Buying art can be a mystifying process. There are more platforms and venues for art sales now than ever before in addition to more readily available information about artists, materials, and processes thanks to the internet. The inundation of images and data can be overwhelming, even for seasoned collectors. At Tansey Contemporary we believe in transparency and education, which is why we have developed this short introduction to art buying.
Step 1: Look at the Big Picture
It’s important to ask yourself, before investing your time and resources into a project or purchase, one question: why? The answer to this question should be your mission statement, your foundation, your lighthouse.
Before you start collecting art, you should ask yourself why you want to collect in the first place? Do you want to surround yourself with beauty or inspiration? Do you want to be challenged intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually? Do you want to promote a specific cause or agenda? Maybe you want to support female artists or immigrant artists? Maybe you want to focus on a particular medium like glass or ceramics or textiles? Do you want to support living artists? There are no wrong answers and maybe you have several reasons. Whatever your reasons, you should understand what drives you as a collector.
Step 2: See as Much Art as Humanly Possible
The next step is to immerse yourself in as much art and art history as possible. Visit galleries and museums, read reviews, articles, and art publications, follow curators and arts professionals on social media, take a class like MCA Denver’s Art Fitness Training or attend a Logan Lecture at the Denver Art Museum, peruse sites like Artsy which classifies art by historical movement, subject matter, and formal qualities. Plan your vacations to coincide with art fairs in major art city centers like New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, and Venice. Art fairs are an excellent opportunity to see the depth and breadth of art being made from across the globe in a single go. Even if the price points fall outside your budget, you’ll be able to hone your eye and start to identify your tastes.
Take time to really look at the artwork and understand how it’s made and why the artist did what she did. Try to not only identify your likes and dislikes but the reasons behind your like or dislike. Be specific and really try to explain to yourself why something draws or repels you. Maybe you discover you’re attracted to representational figurative works like Gugger Petter’s newspaper and mixed media portraits or maybe you prefer more meditative, subtle, and abstract pieces like Clare Belfrage’s vessels. Maybe you discover you’re drawn to whimsical ceramics like Calvin Ma or Sam Chung. The more you see, the more you’ll be able to refine your personal taste and articulate it to yourself and others.
Step 3: Understand Price and Value
Know your budget limits and your purchase options. Be prepared to spend a bit more especially if you will be shipping a work or need a professional to install a piece for you. If something is beyond your price range, ask if an installment payment plan is an option.
Art pricing can be tricky because it’s based on several factors: materials, time, the artist’s curriculum vitae, and even geography. Materials such as bronze have high costs, especially when scale becomes a factor. With glass works, a special studio and team of assistants are often required to create each piece, which means the costs may be higher. Some artists work on a single piece for months or years. Gino Miles, for example, fabricates his metal sculptures by hand, using 400+ sheets of sandpaper in different grades to smooth the surfaces. Lino Tagliapietra and Udo Nöger, who have international reputations and pieces in major collections worldwide, are seen as preeminent artists and as such command higher price points. Location can also be a factor in pricing. Prices in New York tend to be higher than in Denver as as result of higher rents.
Always buy the best you can afford. Make sure the craftsmanship and content are in line with the artist’s best work. If the price is right but the work is not a good example of that artist’s output, you’re getting a poor value.
You’ll also want to determine your risk threshold. Most art collectors and advisors will advise you against buying art solely for investment or re-sale purposes. While art will often hold its monetary value, you want to make sure you’ll be happy regardless of a work’s future worth. If you pay $3,650 for that piece and have it for 10 years, can you say it brought you $1 worth joy or inspiration per day? If the answer is yes, the work was a wise investment.
When shopping for investment clothing, people often calculate the price per wear. You might take a similar approach with art: the cost of a piece you see multiple times a day over the course of your lifetime drops dramatically when you consider the price per viewing. Art is a long-term investment that lasts your entire lifetime and beyond. Art, similar to furniture, jewelry, cars, and other heirlooms, stands the test of time from generation to generation.
Step 4: Find People You Can Trust
Because the art market is largely unregulated, it can sometimes attract shady characters. Make sure you surround yourself with people you can trust: artists, curators, gallerists, advisors, installers, appraisers, and other collectors. Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions about how something is made, an artist’s vision, or the gallery’s program. Gallerists love talking about their artists and the works in their inventory. Artists love talking about the stories behind each piece. Curators love discussing how an exhibition or collection came together. Installers love to explain just how they rigged that piece into place. Listen closely and note if something feels off. Trust your gut.
Step 5: Be Patient and Know Your Space
While blank walls can feel sad and institutional, they are tolerable. It’s okay to live with that blank wall for a while until you find a piece that truly speaks to you. When you do find that piece, make sure it can physically fit in the space and work with and not against your lifestyle. A Harue Shimomoto glass wall sculpture may be perfect for empty nesters while a Chris Hill piece may be right for a young family’s living room.
Finally, have fun! Art buying can be like an adventure and literally take you across the world. Soak it all in and have a great time meeting gallerists and artists.