The Essentials of Art Collecting

Kerry James Marshall's "Past Times" Sotheby's
Image:, Kerry James Marshall's "Past Times" Sotheby's

Proper art collecting entails many necessary activities - research, travel, networking – but the most fun part is buying art. There are several ways to go about it and no one way is exclusively better than the others. In fact, you will likely use many different avenues of acquisition in growing your collection. Auctions, galleries, brokers, private transaction or from artists directly; all of these offer their own advantages and exhilarations. There are also mistakes to be made, and mistakes are expensive. Fortunately, when buying art mistakes are almost never fatal.

Auctions are the most fun and the most anxiety inducing art buying experiences, in my opinion. An auction can be held just about anywhere. The famous auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christie's, Swann Gallery are dedicated to supplying top-tier artwork to the upper echelons of Fancy society, but an art auction can happen at a museum or at a warehouse or even at some collectors’ home. If an auction is going to be successful, it would have to be properly advertised, so they’re usually not hard to find.

At an auction, every item has three “prices”:

  • Presale estimate — The approximate price the piece is expected to sell for.

  • Reserve price — The minimum price set required for it to sell.

  • Opening bid —The starting price announced by the auctioneer. Bid early. If you’re lucky, you could get a bargain.

Before an auction starts, you can read condition reports (i.e. details of any damage) and the history of each piece. That's all important information for figuring your budget. For traditional auctions, you’ll sit in the main room with an auctioneer and other potential bidders, and you’ll raise your paddle to “bid”. Online auctions are also very popular. For the most part, they work the same way.

Surprisingly, auctions can be an affordable way to start and grow a collection. Paintings are frequently sold just above the reserve price . The big deal sales, like Sean Combs $21M purchase of Kerry James Marshall's “Past Times” at Sotheby's in New York City, are not the norm. That's why it's news. In truth, a lot of really good stuff can be had for relatively reasonable prices at auction. Also, there's a lot of transparency with an auction. You can see the recent auction history of the artist and use the information to keep your spending in check.

Surprisingly, auctions can be an affordable way to start and grow a collection.

Working with an art broker can seem mysterious and a bit intimidating. That is largely intentional. It’s part of their marketing; that aura of power from having the ability to conjure up exactly what you’ve been looking for. While it's mostly true, there’s no magic. Good art brokers work really hard. They’re very well-connected, well-informed, and know a lot about art, artists and art markets.

Once you’ve identified a broker with whom you'd like to work, you talk to them about what you want and what you think you want. When they know genre or style of painting you like and the artists that move you, they can go about their task of helping to make your art collection everything you've ever dreamed. You just have to make your desires clear and trust the dealer to do their job. Remember, they are not errand runners or decorators. No “get me this or that painting”, or “I need something in this room to match the rugs”.

Spend the time. Go to exhibits or fairs together. Let her get to know you. Then you leave her to do her work and soon enough (never feels soon enough), she'll ring you up with some options. You'll buy some art and be delighted. The leg work on your end is minimal and, if you’ve used a talented broker, the results will be on the money.

William S Jiggetts

#artcollecting #artcollection #artauction #auction #artcollector

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