Ready to start collecting art but not sure how where or how to begin? We asked the experts for their advice on how to establish a collection that you will treasure.
If a year peppered with stay-at-home orders has left you contemplating how to do away with your bare walls, it might be time to take the plunge and start the art collection youâve always dreamt of. But for those who donât consider themselves in the know when it comes to the art world, beginning your search can seem a little daunting. âPeople want in, and itâs like thereâs a glass wall in front of them â how do you break that down?â says Tim Melville, above, owner of the eponymous gallery in Auckland.
These days, collecting neednât be intimidating. As Melville explains, the concept of the exclusive and expensive âwhite cubeâ gallery that exists to make you feel intellectually inferior is outdated. âGalleries know now that being snooty doesnât work,â he says. âIt should be fun, it shouldnât be a scary thing. It should just be something where the more you look, the more interesting it becomes.â So now that youâre reassured that rookie collectors are always welcome, here are some tips to get you started.
LOOK, LOOK & LOOK SOME MORE
One of the most common pieces of advice youâll hear about how to begin collecting is simply to look, look and keep looking. âYou have to look in the galleries, the public galleries and the private ones, see what there is out there and talk to people in galleries,â says Melville. âSign up for galleriesâ mailing lists, follow their Instagram and Facebook pages, look at their websites, read the art magazines â and there are a few art websites as well that are worth having a look at.â
One such site is artnow.nz, an exhibition and event listing platform that has now expanded to showcase art books, essays and limited edition artworks. The platform was founded by Stephanie Post and Hayley White, who are also co-directors of Auckland Art Fair. Post, a collector herself, points out that attending Auckland Art Fair is a great way to start a collection because there are more than 30 galleries all in one place. âThere are also lots of gallery owners and staff there who want to talk to you, so itâs the ideal opportunity,â she says. This year the Fair debuted several new initiatives designed to inspire future collectors. One such initiative was the introduction of a wall dedicated to artworks priced at or under $5,000. Another was a new In Residence section, showcasing five artist-run spaces where artists are encouraged to experiment with exhibition-making and their art practice. âSo thatâs an area that perhaps can suit an early career collector, but itâs also interesting for established collectors because itâs something completely different,â says Post.
GO WITH YOUR GUT
It can be hard to articulate what we like about certain pieces and thatâs because itâs usually our gut telling us when something feels right, so donât be afraid to embrace that instinct when you are looking for art. As a rule when making a purchase, Melville advocates trusting your own tastes. âIf youâre thinking about buying something, if you donât love it, donât buy it,â he says. While Post agrees that generally you should buy works that you are enthusiastic about as youâre the one who will have to look at them, sheâs also not opposed to a little risk taking. âSometimes go out on a limb, buy something youâre not absolutely sure about and chances are if itâs good art youâll start to like it more and more as you live with it,â she says. âGo and see things, read things, watch things â thatâs my advice about starting to collect, develop your own tastes, because there isnât really a right or wrong.â
When Melville is looking for new artists to represent, he looks for art that intrigues him. âI look for work that makes me feel something. I want something that Iâll keep coming back to…something that sort of bothers me,â he says. âThereâs plenty of art out there thatâs gorgeous to look at, but if itâs only gorgeous, itâs not enough.â Sarah Hopkinson, art consultant and former gallery owner, is also of the opinion that you should buy something that challenges you. âDonât just get the prettiest thing, because I think if you just want something that looks good you should spend your money on design, but if you want something that challenges you and makes you think then thatâs why you would spend your money on art,â she says.
