The world of art collecting can seem daunting to those just starting out. With so many artists, movements, galleries, auction houses, art fairs, and more to navigate, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, with the right guidance, research, and passion, beginning art collectors can confidently enter this exciting world.
This comprehensive guide will provide fledgling collectors with tips, advice, and insights from art experts to help them make informed decisions. We’ll cover everything from finding your artistic passions and tastes, to researching artists and artworks, to best practices for buying, displaying, and maintaining an art collection. With persistence and dedication, a new art collector can go from novice to aficionado.
Discovering Your Interests
The first step to confident art collecting is figuring out your particular passions and preferences. With such a huge array of art movements and mediums to choose from, it helps to narrow your focus.
Learn Art History
Immerse yourself in art history to discover which movements, time periods, and styles resonate most. Study the major periods and isms from Renaissance to Rococo, Impressionism to Pop Art. Read art history books, visit museums, take classes, and research online to find your favorites.
Favorite Mediums and Techniques
Do you feel drawn to painting, prints, photography, sculpture, or something else? Does a particular technique like etching, screen printing, or acrylic painting appeal to you? Getting to know the mediums will help determine what you’d like to collect.
Subject Matter Preferences
Consider what imagery and subjects move you most. Are you passionate about portraiture, landscape, still life, abstract, or conceptual art? Do certain themes around society, politics, or the environment speak to you?
Pay attention to artworks that give you an emotional, intellectual, or visceral response. Great art makes you think, feel, and see the world differently. Take note of pieces that draw you in and leave a lasting impression.
Connections to Identity
Your background, heritage, interests, and values will inform what art resonates most. Collecting art related to your cultural identity or causes you care about can be especially meaningful.
By getting clarity around your artistic passions, you’ll have an easier time recognizing pieces that are meant for your collection.
Learning About Artists
Once aware of your preferences, start discovering artists that align with your interests. Learning about acclaimed, emerging, and underrecognized artists will expand your knowledge and appreciation.
Famous vs. Up-And-Coming Artists
While big names like Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Basquiat are always compelling, don’t overlook talented emerging or local artists. Balance marquee artists with those building their careers.
Read Exhibition Reviews
Stay on top of buzzworthy artists and shows by reading reviews in art publications and blogs. They’ll introduce you to new talent and perspectives worth following.
Follow Galleries and Museums
Galleries and museums showcase a range of important artists through exhibitions and collections. Follow ones that exhibit art you connect with.
Talk to Art Professionals
Glean insights from gallerists, curators, advisors, and other experts. They can point you towards artists that may interest newcomers.
Research Artist Bios and Interviews
Learn artists’ inspirations, backgrounds, styles, and intent by reading biographies, interviews, and articles. This context brings greater meaning to their work.
Attend Gallery Openings and Studio Visits
Meeting artists, seeing their studios, and attending openings lets you engage with the creative process. Follow artists you find compelling on social media too.
Determining Value and Pricing
For beginning collectors, determining an artwork’s value and fair pricing can pose challenges. Learn to evaluate artworks thoroughly so you can make wise investments.
Auction Price Databases
Lookup databases like Artprice and Artnet track major auction sales. See what an artist’s works have sold for recently to gauge value.
More established, critically acclaimed artists warrant higher prices than emerging creatives. Understand where an artist is career-wise when evaluating cost.
An extensive, verifiable provenance (origin and ownership history) increases value, especially for older or historical artworks.
Size, Medium, and Details
Larger paintings and sculptures often fetch higher prices. Rare mediums and techniques also affect assessment. Note unique details like edition numbers.
Condition and Restoration
Art in pristine shape is worth more than damaged or heavily restored pieces. Condition reports are essential.
See what other works of similar size, medium, date, and details have sold for. Compare prices of comparable pieces.
For costly investments or complicated valuations, hire an independent appraiser. Their expertise provides price context.
Don’t be afraid to make fair, reasonable offers to galleries and sellers, especially for emerging artists. Negotiating can yield savings.
When ready to take the plunge, know the best practices around acquiring artworks to get the pieces you want at fair prices.
Research major houses like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips and signup for catalogs to bid in person, online, or by proxy. Auctions offer excitement but can also involve fees and premiums.
Galleries represent living artists and display a curated selection. Develop relationships with gallerists who share your tastes. Be aware of representation contracts between artists and galleries.
Major fairs like Art Basel showcase blue-chip galleries and artists. Fairs let you see a huge variety of work in person. Do research beforehand on exhibitors.
Studio visits allow you to purchase directly from the source while learning about the artist’s process and inspiration. Look for open studio events.
Online Galleries and Auctions
Websites like Artsy, Artnet, and Paddle8 offer an online-only selection. Be sure they provide detailed descriptions and have return policies.
