as an over-informed art buyer!

It’s All About Connections

Same as in any other business, it’s all about who you know! Connect with as many art professionals as you can. Talk to gallerists and artists, even befriend some if possible. This way, you will always get the scoop when it comes to your area of interest. If you can, connect with other art collectors, both experienced and new and share knowledge. This might feel like the most intimidating task, but in reality – art professionals love to converse about their work. Remember – they are art lovers too.

Set a Budget and Stick to It

When you are feeling comfortable with your focus, taste, and knowledge, it will be time to actually make a purchase. For this, you will need to set a clear budget. There is no point in overspending in the beginning, it’s much better to be smart about buying.

For beginners, paintings might be a tad pricey. Therefore, it’s not a bad thing to start with buying prints or photography, affordable works on paper or even collage. Depending on the scale and format of the work, a masterpiece can come at a very good price! Buying smaller and cheaper artworks will allow a novice collector to experiment, which is an important part of their collecting evolution.

Still, don’t be too close-fisted! Gallerists and artists know which work is worth more in terms of artistic value and it might be a good idea to spend on that. In time, better pieces will only gain value, while the cheapest ones will probably remain where they are – at the bottom of the ladder.

Remember – a meaningful collection will have small and big artworks executed in different media and it will remain coherent in concept and span.

Find Out Where to Buy Good Art?

Depending on your area of residence, places to buy art may vary. Go to different galleries, talk to art dealers and visit as many studios as you can. Studio purchases might not always be an option, but when they are – take advantage. Go to art fairs, both the high-end and the entry-level ones and seek young, exciting and affordable art.

Auctions might be a good place to learn more about the auction market, but they might be a better suitable playfield for an experienced buyer. Don’t shy away from the top art venues, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. And definitely steer clear of shady venues, such as cruise ships and friend’s friends with no viable expertise.

Browse the Internet Freely

 Online art buying is certainly a contemporary trend. With big platforms, auctions and galleries making their offer present on the web, it’s easiest than ever to make first contact with the art you might be interested in. Still, before the first purchase, it’s best to see the piece live.

Still, Internet is a great research tool, while Instagram has proven itself as one of the most dynamic media when it comes to posting and buying contemporary art. Therefore, follow the artists and galleries you like, keep an eye on collectors from your pool (they love to share their new acquisitions), and keep your digital agenda full!

Find the right art advisor

 The best way to buy art is to find an adept gallerist to help you curate your collection. Art advisories are many and they come in different forms, while their fees might not be all too high. It can be worth it having a professional to help out seek and evaluate new art. This way, you will establish trust and feel more comfortable directing your money towards art. Make your wishes known, but you will learn a lot from communication with an experienced professional.

Document Everything

A neat archive of an art collection is almost as important as the art selection. Proper documentation will one day make all the difference – it can make the appraisal much easier and contribute to the overall value of the collection.

Make a file for each artwork and fill them with all the related documents. Write down details of purchases including anecdotes, describe the seller and add biographical data and any catalogs of the artist you can find. Any stories from the artist on how a particular piece was made are also welcome, along with all the dates, exhibition history or features. Even if these stories don’t make it into a book (and often they could), they will add to the character of the entire art collection.

Mind the Authenticity

Certificate of Authenticity is the crucial document you must insist on every time you purchase a piece. Usually, they are provided by the dealer, but at times, an artist can make a signed statement as a confirmation that a particular piece was made by them. Without this certificate, it is hard to prove the authenticity of an artwork, even if the artist is still alive. Further, save all the receipts and relevant written and printed materials you get. If you can make photographs of the purchase with people present – do it. Keep all catalogs, brochures and reviews about an artwork on file, along with printed web pages (they might disappear), and description of the condition.

Organization Will Make Your Life Easier

One of the biggest problems art collectors encounter is storage. As your collection grows, you might run out of wall space. Therefore, it’s good to think ahead and designate a space in or outside of your home where you can store art. There are institutions that offer art storage services, but they are often very expensive. A space that is safe, dry and equipped with suitable shelves will be good enough to start with.

Regarding the organization of art in your home, allow yourself to play with it. Don’t just hang it up – curate an exhibition! And make changes on your walls once in a while – you will want to do this as your collection expands.

Think about the Future

Assuming that your art collection is something that you never intend to part with, it is still a material legacy you will one day leave behind. In this regard, it’s important to think about the future. Planning and documentation will help you keep track of your art and prepare your heirs on how to behave once they come into possession of your pride and joy. Define your wishes in a separate document, but don’t forget to document and catalogue everything.

Finally, an art collection should be built to last as a fruit of sheer love, a testimony of commitment and a memento of an accomplished life.

More information on: Open Walls Gallery

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