“How do I build an art collection?” is one of the first questions many people wonder when they begin buying art.
What’s the right way to add pieces to an existing art collection?
How do you decide what art to buy when there is so much wonderful art that is easily collectable?
At its core, many people fear venturing into art collecting out of fear that owning art is not accessible, metaphorically or literally.
That doesn't have to be the case.
Recently I was fortunate enough to enjoy a Toronto-based art curator speak in her home about building art collection. She provided the audience with art collecting tips that made the process accessible, rewarding and fun.
Upon arrival it was obvious that a great deal of thought was put into the curator's design and décor. But it quickly became apparent that this was more than just an attractive interior: I was surrounded by a breathtaking, diverse-yet-cohesive and, at times, whimsical art collection that brought a genuine warmth and personality to the surroundings. In the curator's house, the art is as foundational as the bricks.
Notwithstanding her impressive art pedigree – among other things, she served as the in-house art curator for a major financial institution and taught at University of Toronto – up until very recently she resisted calling herself an “art collector”, feeling the term collector too lofty and grown-up.
But with an art collection now comprising 100+ individual works collected over 25 years (and no more wall space to spare), she has come to accept that yes, she is an art collector.
The curator was very clear when it comes to collecting art, there is no wrong way to do it.
Every motive is fine, even if it’s for investment purposes. Her personal interest has never been for investment, although she became more knowledgeable about art as an alternative investment after her time as an institutional curator.
If you have already bought art, step back and ask yourself:
If you have broad taste, you don’t have to narrow your collection to one theme (note that Canada’s largest bank, RBC, has a single mandate for its art collection: art must be Canadian); however, doing so might contribute helpful discipline and direction for future purchases.
Once you’ve decided on your theme, start familiarizing yourself with the market:
Remember, gallerists exist for collectors. It is their raison d’etre to help art enthusiasts to become collectors.
There’s never been a better time than now to start collecting: you can research past prices, easily discover new artists on line. When you find a gallery with a number of artists that serve your tastes, it’s good to form a relationship.
The curator made her first art purchase just out of graduate school. She learned that many significant artists made multiples – prints or other items produced in limited quantities – thus making their art accessible and more affordable.
The piece that started it all was a solid silver candlestick by an established artist. Even though it cost $1000, an extraordinary sum for a recent graduate, she knew she had to buy it when the desire to possess it was stronger for the art than for other things, like paying rent or buying food.
Which leads me to my next point.
Many dealers / gallerists will help you purchase works you love through payment plans. It doesn’t hurt to ask; you might be pleasantly surprised. See note above about gallerists.
You’ve probably heard the art-buying advice “buy what you love.”
While the curator acknowledges that you should listen to your heart, she also advises that you should be mindful and thoughtful with your art purchases.
It’s very rare for her to get caught up in impulsive hysteria (although it did happen once in a frenzied scrum surrounding a Tokyo art dealer); most of the time she likes to sleep on it and discuss with her husband before committing.
At the risk of contradicting point #5 above, it’s entirely likely you might buy a piece that doesn’t fit well into your home as it is.
The curator purchased a very large diptych without having a space to hang them. Three years the two works stayed at the gallery until they found their place in her home. She even renovated part of her house so that she could accommodate a 6-hour piece of video art!
Obviously, renovating your home is not a requirement to collect art. Part of the joy of collecting art is moving it around. It’s amazing the simple transformation moving an old piece into a new space can have.
A la Mari Kondo, it’s also a good idea to periodically assess your collection to see if the pieces still “spark joy.” Do you still love them? Do you even see them? If not, pass it on through gift, donation or, if you can, sale.
As a long time collector, the curator has been fortunate enough to get to know many of the artists whose works she owns, and some of these relationships have blossomed into true friendships.
While some people would prefer to neither know the artist nor the story behind the piece, for her knowing the person behind the work serves to enhance the art further.
She makes a point of attending all the MFA shows, with a particular affinity for the University of Guelph MFA program, to purchase student work. (Tip – she suspects Guelph graduate HaeAhn Kwon has an interesting career ahead.)
Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you don’t.
She bought six works on paper by a well-known sculptor without knowing they were a prelude to his incredible installation at the Venice Biennale. She’s also purchased art from artists who have stopped creating.
Regardless, if you love the piece – and you’ve purchased thoughtfully – that should be enough.
The curator traditionally gravitated to works on paper like photography and drawings. When she visits art fairs she loves digging into the back rooms’ works on paper.
Unfortunately, her walls are now full, and although she doesn’t have every single work of art on the walls, every piece she currently has on display she still loves.
The solution? Change gears.
Now that her kids have outgrown the wrecking stage, she has turned her attention to sculpture.
Trying to build a collection with a spouse who doesn’t share your taste can be tricky.
The curator offers the following suggestions:
Acquiring art is one of life's great joys. Building an art collection you love can bring a lifetime of joy, and is much easier to do than you think.
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