The 4 Rules to Starting Your Art Collection

When white walls make you sad.

The 4 Rules to Starting Your Art Collection

Raise your hand if the contents of your closet cost more than that of your apartment. Anyone with us? And while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with spending a month’s rent on a millennial pink leather Gucci bag, aren’t we supposed to diversify our assets? This week, we’re trying art on for size. Herein 4 rules to art collecting, because your first art acquisition should be the perfect fit.


Rule #1: Get off the internet.


As avid online shoppers, we’re all about that click-to-buy. But unless you already know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s pretty hard to develop your eye from a couch. Most major galleries are open Tuesday-Saturday and smaller galleries are sometimes Monday-Sunday, so, meet your weekend plans. You’re going gallery hopping! The app See Saw can help you find the best shows and map out your game plan. If you like a gallery’s program, get on their email list so you know about upcoming shows in advance. And don’t be afraid to ask for further information about an artist or their prices—that’s what the front desk is there for.

If you prefer department stores to boutiques, art fairs are for you. There are over 15 art fairs taking place in December alone, with offerings from thousands of galleries. While the big-name fairs bring the big-money art, affordable works can be found at satellite fairs committed to developing emerging and mid-career artists.

And finally, museums. No, the work isn’t for sale, but most museums have young patron groups anyone young (or young at heart) can join. The best programs take you outside the museum to gallery openings, auction previews, lectures, and artist studios. Wine (often) included.


Rule #2: Get on the internet.


Now that you know what you like, get back on that couch and do your research. Knowledge is power, amiright? All artists, no matter how well-known, will have a CV you can find online, either on their gallery’s website or their personal site. Things to look for: education; inclusion in group shows; grants or artist residencies; and whether or not they’ve been given the ever-elusive *solo* show. Review an artists résumé like you would a job application: discerningly, while also believing that the work should speak for itself.

Also check out online resources such as Artsy, which allows you to follow the artists you like, and receive recommendations on other artists that might be of interest. Most of the world’s leading galleries post work for sale through their site. To make sure prices are fair, use Artnet’s price database to see sales from auction houses dating back to 1985.

Then, of course there are the platforms you already spend too much time on: Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Follow artists, galleries, museums, and art accounts to get a #BTS look at what’s trending.


Rule #3: Check your bank account.


Buzzkill. Your new wall jewelry can come with a lot of hidden costs, such as shipping, framing, and a buyers premium (if purchased at auction). Thankfully, most dealers are willing to sell works at a discount of anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. And for higher-priced works, certain galleries will agree to installment payments. Just remember to use your manners.

If you’re buying at auction, whether in person or through an online auctioneer like Paddle 8 or Auctionata, don’t be turned off by the estimate. All works have “reserves,” aka the lowest price a seller is willing to accept. If bidding reaches the reserve, you can score the work for much less than the initial estimate.

And if you flat-out can’t afford the work you’re interested in, fear not. Consider a work on paper, drawing, or photograph instead, all of which are less expensive than paintings. You could also look at prints, but make sure they’re limited-edition, not open edition, and double-check the work is signed.


Rule #4: There are no rules.


The art world has a reputation for being a wild and crazy place, and for good reason. The art market is very different from almost any other market simply because there is almost no regulation and very little transparency. The goal? Quality over quantity, and originals over editions. But the bottom line? Buy what you love and don’t be afraid to break the rules.


Alex is a New York-based contemporary art professional, who has held positions at Christies, David Zwirner Gallery, and Tilton Gallery.

Part of the series:

Art Week

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