Brian P. Kelly
Beginning your art collecting journey can be an intimidating process. Some brick and mortar galleries can feel stuffy, elitist, and unwelcoming. Prices may not be readily apparent. Works may appear to be for sale when in fact they have already been reserved for VIP customers. In discussions, the vocabulary – vernissage, BOGO, intervention, oeuvre – can feel like listening to another language.
But starting a collection, while a big step, doesn’t have to be a terrifying ordeal. Artsy reached out to several gallery owners and asked them to share their top picks for novice collectors. And while following her advice might mean acquiring a piece of art takes longer than simply going in and picking something up off a gallery wall, it will ensure you feel confident when the time comes to get it to buy.
See as much art as possible
Almost every gallery owner we spoke to emphasized the importance of looking at art, and not just art that you might want to collect. “Visit as many museums, art fairs, and galleries as you can,” said Christine Pfister, owner and director of the Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. “Browse pieces online. Determine what themes, mediums and art styles appeal to you so you can start collecting.”
Elena Platonova, associate director of The Hole, with locations in Los Angeles and New York, also pointed to social media as a good way to discover art. She added that travel is a particularly good opportunity for discovery, as it gives you the chance to explore galleries and museums outside of where you live.
Valerie Carberry, a partner at Richard Gray Gallery with locations in Chicago and New York, also stressed the importance of seeing art, especially in the real world. “As much as you can do in person, the more it will inform and inspire – and give you the confidence to understand what you see online when a new work is offered to you.”
A big part of looking at art isn’t just seeing what you like and don’t like, but also helping you see where a particular artist’s work sits in the contemporary art landscape: who and where they’re borrowing from make from art history; who are the other practicing artists exploring similar ideas; and what sets a particular artist apart from others in their field.
Rachel Uffner, whose eponymous New York gallery represents artists such as Hilary Pecis, Curtis Talwst Santiago and Leonhard Hurzlmeier, explained that looking at art helps to develop “your awareness of what the main concerns of working artists are and who influences them has field and who or what other artists are looking at.” Once you have a solid foundation, she says, it becomes “easier to see who is doing the work that takes things a step further and adds something beautiful or brilliant to what what already exists.”
Training your eye and learning what you like and don’t like isn’t an overnight process, but you shouldn’t feel frustrated as you delve into the art world. “It takes time to figure out what artists or types of work pique your curiosity,” Carberry said.
After you’ve spent some time getting acquainted with art — browsing galleries, wandering museums, browsing sites like Artsy — and being sure of your tastes, you probably have an idea of a style of work, or even the work of a particular one artist. you wish to purchase. But before you whip out your credit card, it’s important to delve deeper into the specific area you’re trying to raise money from.
Pfister said that after viewing the art, the second most important thing to new collectors is “being able to research effectively.” Key to this are the connections you can forge with art world insiders. “By building relationships with curators and galleries, you gain access to important information about emerging artists and trends,” she explained. Carberry added that attending artist talks and public programs is also a great way to research a specific creator or movement before collecting.
Charlie James, whose Los Angeles gallery includes John Ahearn, Jay Lynn Gomez, William Powhida, Lee Quiñones and Lucia Hierro, offered several direct areas to explore in research. “Evaluate data points related to the artist’s career,” he suggested. “Are there any indications of a quality-critical dialogue about work? Does the career path look like the artist could at some point productively intersect with institutions, museums, etc.?
Don’t follow trends
Once you’ve developed and researched your eye, you’ll become comfortable with many of the ins and outs of the art world: which movements are on the rise, which artists are making waves. But in an arena that seems to create art stars overnight, and auction records are frequently set, then broken — and then broken again — it’s important to keep your feet on the ground when contemplating buying a work.
Kavi Gupta, who has offices in Chicago and New Buffalo, Michigan, emphasized the importance of making collection decisions for yourself and focusing on the work, not the hype about it. “Don’t let anyone talk you into buying something that you have no personal connection with,” he said.
Sean Kelly, whose New York gallery will open a Los Angeles outpost next month, went even further in 2018 by launching an initiative called Collect Wisely, which he says aims to “refocus the conversation about art, by examining how and why collectors collect and what it means to build a museum-quality collection.”
As part of that program – which includes print and digital platforms, social media outreach, artist-led events and a podcast – Kelly has “created a list of epithets to inspire people to think differently about how they collect.” , he explained. The most important of these, especially for new collectors who are particularly eager to snag a work by a much-touted artist: “Value art, not its value”; “Gather with your eyes, not your ears”; and “Search for permanence. Avoid trends.”
Find connections to the art you will collect
Of all the art in the world, only a small proportion of it increases in value after the first purchase – therefore collectors, especially first-time collectors, should avoid approaches that promise lavish returns later. However, they should focus heavily on collecting work that is meaningful to them. As Kelly said, “Art enriches, invests returns.”
Gupta emphasizes this idea to all new collectors he deals with. “The most important thing I learned,” he said, “is that the choice of what art to collect, especially when you’re just starting out, should be personal.”
Any work you acquire “should have a personal connection to your being that feels enduring,” he explained. The reasons for this connection can be myriad: “Maybe this connection comes about because the work and the artists inspire you, or because they remind you of moments in your life or upbringing… Maybe it makes you think about your reality, or yours Challenging perception,” he recommended. What matters is that the connection exists. When you buy a work of art, “it is an investment in your everyday life. It pays off every time it makes you think,” Gupta said.
That means not rushing to acquire a work just because you liked it, but making sure the experience stays with you long after the encounter. James explained that collectors “should take the time to make sure the work stays with them, that it gets into their heads and stays there”.
And making connections with artworks can take other forms as well. Storm Ascher, founder and director of Superposition, a nomadic space that hosts projects in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere, suggested, “If you’re thinking of adding an artist’s work to your collection, listen to what they do.” Artists also make social impacts and how they inspire change.” From that point, she said, “You can start supporting causes and communities that artists invest in before you collect their work, and it becomes more fulfilling when you finally do have a piece on your wall and look at it knowingly every day. In a way they have contributed to the history of art.”
Dive in – responsibly – and remember to enjoy yourself
“Research, advice, price comparisons can be endless,” Platonova said. And while these areas might contribute to some of the stressors for first-time buyers, she also believes that new collectors shouldn’t overthink things and that the most important thing is to start your collecting story: “Just go ahead and take the plunge.” … This move could be truly transformative as it will empower you as a collector and maybe even embark on a lifetime journey!”
Still, that doesn’t mean you should rush into it. Even with the greatest planning, she suggested that new collectors walk before they run. “Make your first purchase on a comfortable budget,” she recommended. “If you start small, make sure you get the art flaw without getting burned.”
James agrees that it’s important to be aware of your budget to start with. “A key question,” he emphasized, “is whether the work is within a manageable range financially,” but also noted that it’s sometimes possible to speak respectfully and transparently with the dealer if something is too expensive there is one Ability to bridge the gap between budget and cost.
Still, James confessed that the excitement of collecting is a joy in and of itself. From more impulsive purchases – what he called “the ‘I love it, it’s affordable, I’ll buy it!'”. Thing” — he admitted they’re “a lot of fun, happen to everyone and [are] generally (as long as the work is not too expensive) totally fine.”
Carberry also believes that new collectors shouldn’t hold themselves back by worrying about whether they’ve done everything they need to do before acquiring a piece. “When you’re just starting out, it’s best not to let rigid strategies or overthinking weigh you down,” she said. Finally, she reminded us, “The process should be a pleasure!”
Brian P. Kelly
Brian P. Kelly is the Art Market Editor at Artsy.