Limited Edition Prints and Photographs
Numerous retailers sell limited edition prints and photos online or in person. Look into edition size, print quality, framing, and returns.
Read Seller Reviews
For galleries, auctions, and online sellers, check for reviews on their business practices and art authenticity guarantees.
Politely explain your budget limitations or concerns about condition to request a fairer price. Dealers may drop prices to make sales.
Buy What You Love
Don’t worry about investment potential. Buy art that speaks to you and fits your budget. Passion should drive new collectors.
Vetting Artwork Authenticity
While most art sellers are ethical, it pays to verify authenticity before major purchases, especially for higher-priced work.
Ask for any certificates of authenticity, invoices, receipts, gallery labels, etc. that attest to the work’s origins. Cross-check provenance details.
Signatures and Markings
Verify that artist signatures, edition numbers, foundry marks, or other identifiers match the described work.
Materials and Techniques
Inspect that mediums, materials, framing, printing techniques, etc. align with the artist’s known practices.
For high-value work, forensic testing can scientifically verify age and detect restoration or forgery. Get written reports.
Ask qualified art historians and specialists to visually examine the work and provide written authentication assessments.
Search artist databases to confirm listed titles match described works. Errors raise red flags.
Prohibit Unknown Provenance
If seller can’t furnish concrete provenance, certification, or authentication, walk away. Lack of paperwork is risky.
Take ample photos showing labels, signatures, back of artwork, provenance docs, and unique identifying details. Keep for records.
Displaying Your Collection
Mindfully exhibiting your growing art collection lets visitors fully appreciate the works while protecting them. Follow best practices for hanging, lighting, arranging, and securing art.
Wall Color and Arrangement
Hang art at eye level. Group pieces thematically. Neutral walls allow the art to stand out. Avoid overcrowding.
Frames and Matting
Frame pieces appropriately based on medium. Acid-free mats and UV-filtering glazing preserve work.
Avoid direct sunlight and halogen lighting which cause fading. Use LED lamps on dimmers to gently illuminate art.
Climate Control and Humidity
Keep humidity around 50% and temperature at 68-77° Fahrenheit. Avoid dramatic climate fluctuations.
Install security systems, keep valuables out of reach, and avoid sharing details online. Take preventative measures to deter theft.
Always wear archival gloves when handling art to avoid damaging oils and patinas. Never touch surfaces.
For any works loaned to institutions or friends, stipulate conditions of care and transport in written contracts.
As your tastes evolve, thoughtfully edit your collection by selling, donating, or gifting non-cherished pieces.
Maintaining and Protecting Artwork
Caring for your cherished art properly ensures it withstands the test of time and retains value. Implement routines based on medium and age.
Gently dust surfaces and frames using microfiber cloths and soft brushes. Avoid abrasive cleaning methods.
Check periodically for insect/rodent damage which can ruin art. Address any infestations immediately.
Use data loggers, thermostats, and humidifiers to maintain ideal temperature, humidity, pollution, and light levels.
UV Blocking Films
Apply UV filtering films to windows near artwork. Glass or plexiglass with UV coatings also protects.
Proper Storage and Handling
When not displayed, store art in archival boxes and tissue off-site. Transport horizontally.
Have response plans in place for events like floods, leaks, or fires that could damage artwork.
Take deteriorating, torn, or damaged art to a conservator to stabilize and repair pieces professionally. Get treatment proposals beforehand.
Insuring Your Collection
Protecting your collection with an insurance policy safeguards your investment should artworks get stolen, damaged, or destroyed.
Documenting Your Assets
Catalog all your art with descriptions, photos, receipts, appraisals, and any available provenance documentation. Keep records in a safe.
Overview of Art Insurance
Policies can cover loss, damage, or theft. Get guaranteed value or stated value policies. Know exclusions and requirements.
Ask insurers about claim processes, reputations, specialty services, and disaster assistance. Find a carrier experienced with art.
Coverage Amounts and Plans
Insure art for fair market value, factoring in appreciation. Review policy limits, premiums, and deductibles. Update plans as your collection grows.
Insurers will require a current third-party appraisal. Full appraisals are needed upfront. Updates are required every 3-5 years.
Review security and display protocols needed to get full claims paid. Follow all insurer guidelines.
Ensure your policy covers art wherever it travels for loans or exhibitions. International coverage has variances.
Understand how to properly file and document claims. Keep assessments and contact your agent right away if loss or damage occurs.
Navigating the Art World
The art community has its own culture, etiquette, terminology, and pace. Learn the unwritten rules and practices to fit right in.
Dress elegantly and avoid loud prints when attending vernissages (opening receptions) and previews. Comfortable shoes are a must for art fairs.
