By some law of attraction, possibly genetic, we seek to acquire whatever objects that catch our eye and take them home.
We pick flowers. We collect seashells. We haunt flea markets for “finds”. We scavenge the world for anything and everything. The list of “collectibles” is endless and has no boundaries.
Some of us collect art, but over all, art collectors remain a rare breed. Why?
Sometime ago, an article in the New York Times on the topic of art collection, suggested a new term: “Art Buying Paralysis”. Some forms of this modern malady include feelings of intimidation upon entering an art gallery, obsession with perceived investment value, even fears about making an unfashionable choice.
We think of “Art” as a barometer of class and taste.
Select the “wrong ” thing and your apparent lack of polish and culture is graphically exposed.
Complicating matters, even Interior Designers can’t agree. There’s a difference of opinion about Art Collecting as it pertains to the art and execution of Interior Design. Many designers don’t want to select art for clients because the criteria for selecting art clashes with the logic and rationale used for creating a custom designed interior. Other designers see the addition of great art as the final crowning jewelry for a beautiful home design.
The prospective art buyer should be clear whether they are starting a collection for love of art or for profit and status. According to renowned dealer and collector Eugene V. Thaw, there is no real art market as much as there is hype and spin. “There are just trophies and what they can be hyped up to.” Which is how a Rothko owned by David Rockefeller, originally appraised for $10 million about 9 months before it sold at Sotheby’s, went for $72.8 million at time of sale. There was a tremendous amount of promotion for months prior to the auction causing the sale dollars to be spun into the heavens.
So, where do you stand? To find out, give yourself time to:
- Learn what you like as well as the difference between “good art” and “bad art” from those in the know. Though it’s more difficult to find people who don’t have an opinion about art than those that do, pay the most attention to the opinions of key players in the art world, such as art critics, museum curators, and prominent collectors. What they have is well-developed taste (like it or not) and a lot of experience. Visit galleries, museums, and attend juried shows at art schools and colleges. Search out museum and gallery websites for art info. Make a commitment to look at as much art in books and magazines as you can to develop both your eye and your taste.
- Read up on an artist after you have seen the art in person and have discerned your own opinions about it. Check out art magazines and newspapers. Look for reviews on past shows and extensive articles on individual artists. Galleries sometimes have catalogs for sale on the artists with whom they work. Speaking of galleries, learn to distinguish between those that are selling art that is considered “blue chip”, “mid career”, or “emerging” because these categories signal an expected price range.
- Art fairs in particular are the most efficient way (though sometimes exhausting) way to see a lot of contemporary art all in one place. Auction houses can also offer a lot of great opportunities, even when you are on a budget. Studying the sales catalogs is key to navigating the market.
Paige West, contemporary art expert and founder of Mixed Greens Gallery, suggests you “learn the difference between “decorative art” and that produced by career artists who are striving to make work that is part of a larger art world dialogue”. Take a pass on artists who work “after the style of” any other famous artist. While said artist may be a good painter or draftsman, what you have is “copycat art”, not something unique or original.” The work won’t ever qualify as good, important art.
Don’t hesitate. Jump in and get started on the legwork. Ask advice, listen to opinions, trust your gut, (especially if you have been collecting for a while), and buy something. Do this more than once and you will then, officially, be an Art Collector. Chances are you will more likely remember with regret the art you didn’t buy, than the art you bought and later considered a mistake.