Brian P. Kelly
Starting your art collecting journey can be a daunting process. Some physical galleries can feel stuffy, elite, and unwelcoming. Pricing may not be obvious. Works may appear to be for sale, when in fact they have already been reserved for VIP customers. In the discussions, the vocabulary – vernissage, BOGO, intervention, work – can give the impression of listening to another language.
But starting a collection, even if it’s a big step, doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal. Artsy contacted several gallery owners and asked them to share their top tips for novice collectors. And while following their advice may mean it takes longer to acquire a work of art than if you just walked in and picked something off a gallery wall, it will ensure you are confident at the time 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 be interested in collecting. “Visit as many museums, art fairs and galleries as you can,” said Christine Pfister, owner and director of Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. “Browse the rooms online. Figure out what subjects, mediums and art styles resonate with you so you can start collecting.
Elena Platonova, associate director of The Hole, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, also said social media is a good way to explore art. She added that traveling presents particularly good opportunities for discovery, as you have the ability to explore galleries and museums outside of the region in which you live.
Valerie Carberry, partner at the Richard Gray Gallery, which has offices 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 you – and give you the confidence to understand what you see online when you are offered a new piece of work.”
A big part of art is not just discerning your likes and dislikes, but also helping you recognize where a particular artist’s work fits in the landscape of art. contemporary art: who and where it borrows from art history. ; who are the other practicing artists struggling with similar ideas; and what distinguishes a particular artist from others in his sphere.
Rachel Uffner, whose eponymous New York gallery represents artists like Hilary Pecis, Curtis Talwst Santiago and Leonhard Hurzlmeier, explained that looking at art helps develop “your awareness of the important concerns of working artists, as well as who is influential in the field and who or what other artists watch. Once you’ve established a solid foundation, she says, it becomes “easier to see who’s doing the work that gets things done, adding something beautiful or shiny to what’s already there.”
That said, training your eye and learning your likes and dislikes isn’t an overnight process, but you shouldn’t get frustrated diving into the world of art. “It takes time to find out what artists or types of work ignite your curiosity,” Carberry said.
Do your research
Once you’ve spent some time learning about the art (trawling galleries, traveling museums, browsing sites like Artsy) and are confident in your tastes, you’ll probably have an idea of a style. of work, or even the work of a specific artist, that you would like to acquire. But before you pull out your credit card, it’s important to delve deeper into the specific area in which you plan to collect.
Pfister said that after looking at art, the second most important thing for new collectors “is to be able to conduct research effectively.” Key to this are the connections you can make with insiders in the art world. “Building relationships with curators and galleries will give you access to important information about new artists and trends,” she explained. Carberry added that attending artist conferences and public programs is also a great way to research a specific creator or movement before collecting.
Charlie James, whose Los Angeles gallery has a list that includes John Ahearn, Jay Lynn Gomez, William Powhida, Lee Quiñones and Lucia Hierro, offered several direct areas to consider when researching. “Assess the data points related to the artist’s career,” he suggested. “Is there evidence of quality critical dialogue around the work? Does the career trajectory seem like the artist can productively cross institutions, museums, at some point, etc. ? »
Don’t chase trends
If you’ve developed your eye and done your research, you’ll feel comfortable with many of the ins and outs of the art world: which movements are on the rise, which artists are generating buzz. But in an arena that produces art stars seemingly overnight and where auction records are frequently set, then broken, then broken again by young talent, it’s important to keep your feet on the ground when are considering buying a work.
Kavi Gupta, who has spaces in Chicago and New Buffalo, Michigan, stressed the importance of making fundraising decisions on your own, and that your focus should remain on the job and not the hype that drives it. surrounded. “Don’t let anyone talk you into buying something you don’t have a personal connection to,” he said.
Sean Kelly, whose New York gallery will open an outpost in Los Angeles next month, went even further in 2018 by launching an initiative called Collect Wisely which aims, in his words, “to refocus the conversation around the art by exploring how and why collectors collect and what it means to build a museum-quality collection.
As part of the program – which includes print and digital platforms, social media outreach, artist-led events and a podcast – Kelly “created a list of epithets to inspire people to think differently. how they collect,” he explained. Key among them, especially for new collectors who might be particularly keen on trying to pick up a work by a hot artist: “Value the art, not its value”; “Collect with your eyes, not with your ears”; and “Seek permanence. Avoid trends.
Find connections to the art you’ll collect
Of all the art in the world, only a small part of its value increases after its first acquisition. Collectors, especially new collectors, should therefore avoid approaches that promise lavish returns down the road. They should, however, be hyper-focused on collecting work that is meaningful to them. As Kelly said, “Art enriches, investment pays off.”
Gupta pushes this idea with all the new collectors he deals with. “The most important thing I learned,” he said, “is that, especially when you’re just starting out, choosing which art to collect should be personal.”
Any work you acquire “must have a personal connection to your being that feels enduring,” he explained. There can be a myriad of reasons behind this connection: “Perhaps this connection comes because the work and the artists inspire you, or because it reminds you of moments in your life or upbringing… Maybe -be it makes you contemplate your reality or challenges your perception,” he said. suggested. What is essential is that the connection exists. When you buy a work of art, “it’s an investment in your everyday life. It pays dividends every time it gets you thinking,” Gupta said.
This means not quickly acquiring a work just because you liked it, but ensuring that the experience stays with you long after you encounter it. James explained that collectors should take “time to make sure the work stays with them, gets in their heads and stays there”.
And connecting with works of art can also take other forms. Storm Ascher, founder and director of Overlay, a nomadic space that hosts projects in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere, suggested that “if you’re considering adding an artist’s work to your collection, listen to what that artist also does with social impact and how they inspire change. From this point on, she said, “You can start by supporting the causes and the communities that the artists are involved in before you collect their work, and that will be more fulfilling once you finally have a piece on your wall and look at it every day knowing you have somehow contributed to art history.
Dive responsibly and remember to have fun
“The research, the deliberation, the price comparison can be endless,” Platonova said. And while these areas can add to some of the stressors for first-time buyers, she also thinks new collectors shouldn’t overthink it, and that it’s very important to start your collecting story: “Go ahead and take the leap. moving could be truly transformative as it will empower you as a collector and maybe even set you on a journey of a lifetime!
Even so, that doesn’t mean you should be reckless about things. Even with the greatest planning, she suggested that new collectors walk before they run. “Make your first purchase within a comfortable budget,” she recommended. “Starting small will ensure you catch the art bug without burning out.”
James also thinks it’s important to be aware of your budget when starting out. “A key question,” he pointed out, “is whether the job is in a manageable zone in terms of money,” but also noted that if something is slightly overpriced it is sometimes possible to speak respectfully and transparently with the dealership and see if there is a way to bridge the gap between budget and cost.
Even so, James confessed that the excitement of collecting is a joy in itself. More impulse purchases, what he called “the ‘I love it, it’s affordable, I’ll buy it!’ thing” – he admitted that they are “very fun, happen to everyone, and [are] in general (as long as the work is not too expensive) quite fine.
Carberry also believes new collectors shouldn’t be shy about whether or not they’ve done everything right before acquiring a piece. “When you’re just starting out, it’s best not to be burdened with rigid strategies or overthinking,” she said. After all, she reminded us, “the process should be fun!
Brian P. Kelly
Brian P. Kelly is Artsy’s Art Market Editor.