How To Start An Art Collection

By Barbara Guggenheim

Guggenheim Is a partner In the art consulting firm Guggenheim Asher Associates. Her clients Include Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg.

If your ten-year college reunion has come and gone but that dorm-room Water Lilies poster is still with you, it’s time to get your feet wet as an art collector. Many of my clients decorate their walls with works priced at several million dollars, but you can start collecting with only a couple thousand, about the price of that Dolce & Gabbana suit you’ve had your eye on.

Take your time. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Visit galleries, check out museum exhibitions, subscribe to art magazines. Art fairs also offer a great way to see many different genres in one place. Several new ones have popped up recently that specialize in affordable works by young artists. Don’t be intimidated by auctions either. Charities often auction moderately priced work-even Sotheby’s and Christie’s have four-digit options.

Buy for love, not money. Art is another place to put your money, but one  that becomes part of your life in the meantime – stocks and bonds rarely look impressive over your couch. So rule number one is, you have to love it. If a piece doesn’t really appeal to you aesthetically, don’t get it just because someone told you it’s a wise investment.

Start small. Photography, prints, and drawings are all good first purchases. A print by a contemporary master such as Jasper Johns can be had for $3,000. Other big-name painters (and even sculptors) often have original drawings that are quite reasonably priced.

Fire away. When buying works from less famous names, ask the art dealer a litany of questions before you write the check. Has the piece been in any shows? What is the artist’s exhibition history? What is he or she working on now? Who else owns his or her work? In terms of investment value, you want someone with a broad appeal, so don’t get caught up with a local hero. For photography and prints, find out how many the artist did-“limited edition” should mean less than 200, not 2,000.

Go ahead, negotiate. Galleries expect you to, and many will give a 10 percent courtesy discount. Most will also allow you to pay over a period of time. You can even ask if you can take the piece on approval and hang it in your home for a couple days to make sure it works in the space you had in mind.

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