How To Buy Art

by BARBARA GUGGENHEIM

You’ve got a sofa with a big, blank wall behind it. Or you’ve moved to a new house or apartment with lots of empty wall space. Either way, you need a painting.

Buying your first piece of art can be a downright daunting task. The stark white art galleries are intimidating, and there are so many of them that it’s hard to know where to begin. Worse, it’s hard to make a judgment call and tell good from bad art. And, finally, there’s the question of how much to pay. Below are some steps you can take to ensure a prudent purchase:

1. LOOK AT ART MAGAZINES AND AUCTION CATALOGS.

Going to galleries and auctions is also helpful. Art fairs, where hundreds of dealers bring works, are like taking a crash course, as they offer a quick way of seeing thousands of works of art at one time. Following the fairs is like making a pilgrimage to a holy site. You’ll be exposed to a wide range of styles and areas from which you can choose, and you’ll get a feel for prices.

2. TAKE YOUR TIME.

Acclimating to the new trends and learning how the art market works takes time.

3. ASK QUESTIONS.

When you see something you like in a gallery, don’t be afraid to ask about it. Even if you have to ask the name of the artist, don’t be shy. How will you ever learn if you don’t start by asking questions? In addition to issues such as how a piece of art is made or what an artist is doing, ask what museums or private collections own or have shown the work.

4. GET THE RIGHT ADVICE.

You wouldn’t drill an oil well without consulting geologists, would you? Nor would you buy a business without getting a lawyer’s advice. Buying a painting should be no different. Don’t think that you can make wise decisions without the benefit of expertise. Local museum curators and art advisors can be a great help.

5. BUY WITH YOUR EYES, NOT YOUR EARS.

Don’t buy something just because someone has told you it’s a good investment. You should be able to find a piece you love that has the possibility of increasing in value too.

6. DON’T FEEL YOU HAVE TO PLUNGE IN AND BUY SOMETHING EXPENSIVE.

Get your feet wet by buying less expensive works, such as drawings or photos. Later, you’ll learn that buying good art isn’t spending money. It’s merely converting it from one investment instrument to another. Still, you have to be careful: too often newcomers make the mistake of buying “names” without considering the quality of the work.

7. EXERCISE DUE DILIGENCE.

Check prices on Artnet, a service that lists prior auction records for the artist. Call other galleries and see what other works by the artist are or have been on the market recently. Have the condition checked by an independent restorer and make certain, if it is an old painting, that IFAR (The International Foundation for Art Research) shows no record of its being stolen at IFAR. And make sure the reigning expert on the artist has acknowledged the authenticity of the work.

8. MAKE AN OFFER ACCORDINGLY.

Factor in prior auction records and other recent sales, rarity, and other complexities.

9. GO FOR THE BURN.

Traditionally, the paintings that go up the most in value are those that are among the artist’s best, so stretch and get only the “A” works by an artist-even if it hurts!

10. INSURE YOUR INVESTMENT.

Once you’ve paid for the piece, have it insured. Install the work (securely) and enjoy it! If you lend it to an exhibition, make sure there’s adequate security. I sleep better when I know that a painting is under shatterproof UV-filtered glass with a strong backing.

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