Hopkinson is an advocate for collecting practices that support and encourage artists. This includes buying from primary galleries, where usually the majority of the money from works sold goes to the artist, instead of from secondary market outlets such as auction houses where the money goes to the person selling the work from their collection. âThatâs quite a crucial differentiation when youâre thinking about collecting,â she says. âIf you want to support artists to be in the studio, youâve really got to buy from galleries that represent artists and are getting that work from studios. Of course, the secondary market has a place too because there are some things that you canât get from primary galleries, for example work by artists who are deceased or really rare pieces that arenât produced anymore, but typically we encourage people to buy from galleries.â
IF BUYING ART SEEMS OUT OF REACH…
If youâve got your eye on a big-ticket item at a gallery but are not currently in a position to make a full payment upfront, a solution that will allow you to take the piece home while still ensuring the artist gets paid is by taking out an interest-free loan through My ART. The idea for the non-profit, which was established in 2016 by husband and wife Glenn and Sonja Hawkins, came about at an opening attended by the pair. âIt was a fabulous show and everybody loved the work but the price point was inaccessible to some collectors, so we got thinking about how we could help the galleries sell their artistsâ work and in return support their artistsâ practice, but also help people live with the art that they really wanted, so the idea of My ART was born,â explains Sonja. âThrough my husbandâs experience in finance we set up an interest-free loan scheme, so itâs art finance if you like, although not with the intention of profiting but with really supporting the art community.â Once the buyer finds a piece they canât live without, a 10 per cent deposit is placed with the gallery and My ART pays the gallery the balance. It means the gallery doesnât have to chase up payments, and they can pay their artists immediately.
IT DOESNâT HAVE TO COST THE EARTH
If you want to start collecting without having to take out a loan, there are ways to ease into it without spending a fortune. Buying prints or editioned works allows you to take home an affordable piece from an artist who would normally command much higher prices. Melvilleâs own collection started with a print that was gifted to him. âI didnât even think about collecting art, and then someone gave me a print and that was the beginning,â he says. âI was living in London and every year Iâd come home and Iâd buy another print and take it back to London with me and it would be like a piece of New Zealand on the wall beside me.â Melville recommends checking out endemicworld on Aucklandâs Ponsonby Road, which has a fantastic selection of prints and paintings from emerging and independent New Zealand artists. Or do some research to find out which local galleries also sell prints and editions from their artists.
Melville also suggests attending art school graduate shows to buy pieces directly from budding artists. âYou can get oil paintings for hundreds of dollars rather than thousands of dollars, and youâre giving the artist a shot in the arm as well â itâs such validation when their work is bought,â he says. Hopkinson also advises young collectors to seek out the work of emerging artists. âThereâs this tendency where people start collecting and they think theyâve got to get a Hotere or theyâve got to get a Shane Cotton, but I think itâs more meaningful to buy from your generation because itâs more likely that the work is going to reflect your experience,â she says. âAnd work by young artists is going to be more affordable. Yes, thereâs a little bit more risk involved because they may or not go on to become super famous or important, but when itâs affordable and you love it, that other stuff maybe doesnât matter so much.â
Sonja suggests not to buy purely with investment in mind because collecting should be about âthe joy of living with the artâ. âIf the art holds its value or gains some value thatâs the real bonus but itâs the time spent with the art and just the emotional connection that I think is really important,â she says. Melville agrees that you shouldnât get hung up on profit when starting out. âPeople get worried about value and losing money and at the beginning that shouldnât be the concern, at the beginning just buy something that you love,â he says.
GET TO KNOW THE MARKET
However, if you are entering the collecting game with money in mind, itâs worth having a chat to Charles Ninow, Head of Art at Webbâs auction house. He has some tips for what to look out for, given it can be difficult to predict which works will go up in value. âWhat I would suggest is make it a regular thing to go and look at the auctions and the dealer galleries around the city where you live and figure out what artists you like and then go and do some research,â he says. âRead some books about them, and figure out what their pedigree is. In terms of value, an artistâs pedigree is very important because when you buy an artwork youâre as much buying the artistâs brand, their reputation, as you are buying the specific artwork. So look at things like whether or not the artist is in museum collections, whether or not theyâve gone to a good art school, whether or not theyâve had a lot of major exhibitions â those sorts of things will tell you about how the artist is going to be viewed in the future and what the progression of their career is like.â
Ninowâs top tip when investing in art is not to be put off by a big price tag. âI think the number one thing I would say to people looking to buy art that they want to serve as a long-term investment is donât be motivated by price, because quality always comes at a premium. If you buy because it looks like youâre getting a good deal, thereâs usually a reason why, so what I would say is to always buy quality and let that motivate you.â