21 Nov Vogue: How To Collect Art
In The Price of Everything – a new HBO documentary, which takes rare glimpse into art collecting process through the voices of the collectors themselves – the film’s director Nathaniel Kahn describes the art world as a slippery fish, “one that I have tried to get hold, and to see it from lots of different vantage points.” Yes, the seemingly impenetrable and at times elitist world of art is shrouded in mystery, which is exactly how some of those who operate within it would like it to remain. This makes starting an art collection – or the decision of whether to even start one at all – a daunting task that poses innumerable questions.
Which artist should I collect? What is the right price to pay for their work? Will this artwork be an investment or, at best, an asset? Why should I collect art at all? All pertinent questions to ask yourself before before signing on the dotted line for the canvas, sculpture or installation that has caught your eye. Vogue sought out expert advice to help find the answers, so that no matter how big or small your budget, you’re still in with a chance of becoming the 21st century’s answer to Peggy Guggenheim.
Why collect art?
It’s the stories of the exorbitant prices of art and profits to be made from it that seem to dominate the headlines. From the case of Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian who famously purchased Modigliani’s Reclining Nude for over £130 million ($170 million) on his Amex in 2015, to this year’s record-breaking Rockefeller sale which totalled £648.5 million ($832 million), almost double the previous high. Art invariably has the potential to be an investment as well as an asset, but instances of a single artwork increasing in value by tenfold to £86 million ($110.5 million) – as is the case with Basquiat – it should be noted, are a rarity.
Collecting art is about appealing to the heart as much as the head. After all, it’s not like buying a pair of shoes that will one day wear out, art is something that you have to be willing to hang on your wall and look at for a lifetime.
But much more than simply being about basic likes and dislikes, it can actually improve our wellbeing. Recent scientific study researchers found that looking at art releases the same dopamine as being in love. Semir Zeki, professor of neuroaesthetics at University College London, said that after scanning volunteers’ brain activity as they looked at pictures such as The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli and Bathers at La Grenouillère by Claude Monet, there was increased activity in the pleasure reward centres of the brain. Art has also been proven to improve learning with Steiner education, for example, integrating play, artistic expression and critical reasoning, alongside social and empathetic development, as the foundations of its mode of learning.
Determining your taste
We are going through seismic global changes, socially, politically and economically, and that is reflected in the museum shows being staged, the purchases institutions are making for their permanent collections and the works private collectors are choosing to buy. Taste is such an interesting construct – decided by a select few, it has a great impact on what is deemed important to collect and keep. David Walsh, founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania, is a Willy Wonka-esque figure in the art world. “Everybody collects art,” he states, “even if that just means compiling a folio of their own childhood scribbles.” The confidence to make such a statement is developed over time. Going to see museum shows and their permanent collection is an excellent way to define and hone your taste. Spending time with artworks and measuring your emotional response is elemental to forming ideas about what art you would like to collect.
What’s the “right price”?
As the art collector Stefan Edlis states, quoting Oscar Wilde in The Price of Everything, “Some people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” This focus of the documentary highlights a huge potential stumbling block in forming your collection: the price. Websites such as London-based Counter Editions and Studio Voltaire work directly with artists to make more affordable editions – here, you can get an editioned print for as little as £300. Galleries representing early career artists are also a good place to start. Antonia Marsh, the founder of gallery Soft Opening nestled in London’s Piccadilly tube station, represents emerging artists and sells their works “to a broad spectrum of collectors ranging from the young buyer to the established, museum-level collector.”
Pricing can appear somewhat random; but things such as provenance, condition, authenticity, exposure and quality are carefully considered. “It’s important that the artwork sells so that the artists can support themselves and develop their work,” Marsh goes on to explain. “But I am careful that the work is placed in good homes that will grow alongside the artist. It’s symbiotic – I want collectors to feel they are investing in something that maintains longevity and this comes from trust. If I want to show artists that are ahead of the curve, I have to demonstrate that I have reliable foresight and this only comes with time.” Buy right, and art will be an investment. After all, the definition of a blue chip artist is one whose work holds great value that will continue to increase, regardless of potential economic downturn.
Where to shop for art
In addition to buying works through the artist’s gallery, there are auction houses across the world that stage sales – Artnet is an amazing resource to find both upcoming events and listings of all previous sale prices. There are also online auction sites such as Paddle8 and Artsy, and today one of the main ways collectors purchase pieces is from one of the many art fairs staged internationally. Growing each year, the biggest and most established are Art Basel (held in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong) and Frieze London, New York, and, launching in February 2019, Los Angeles. These fairs act as art superstores, each gallery taking a booth under one roof, bringing artworks to display that they think will suit the collectors in each market. Open to the public, this is a fascinating way to view the inner workings of the art world.
There may be one closer to you than you think, as recent years have seen a rise in fairs across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Tokini Peterside founder of ART X Lagos – the first international art fair in West Africa – explains that they “always start with the local – recognising that the art market on the African continent will only grow as quickly as its counterparts in Asia if there is a strong local base of support.” But you must do your homework. Xiaoming Zhang – the founder of W Ming Art, who acts as a conduit between artists and buyer, specialising in Asian art – explains that when working with her clients, they are mostly experts who “are able to identify the quality of the works, many know the artists in person and they will know immediately whether the work is for them to collect.”
Displaying your treasures
Now that you have your piece of art you will need to think carefully about how to display, care and conserve it. Usually the collector will either display these works in their home or engage fine art storage companies to look after pieces. It’s impossible to explain specifics as artworks are made of so many different mediums and each of these – for example paper, paint, metal and plastic – are volatile in a different ways, so it is imperative that you engage an expert.
Momart offers storage, shipping and art-handling services. If displaying art your home, you will need to engage an installation company with experience in conservation and handling fine art. Matthew Jones, chairman of the British framer John Jones, who frames many important historic and contemporary pieces, explains, “Every artwork is condition checked, so we will provide a report back to the collector on any recommended work that needs to be done. It’s vital that we understand the makeup of the work so we can advise the correct framing materials to protect the piece. We also discuss whether the work is going overseas, possibly to a place where there are fluctuations with temperature and humidity, as again, this defines the materials we recommend and use with our necessary frame design.” Conservator, Ashleigh Brown, elaborates, “Everything from the type of security, lighting, temperature and humidity is taken into account, because while these factors may seem like unlikely risk factors, any of them can cause irreversible damage or loss of artwork. All it takes is one rainy day in a historic house and you could have irremovable black mould on a Picasso!”