You admire art, and perhaps have a few fine pieces in your collection. But you want to take it to the next level. Whether your intention is to invest in art, or simply to illuminate the walls of your home, here’s some advice to enhance your collecting proficiency.
Hire An Art Advisor
Hiring an art advisor or consultant is one of the most secure steps a collector can make. Their job is to make sure you do not make a financial mistake; think of them as your personal art expert, with a mission to find you a piece of art you love and that is a good investment.
“First, I think the concept of quality is one of the most important things for art collectors to understand,” says Kati Lovaas, owner of LOVAAS and an experienced art advisor for over 10 years. “Quality transverses all ages, geography and genres. Secondly, I like to get a feel for what clients respond to and what they love regardless of availability and commercial considerations.”
Art collector Fred Bidwell and his wife, Laura, have been building their photo-based collection since 1991. While they themselves do not work with an art advisor, because of their experience and knowledge on the subject, Bidwell encourages early collectors to understand it as a great option. “We enjoy being directly engaged with the process of research, learning about the work and, often, developing a personal relationship with the artist,” he says. “However, if a collector is interested in buying art as an investment or buying historical work where issues of condition, authenticity and provenance are important, I think an art advisor might provide important expert information and perspective.”
“My question is: why wouldn’t you hire an art advisor?” asks Lovaas. “The cost is generally made up in that an advisor is usually able to negotiate a better discount that first time for unknown buyers.”
Where is the best place to buy art? “It depends on what you are collecting,” says Lovaas. “If it’s emerging artists, go to the galleries. If you don’t have time to go to galleries, go to the art fairs. Auction houses often sell fantastic work from undervalued artists.”
And then there is the Internet.
In recent years, a growing number of online marketplaces and resources to purchase art have emerged. Websites at the forefront of online collecting in the new digital world are making even the most high-end purchases possible for anyone, anywhere, and offering phenomenal educational services that truly can guide collectors throughout the entire process of purchasing artwork.
“Though the art world was once slower to embrace online commerce than other industries, the current online art market is exploding,” says Jacob Pabst, CEO of artnet. “The advantages of buying anything online also apply to art: you have a fast and efficient way to discover, educate yourself, get all the facts, and then transact, all on your own time. You’re able to avoid the often-intimidating traditional settings of galleries and auction houses to connect directly with the art you love.”
Founded in 1989, with a mission of delivering transparency to the art world, artnet has adapted with the demands of a technology-driven society, by providing a multitude of refined resources for collectors and dealers. “It offers everything you need to get started, from open-ended discovery to making your first acquisition,” says Pabst. “We host millions of artworks on our site in every conceivable medium and style, so it’s a matter of exploring our curated selections to begin developing your own taste and finding which artists inspire you.”
Prospective buyers on artnet can make a purchase directly online, or connect with one of thousands of member galleries on the site. “Our Price Database is the world’s most comprehensive archive of auction results in the world, and serves as the industry’s undisputed ‘blue book,’” says Pabst. This database allows users to compare art prices and ascertain if they are getting a fair value.
Another website that offers a platform for art purchases is Artsy — a site that has more than half a million fine art, design and furniture pieces on its site from the most established galleries in the world. Find works from emerging artists, or priced up into the tens of millions. “If you are starting a collection, I recommend identifying your preferences at the outset (for example, artwork dimensions, location of the work, price), and filtering out works on Artsy accordingly,” advises Stas Johnson-Chyzhykov, Artsy’s associate director of collector relations.
After exploring the user-friendly interface and identifying the art that fits your appeal, she then recommends that collectors contact the galleries via their messaging system to ask further questions about the work and the artist. “Artsy allows collectors to make an informed decision not only by exposing them to an unprecedented amount of diverse and high-quality inventory, but also by providing important contextual information about artists such as their resume, exhibition history, auction results and articles,” she says.
Sites like Artsy and artnet are not only making online purchases convenient, but more importantly, are bringing greater digital globalization to the art world. “The average distance between our buyers and sellers is more than 3,000 miles,” says Johnson-Chyzhykov. “While a few years ago, patrons were wary of buying luxury objects sight unseen, these concerns are voiced less frequently now, as collectors have trust in Artsy’s platform, which vets galleries and enables galleries to present their inventory on Artsy accurately.”
Making sight unseen purchases is one of the biggest debates about online marketplaces today, and that goes especially for high-end art-focused marketplaces. While benefits of buying online include convenience and providing a digital breadth of work for sale at a given time, the biggest debate is whether or not it’s still important to see an artwork in person before acquiring it.
