Since opening the gallery, we’ve found that our customers have had questions regarding how to begin and grow an art collection. While there is not a “best” strategy for building an art collection, we have some thoughts to share.
One common misconception about collecting art is that you have to be very wealthy or spend a lot of money to have a good art collection; this idea can often inhibit individuals from beginning a collection at all. However, the truth is that almost anyone can begin an art collection. One famous example is Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment and worked as a postal clerk and librarian, respectively. In developing their collection, they had only two rules, which were, first, that they had to love the piece and second, that it had to be small enough to carry it home. This method of art collection resulted in a collection of over 4,000 works by well-known artists including Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, and Chuck Close, which they later donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
To be clear, this example represents the exception, not the rule. The Vogels obviously closely followed the art scene and purchased work from artists who became big names. Most artists’ work will not end up in a major museum, or even appreciate significantly in value. If a collector is interested in art as an investment, they will purchase either recognized artists or will invest a lot of time following emerging artists whose work may appreciate in value. An art consultant can be helpful in building an investment art collection, though at a significant cost. The vast majority of collectors are not purchasing art as an investment, but to enjoy.
The landscape of the art world has changed dramatically in recent years, making it easier than ever to start and expand an art collection. Once limited to “name” art galleries, vacation spots, auctions and local art fairs, art has become exponentially more accessible through smaller local galleries, art “expos” in major cities, and, increasingly, the Internet. On-line sites such as Saatchi, Artsy, and 1st Dibs have allowed people to view art from around the world in the comfort of their own homes. While it seems impossible to some that art would be purchased from a photo rather than seen in person, that’s the way the market is headed.
Another consideration when beginning an art collection is deciding what to buy. An art collection can consist of any group of artworks that appeal to the collector. It may be a group of works that complements the collector’s home and creates a feeling that they enjoy. However, some collectors take it a step further by focusing on purchasing a large number of works by a single artist or buying work by a variety of different artists united by a common characteristic such as size, as in the example above. Collectors might focus on local artists, a particular medium or style, or a specific subject. For many collectors, this added element of focus makes the search for new artworks that fit their criterion more interesting and exciting.
It is also important for collectors to learn about the artists whose works they are buying. In doing so, collectors have the opportunity to create a deeper, more meaningful connection with the pieces that they bring home. At a minimum, the gallery where an artwork is purchased should provide a resume of the artist, which will highlight their training, exhibits, and collectors. Ideally, the collector would meet the artist, either at the opening of an exhibit or in their studio. Knowledge of the artist allows collectors to become better educated about their collections and to make more informed decisions on their makeup and direction moving forward. Discovering whether the artist is mid-career, emerging, or well-established can impact purchase decisions. For example, as noted earlier, the works of emerging artists have a greater level of potential to increase in value over time.
Ultimately, collecting art is not a science. The best way for most collectors to start is to find pieces they love. After that, they should consider the type of collection they would like to create as well as the amount of money they would like to spend. Most collectors start an art collection not in an effort to make money, but because they feel a connection to the art and it is meaningful to them. If you don’t love a piece, and look forward to seeing it every day, there is no reason to collect it.