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A Definitive Guide to Collecting Art

The process of collecting art has until recently been a privilege to the few with means or connections. Over the past decade or so the industry has seen significant changes granting greater transparency for both the artists and collector. The move from galleries and auction houses to online platforms means it is easier than ever to gain access into this previously guarded world. With new artists being discovered and new markets emerging (particularly South Korea and China) this is the perfect time to begin your journey.

Never the less there are a few elements you need to consider before you start. We present the four essential stages required to starting your collection:

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

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The process of buying art falls mainly into two approaches: either finding and acquiring a piece that you love on the spot or via visiting exhibitions and by keeping abreast of what is happening in the market. Whist the former is more prevalent, the process of educating yourself allows for a more informed and confident final decision. 

Visiting exhibitions and fairs is the best way to start, and we are privileged in London to have a selection of the finest in the world. However, if the emerging market grabs your attention, then graduate shows are an excellent way to begin collecting an artist from the very beginning of their career – a prospect which is both exciting and perhaps, maybe even lucrative in years to come.  

Exhibitions: Frieze, Affordable Art Fair, PAD, Masterpiece, Pinta, LAPADA Art and Antiques Fair, Moniker Art Fair

Galleries: Ransom Gallery, Pace London, Gagosian, Lisson, White Cube, Victoria Miro, Johnny Van Haeften, Saatchi

Graduate Exhibitions: Royal College of Art (RAC), University of the Arts, Slade School of Fine Art, Central St Martins, Chelsea College of Arts.

2. WHAT IS YOUR MOTIVE?

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BUYING FOR LOVE

People buy art for many reasons, but primarily for two reasons: the piece itself or for the investment potential. More commonly, though, art is purchased because of the emotion it evokes in the buyer. It has been widely accepted that fine e art holds a certain power over people, although this effect is not universal. Whilst some are more affected by the classical works such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David, others are drawn to the more abstract works by Pollock or Hirst. 

Interestingly UCL completed a study in 2011 seeking to “see what happens in the brain when you look at beautiful paintings.” Subjects were shown a range of paintings from a selection of 28 works that included Monet, Constable and Reni, whilst undergoing an MRI scan that analysed the blood flow in the”medial orbitofrontal cortex, part of the brain associated with pleasure and desire” (Mendick). 

The results were instantaneous and as expected, varied from one subject to another. Zeki explains, ”what we found was the increase in blood flow was in proportion to how much the painting was liked……the blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love”. So there you have it: buying art that resonates with you has proven psychological benefits.

INVESTMENT 

Buying art as an investment is a path well trodden and one increasingly difficult to make profitable. However, anyone can buy art intelligently. Here are three key questions that need to be satisfied before you close the deal:

1. Who is the artist?

Research who you are buying. Information usually comes in two forms: spoken and written. Spoken information will come from those directly involved with the sale (the dealer and the artist) or from others in the know. The written or published information is the most key. Research the artist through their websites, gallery websites, auction houses and other publications.  These are usually available from the galleries themselves or easily accessed via the internet.

The combination of the two will ensure that you are well informed and in a better position to make the purchase.

2. How significant is the art?

Knowing where a particular piece sits within an artists’ career or collection is key. Understanding whether your desired work is a ‘minor’ or ‘major’ player in their portfolio will help you ascertain the correct value.

Always check whether it is original or reproduction. If it is a print, then it is integral to understand whether it is a limited edition and if so how many are produced? If it is a limited edition, then check whether it is generated by the artist or by mechanical means as often reproductions (particularly glicees) are are digital creations with no input from the artist save a signature.

3. Provenience, history and documentation

Always ensure that you have the proper documentation relating to the artwork. The gallerists should be able to tell you of the previous owners (if any) and trace this back to the original sale. Failure to ensure that all accompanying documentation is correct at the time of sale may cause the value to reduce.

EMERGING MARKETS

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Emerging markets have provided a platform allowing new talent artists to showcase their work. This is particularly evident in the comparatively untapped regions of Eastern Europe, South Korea and China which are producing some of the most exciting talents today. MA graduates from these parts of the world are the best place to start as they are only just beginning their careers – you have to catch them early to profit!

Whilst this may not be the drive for some, the thought of picking up the future Pollock or Lichenstein for many is very much part of the journey. 

ALLOW YOUR COLLECTION TO EVOLVE

You shouldn’t think of your collection as static. “Your taste changes. The more educated you are, you start to look at things differently,” says Laura Noble, gallerist and author of the Art of Collecting Photography. She adds that one should “be prepared to part ways….when the time comes and let someone else fall in love with it.”

3. A GUIDE TO PHOTOGRAPHY

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“Photography is a love affair with life.” Burk Uzzle, 1938

One of the mediums that have become increasingly collectable in recent years is photography. Historically considered inferior to art regarding price and as such is a fantastic place to start your collection. This trend has changed over the past few years as collectors have become more educated in turn raising artists’ profiles, this medium remains an emerging market – bringing with it the excitement of untapped potential that many collectors crave. Remember: by investing in early-career photographers, you’re investing in the future of the medium.

What type of photograph is it?

From the almost extinct Polaroid to the digitally manipulated or even C-type, photographs vary considerably. Understanding the differences between these mediums and how they are developed will help you make a better end decision.

What does Limited Edition or AP mean?

Art’s commercial value stems from its rarity, but photography is inherently easy to reproduce. The limited edition has been developed to deal with this problem. It’s essentially a pledge by the photographer or their estate that no more than a certain number of prints of a given image will be made – ever. An edition can be anything from two to 500 or more. The fewer prints in the edition, the higher their worth.

The letters AP signify that the artist has elected to reserve a number of proofs for their personal use. These will be in addition to the overall number of prints detailed in the ‘limited edition’ figure.

Is it a one off?

Occasionally and if you are lucky enough, artists will offer unique photographs or ‘one-offs’. These are usually highly prized with this being reflected in the price.

4. CURATING YOUR COLLECTION

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How you arrange your collection is entirely up to you and the wall space you have available. Here are some tips to help you maximise the impact of your artwork. 

Pride of Place:

Usually, the finest works of a collection are placed in the most significant areas of the home. Above the fireplace or in the dining room, the more striking pieces are typically found in the areas used for entertaining.

Hallways: 

Hallways are a great place to show off your collection. Opting to hang on one side helps to create a widening effect on the passage. Similarly, mirrors can be added to increase the viewpoints and enhance the overall arrangement.

Bedrooms:

As the most intimate area of the house, this should be reserved for the pieces that you truly love. Equally, the choice of artwork should promote a calming and tranquil atmosphere – think ethereal photography, abstract paintings in dusty pastels or large scale landscapes.

Theme:

Whether you choose to do this by size, medium, palette or artist is a question of taste and desired intent. A centralised theme creates a coherence between the pieces, adding more impact to the space. Similarly, the content can be used to tell a story, and adds a further layer of detail.

These elements, when properly considered and executed, can help transform your home into a space which not only reflects your individuality but can also add a significant impact on your wellbeing. Art should alway be seen as an extension of the overall interior design, and a finely curated collection will elevate your home to its maximum potential.