How to start collecting art: 7 top tips
With the Affordable Art Fair Battersea 2018 edition now open, we offer our top tips for starting an art collection with the help of Fair Director Luci Noel
But with so much choice – where to buy, what to buy, and who to buy – it can be difficult to know where to start.
We teamed up with Affordable Art Fair Director, Luci Noel, for a one-off Culture Whisper event at citizenM to discuss the ins and outs of starting an art collection. The key is not to be intimidated: Buying, owning and collecting art can be surprisingly affordable and enjoyable.
With Luci's help, here are our seven top tips for starting an art collection.
Pablo Picasso, Le Matador, 1970 (On view during Mayfair Art Weekend)
#1 Do your research and be obsessed
The more you know about the contemporary art market, the more you will find out what you like and dislike. With a wealth of resources at your fingertips, there really is no excuse not to research widely before purchasing.
Once you have done the research make sure it's something you really love. Norman Ackroyd, RA, once said about collecting: ‘When it goes on the wall, can you live with it? Sometimes of course the question is, could you live without it – and if it’s no, that’s when you really go for something.’
Wilhelmina Barnes Graham, Two pairs complementaries of equal amount, 1970
#2 Join the conversation
Industry buzz can affect the success, price and future of contemporary artists. With this in mind, trust your instinct, respect word-of-mouth and make sure to stay in the loop.
Sign up to communications from your favourite galleries, museums and auction houses and you’ll be invited to free private views, talks and specialist gallery tours when they happen. Christie’s Lates, for example, offer an unrivalled opportunity for young collectors to quiz industry experts while social media channels offer great forums for the exchange of ideas and platforms for scouting out emerging new talent.
If you spot an artist you like, start the conversation (via direct message on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter) to get to know their style, practice and ways of working before splashing big sums of cash.
#3 On a budget? Stick to prints, multiples and photographic editions
You don’t need to be rich to buy art. The trick is knowing where to look for the more affordable pieces on the market.
Luci Noel strongly advises not compromising on the calibre of the artist. Instead, Luci suggests trying to collect original works on paper such as 'sketches, drawings, photography or prints by a well recognised artist'.
Quite often, major artists will produce limited edition prints in smaller, affordable batches. Take a look at non-profit making organisations like the RA (The Summer Exhibition 2017 showcased a large selection of prints for under £1,000), Aperture, or the Whitechapel Gallery for accessible starting points. The Royal Academy's Keeper's House is also a good place to start. Throughout the year, works by Royal Academicians, alongside a curated selection of work by emerging and established contemporary artists, are available to purchase at surprisingly affordable prices. It's an underutilized but incredibly rich resource right at the heart of London's gallery district.
First-time buyers can also dip their toes into the contemporary art market at international art fairs including START, housed in London's Saatchi gallery, the Affordable Art Fair, where original art is priced between £100 and £6,000, or at online auctions. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have Multiple and Edition sales dedicated to the print market. So it’s worth keeping an eye out for upcoming auctions and placing a bid online in advance. If you are new to the bidding system, it's a much less intimidating way of buying art at auction for the first time.
The Affordable Art Fair Battersea Installation shot.
Frieze London and Frieze Masters are likely to be far too expensive for new collectors, but they are the best fairs for sussing out what styles, mediums and artists you like.
If budget is of the essence, remember, above all quality not quantity. Look at the edition size (normally no more than 250) and take the leap.
#4 Don’t expect to make money
The most important thing is to buy what you love. The art market fluctuates like any other market, and no work is guaranteed to increase in value, even if you cling on to it for decades.
#5 Scout out new talent
As Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh are out of the question, look out for the rising stars. Use digital resources as mentioned above (Artsy, Artnet, Arteviste.com, Instagram and Artforum are among the best) and attend graduate shows. Luci Noel recommends scouting out new artists at The Royal College of Art, Slade School of Fine Art, Camberwell College, Central Saint Martins and RA Schools.
Go to the shows, meet the artists and discuss their work. It's also a great opportunity to invest in less traditional mediums including video art, 3-D prints and light sculptures as well as hearing about new works first. If you're lucky, grad artists could be represented by blue-chip commercial galleries in two or three years time, and you could make a fortune - this, of course, is the scenario we all dream of.
Kevin Killen, Tipping Point, 2016
We would also highly recommend getting involved with innovative events like Art Night, Peckham 24, and even Frieze, where different galleries, artists and emerging talent come together to celebrate the global diversity of the contemporary creative community.
During our exclusive Culture Whisper - Affordable Art Fair event in February, Luci Noel let slip a few names to check out. If you haven't heard of London-based Lucinda Metcalfe, make it your business to look her up online. Her vivid paintings are inspired by scenes from holiday brochures and advertisements but her work is far from saccharine. It has a melancholy edge, which disrupts any escapist longings. If you're after drawings look at the work of Ian Chamberlain, or if you're after traditional oil paintings, it's time to start researching into the works of LA-based artist Ariana Papademetropoulos, British artist Jack Penny, Korean artist Sang Woo Kim, as well as Milla Eastwood, Scarlett Bowman, and Tristan Pigott.
But art consultant Flora Alexandra Ogilvy stresses, 'if you can’t afford to buy the artwork of the artists you love, then perhaps you could (like I do) find another way to be useful to them. You could photograph their work, help design their website or sub-edit texts and perhaps swapping skills might equate to a piece of work. Likewise, if you’re an artist yourself then proposing art swaps with other artists can be a great way of building a collection without money changing hands.' If splashing the cash in one big chunk is a little too intimidating, Luci Noel suggests looking at Creative United's Own Art Scheme, an initiative supported by Art Council England. Paying off that beloved purchase in bite-seized chunks makes it that much easier to take the plunge.
#6 Have your wits about you
Be aware of fakes, forgers and dodgy deals. There are no rules in the art world and everyone is out to make money. Have your wits about you and don’t get suckered into a bad deal. Most London dealers are part of BADA (British Antique Dealers' Association) or SLAD (Society of London Art Dealers), so make sure to look them up before splashing on a rogue trader. All works at art fairs are vetted in advance by an expert committee, so don't fear any under hand practice at established annual events.
#7 Track your purchase
It sounds obvious, but proof of purchase is proof of authentication. Without relevant purchase documentation, it could take a long and arduous battle to prove your work is the real deal.
Andre Derain, Collioure
Building a collection is a distinct and personal journey. Whether you are buying piece-by-piece or cultivating a long-term collection, your collection must reflect your taste. 'Art is the ultimate expression of how to make a house a home', Luci Noel told us at the end of her talk. 'What is on your wall', she continued, 'has to inspire you. You have to fall in love with it time and time again.'
Be brave, jump in and be the curator of your own house. Once you get going, you may find that the process of collecting art is a lot less intimidating than you first thought.