Smart Art Collecting: Buying from Galleries

Get expert advice on purchasing art from galleries for your growing collection.

Get expert advice on purchasing art from galleries for your growing collection.

We believe collectors should have all the resources they need to acquire and manage their art collection. One way to better navigate the world of art collecting is talking to experts.

One of Denver’s top gallery owners, Jim Robischon of Robischon Gallery, shares how he and his wife, Jennifer Doran, have worked with collectors for over 40 years. He also provides sage advice around acquiring new art.

How did you start Robischon Gallery?

I was a photo student when I opened my gallery in 1976. I showed black & white photography by professors and notable local people like Ron Wuhlauer. But, I quickly realized that I should expand my vision to painting, sculpture and so on. Before I knew it, I needed a bigger space.

Recession after recession over the years made Denver a difficult place to stay afloat. I decided I needed to be with other galleries for critical mass, and when a 12,000 square foot warehouse in the old warehouse district (later to become LoDo) became available, we took the plunge to move. Three galleries opened in the S.H. Supply Company building, a block from Union Station. Over the years the other galleries moved or closed and now we occupy the whole ground floor of nearly 9,000 square feet.

Do you typically work with novice or established collectors?

We work with anyone and everyone who has an interest in getting art in their lives.

What are your recommendations for how collectors should build a collection?

You may think at first that you know what your taste is and rush out and buy some art. That is almost always a mistake. Taste is a fluid thing and we all move forward as a culture to accept new kinds of imagery. Imagery that once was outrageous is accepted without judgment in just a short period of time.

So to start at the beginning, expose yourself to all different types of art. Become a member at the art museums in your area so that you can attend their exhibitions, lectures and programs. Visit galleries where professional artists show and just look around.

Don’t be too quick to judge or dismiss because art is a deeply complex field with an enormous diversity of levels and currents of style.

The more you look at art, the more you will discover that the art which at first seems too cerebral or complicated can bring significant joy and richness to your life.

What are a few questions that buyers should ask gallery owners prior to or during a transaction?

  • May I see other examples of this artists work? Look at recent work, but also earlier artworks to understand visually how they evolved into what they are making now.

  • Which other artists does this one compare to—both locally and nationally? This artist may reference other heroic (or historical) artists or might straight out copy them which would invalidate the art as very original.

  • Does this artist show elsewhere in the U.S. or abroad?

  • What is the artist’s exhibition history

  • Is the artist’s work in permanent museum collections? Determine if these are substantial museums.

  • Has there been articles written about the artist?

  • Ask the gallerist what you would learn from the artist’s statement. This gives you a knowledgeable perspective on often esoteric artist statements.

What are some of your biggest obstacles when working with collectors?

The biggest obstacle is the overwhelming influence of color. People want the art to fit in with their environment so they want “complimentary colors”. But, color trends change faster than men’s ties.

It is so much smarter to think about the ideas behind the art, the content, the subject, the composition and the challenges it presents. What is the art in the spirit of? What is its meaning? How does it relate to other art concepts?

Another big obstacle is people not knowing their own tastes. They may not have refined their “eye” or are not able to articulate the sensibilities that they particularly enjoy. Most people just have not gotten out and looked around enough.

The internet is a great vehicle for looking at art too. Try artnet, Artsy, Art in America Magazine, Hyperallergic, Contemporary Art Daily, ART & OBJECT, Blouin ArtInfo and many others.

Check out this article to learn how you can discover your taste as a new collector.

What is your favorite part of being a gallery owner?

Putting up a great show is of course very exciting and rewarding. Working with artists to clarify and refine their ideas, then to build an exhibition is a remarkable experience.

But, I think my favorite part is working with clients. Selecting art is a process and along the way people discover aspects of themselves they never thought of. I’ll hear discoveries like, “I like order (or disorder) in art.” “The meaning behind the subject is very important to me.” “I want my art to have an upbeat character.” “Clean straight lines are what I prefer.”

The narrowing down of their interests and finding something spectacular is where we are at our best. Then taking artwork to our client’s homes to see in the site is so interesting.

The process of assisting someone to acquire a real, quality artwork is the most fun and rewarding.

Have your eye on a particular piece in a gallery? Before you bring the work home, make sure you have these must-need transaction documents.

William S Jiggetts

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