While Artsy and artnet are designed to ensure safe online purchases, they both still recognize the digital barrier and internalize a fundamental aspect of art appreciation: it’s important to see art in person, if possible. Thus, both sites promote the face-to-face interaction with artwork, with tools to help create that opportunity for you to connect with gallery owners and sellers to schedule a visit.
Pabst believes that when it comes to seeing work in person, a lot has to do with the artists you are interested in. “For most of the secondary market — which occupies the largest share of the market — you don’t necessarily need to see the work in person,” he says. “Whenever you’re dealing with the well-known, established, and popular artists that have a solid auction history, you can rest assured that you know what you’re getting.” Yet, in other areas of the market, he brings to light the unknowns, and in those cases you should see the art in person.
“While we still suggest viewing a work in person as often as you can, sometimes you’re not able to fly across the world to a gallery in Hong Kong,” acknowledges Johnson-Chyzhykov. “However, when it comes to buying, the majority of collector purchases on Artsy, including works valued above $1 million, are made sight unseen,” she says.
Artists and Mediums
Emerging Artist, Mid-Career, or Established — these labels are given to artists based on their careers, not ages. What should you buy?
Emerging Artists are new and upcoming artists garnering attention from their local communities. Mid-Career artists have a good number of solo exhibitions under their belt and most likely have a stable following in the art world. Then, there are established artists — also known as “Blue Chip” — who have a distinguishable style and are represented by a well-known gallery.
“It’s exciting to work with young artists at the beginning of their careers, but it’s not for the timid if the collector has expectations that the work will stand the test of time,” says Bidwell. “A good place to start is looking at work by mid-career artists; artists who have a track record and are still developing their practice.”
“Look, look and look some more. Do some research. Do not buy the name; buy the piece,” advises Lovaas. “Many great artists have done ‘C’ work. Galleries try to sell the ‘C’ work to unwitting buyers. Pay on time. If you are buying Blue Chip, A+ art, expect to pay for it. Surprisingly, there is a lot of competition at the top!”
“Given that virtually every fine art object is unique and represents the output of the artist’s many years of work, it all has intrinsic value,” says Johnson-Chyzhykov. Because there is worth in a variety of mediums of art in the art world, it is more beneficial to evaluate periods and artists for value.
“To risk averse collectors, I always suggest looking at sure bets — works by established artists such as Cindy Sherman, Yayoi Kusama, David Hockney have a strong and stable market. Beyond that, the secondary market (fine art works that are coming from another collector or dealer rather than straight from the artist studio) poses a great investment opportunity for collectors.”
She recommends finding works, or even prints, multiples from established artists that promise an appreciation over time. Like any investment, there is always a risk, but as long as you understand the market it will likely be worth it.
Buy What You Love
Another way to not make a mistake when purchasing art is to buy what you love. There’s a clear common denominator when it comes to advice for any collector, new or seasoned.
“Although it’s been said many times before, the most important thing is to buy what you like,” says Bidwell. “That said, it is important that a collector knows why they like something. That means learning something about the career of the artist and understanding what their intentions were in making the work.”
“Buy what you love. It’s almost a cliché, but it’s something you hear a lot for a reason,” agrees Pabst. “Art is something you have to live with and see every day, so make sure when you buy art, you really connect with it.”
Below is an exhibition view of “Not For Sale,” a recent show featuring more than 10 artists at LOVAAS in Munich, Germany.
“My wife, Laura, and I started collecting photographs in 1991, the year we were married. We were both very interested in photography, and at the time, it seemed very affordable. Pricing has certainly gone up since then and our definition of photography has expanded, but we continue to think that photo-based art is one of the most fascinating fields in Contemporary art,” says Bidwell.
Fred Bidwell is a philanthropist, collector and community leader. With his wife, Laura, through their Bidwell Foundation, in 2013, they opened Transformer Station, a new Contemporary art exhibition space in Cleveland. www.transformerstation.org
Kati Lovaas is owner of LOVAAS, a project-based exhibition space located in Munich, Germany that opened in October 2016. She has over 10 years experience as an art advisor/fine art consultant. www.lovaasprojects.com
Jacob Pabst, artnet, CEO
Artsy, Associate Director, Collector Relations
Article by Samantha Myers; This story first appeared in Homes & Estates 2017 Edition 4, the flagship publication of Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.