Addressing Art Professionals
Use appropriate honorifics like “Doctor” or “Professor” when addressing academics and experts. Default to Mr./Ms. or by first name if introduced informally.
Familiarize yourself with terms like provenance, exhibition catalogue, deaccession, and patina. Knowing key vocabulary shows insider knowledge.
Openings and Events
Arrive on the later side for openings when it’s less crowded. Don’t feel rushed, but be cognizant when galleries want to close.
Look with your eyes, not hands. Let gallery attendants know if you want to purchase a piece. Be respectful of gallery-artist relationships.
At auctions, use paddle signals versus shouting. If you accidentally bid incorrectly, shake your head “no” to retract. Wait for the auctioneer to acknowledge you.
Get to know gallerists, consultants, and curators who share your passions. Networking leads to previews, tips, and special access.
Make sales tax arrangements upfront with galleries for local purchases. Understand shipping costs and timelines. Payment plans may be possible.
Protecting Your Legacy
A lifetime of collecting creates a legacy. Ensure your treasures are preserved and dispersed thoughtfully.
Wills and Estate Planning
Specify in your will which specific artworks or entire collection gets gifted to heirs. Clarify if art can be sold. Tax issues apply. Get appraisals.
Donations and Bequests
You can donate artworks or make bequest commitments to museums and institutions. This offers tax benefits while preserving cultural contributions.
Auction houses and private dealers can handle consignment sales of art post-mortem to benefit your estate. Heirs realize artwork value.
If distributing a collection amongst family, use impartial means like rotation selections or sale proceeds divisions to prevent conflicts.
To prevent future challenges to your artwork’s legitimacy, get definitive authentication reports while living.
Keep details on your collection’s contents, provenance, storage, insurance, etc. accessible to your executor and heirs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Collecting Art
Q: How much should I budget when starting an art collection?
A: When collecting art, it’s wise to start modestly and grow over time. Set a comfortable budget you can afford and focus on discovering new artists and styles vs. making investments. Attend local gallery shows, art fairs, and studio events which offer works at multiple price points. Consider starting with prints, photographs, or smaller mixed media pieces that let you enjoy owning original art without breaking the bank.
Q: Is buying art online risky for new collectors?
A: Buying art online can certainly get newcomers access to more original and limited edition works these days. However, it does pose some risks around authenticity and condition which are harder to verify virtually. When purchasing online, do ample research on the gallery or seller, ensure they have clear return policies, read reviews, and ask lots of questions. Require plenty of detailed images of the art from all angles plus shots of labels, signatures, certificates, etc. For very high-value art, see the work in person before committing.
Q: How do I display and arrange a collection in my home?
A: Display art in your home thoughtfully using good lighting, appropriate framing, and clean walls to let the works shine. Arrange pieces based themes, color schemes, eras, or artists. Salons traditionally hung many works close together but walls look best less crowded. Group smaller pieces over furniture but keep ample space between larger pieces. Place art at eye level and where it’s easily visible. Rotate pieces seasonally so you fully enjoy everything you own. And don’t worry about sticking to any formal rules – display art in whatever inspiring way fits your space.
Q: Is buying from living artists important for new collectors?
A: Buying art directly from living artists, whether at their studio, an open studio event, or gallery show is hugely important for newer collectors. Not only is art more affordable when acquired this way, but you have the opportunity to meet talented creative individuals, learn about their inspiration first-hand, and more deeply appreciate their work. Fledgling collectors get priced out of the risky investment-focused blue chip art market, so supporting living, local artists helps new collectors affordably build relationships and a collection reflecting their tastes.
Q: How do I responsibly clean and handle my artwork?
A: Art maintenance starts with handling works very carefully by the sides or framing only while wearing archival gloves. Do not touch canvas surfaces. Keep art out of direct sunlight. Use microfiber cloths ever-so-gently to remove dust, and avoid commercial cleaners or excessive water. Seek professional conservation for any cleaning beyond very light dusting. For minor repairs, take works immediately to a conservator rather than trying “do-it-yourself” fixes. Follow all environmental requirements set by your insurer and monitor for pests, leaks, or climate issues. With proper care and gentleness, you’ll keep your cherished art looking its best.
Q: What resources help new art collectors continue learning?
A: Beyond taking art history courses and visiting museums, avid collectors never stop advancing their knowledge. Read art magazines like ArtForum, ArtNews, and Juxtapoz which cover emerging artists, shows, market trends, and more. Browse art databases like Artnet and MutualArt to price works and research artists. Follow museums, galleries, fairs, and hundreds of artists on social media. Subscribe to arts organization newsletters and auction house catalogs to stay on top of exhibitions and sales. Join a collecting society like the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) or Art Table to network and get guidance. And continue having dialogues with gallerists, curators, appraisers and other art professionals who will provide invaluable insights as your collecting journey unfolds.