Collecting Art: Investing in the finer things in life


Photo credit: Malcolm Brown, Innocence. Watercolor. 30 x 37 1/2 inches. 1991.

The contemporary art world can be a difficult and expensive place to navigate on your own. Before you overpay for the next Picasso, keep these words of advice in mind.

Don’t do it alone

The contemporary art world is a rapidly growing place.  Having someone who is on your side to help you navigate it will save you from making some costly mistakes. An art advisor cannot only help you find new artists through their existing relationships with artists and gallery owners, they can ensure that the price you pay for their work is in keeping with current market value. “I like to give a client as much time as they will give me,” says Warren S. Winegar, the former Head of Client Services at Sotheby’s New York and art advisor to several prominent collectors. “We’ll go to MOMA or to The Met, so we can start to look at things. What an advisor is trying to do is understand what a person likes and help them articulate it. For example, a person may say they like impressionist painting. But what they may really like is something that is loosely painted or modern in feeling.  Or perhaps they like colorful works that are large in scale and have interesting texture. Once we’ve broken it down, we can start to look at available artists that fit that category.

Experience as much art as you can

The Internet has revolutionized the way we buy everything. Art is no exception. But nothing replaces going to art fairs and galleries and talking about what you’re seeing with other. “Art fairs will expose you to a lot of different art from galleries around the world,” says Judith Prowda, TITLE TK. “There will be so much art to see in a very short time frame. It’s also an opportunity to have a dialogue with people about the art. It’s important to go to galleries to speak to people about what you like. These relationships will help you immensely.”

Buy what you love.

“When you’re starting out, don’t think of art as an investment,” says Winegar. “It’s more important to buy something you love. You are going to have to live with it. “ Winegar also has sage advice on the long term relationship with a person and their art. “After a person’s ninth or tenth year of living with art, their tastes begin to change,” he says. “Once you’ve been collecting for that long, you have a better, deeper knowledge of the art space. You begin to want different things. You might begin to acquire better examples of an artist’s work and want to move away from lesser ones. All of that is part of collecting.”

Not everything is canvas and paint. There are burgeoning collecting worlds in prints, photography, video art, and many other genres. “Drawings are a great place to enter the art world,” says Prowda. “By their nature, drawings are one of a kind works. They usually have a significantly lower price point than paintings. And they are very intimate, original works of art.”

Quality is essential.

You should always look to buy the highest quality work of an artist that you can find. Of course artist quality can be subjective. But there are certain things an artist will create that will have unanimous opinions regarding the quality of the work. That should be your focus.

Keep it real

As with any industry where large sums of money change hands, fraud can be abundant. “You would be amazed at how little is provided at the point of sale for a work of art” says Prowda. “Often times, you will simply get a receipt. If you are buying a contemporary work directly from the artist, there is less concern about authenticity. But on the secondary market, if you are buying a work that is being resold, you should insist on as much documentation to assure yourself that what you’re buying is real.  Has it been included in a catalogue raisonné, the comprehensive listing of an artist’s work? Ask for a bibliography of any articles written about the piece. Get in touch with IFAR (The International Foundation for Art Research) to do a scholarly study of it.”
Prowda says that the statute of limitations for making a claim on purchasing an inauthentic work is only four years. (Auction houses will often provide five years.) “The last thing you think about when buying a work is selling it,” she says. “Sometimes a work may not be sold for generations. That’s why it’s critical to ensure the provenance of the work at the time you purchase it.”

Equally as important is to know whether the person selling the work has the right to sell it. “There are so many ways a deal can go wrong,” says Prowda. “Is there a good and clear title on the work? Is the work encumbered by a lien or pledged as collateral by the owner for a loan? Is it co-owned by other people, such as a divorced spouse? You can’t leave any detail in the purchase to chance.”

Take good care of it

“As an advisor, “ Winegar says, “I will help people display the work in their home in the best possible way. You have to keep it out of direct sunlight. If your fireplace is working, it’s a good idea not to hang a work above it.”

Most works of art are one of a kind. If it gets damaged or destroyed, there’s no replacing it. “If you live with original pieces,” Winegar says, “you learn a lot of different things about how it is made. How is it composed? What makes it cool? When you live with a painting, it becomes part of you and you are a custodian for as long as you own it. You are participating in art history, whether you realize it or not. When you buy something from a contemporary artist, you are part of that artist’s career development. Every work has its own history. By being it’s owner, you become a part of that story.”


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