How to Buy a Work of Art

by - Friday, March 15, 2013

With a bit of savvy, time, effort and research, anyone can buy a work of art and kick start a collection to be proud of.

In a rather interesting interview with ARTINFO at the start of 2013, the Paris-based ad agency associate director Joseph Kouli talked about art, namely how he goes about acquiring works. It is difficult to say how it begins, he explained, but one thing he was certain of was this: "You aren’t born a collector, you become one."

Still only in his thirties, he has built up a small but remarkable collection of art. What is most extraordinary about Mr. Kouli is not his age, but the fact that he is a salaried professional. His purchases have been made with his own hard-earned money and a bit of nous that he has acquired over the years.

His reason for acquiring art is personal. He loves art. It is not done with a view to the future, as investments, and it is not influenced by the expectations of the art world. It's passion, pure and simple. If he has any ambitions it is to capture something special about artists of his own generation who "have something to say about our time".

It's a great story, one that reminds that art is not the preserve of the rich and the famous. Purchasing high quality, engaging and timeless works of art can be realised by anyone. This guide serves as an introduction to kick start a lifelong love affair.

● Start with small steps

Modest beginnings matter, if not purely out of financial necessity. Here is where the faint foundations of a collection are established. Cheap doesn't necessarily mean the work in question is absent of critical or commercial value. After all, its author might be relatively unknown at this point in history. Think of it as an exercise to gauge the market and whether you're a natural or not. From here on out, the world is your oyster.

Visit museums and galleries, get in touch with curators, attend art fairs, and note names that crop up now and again in publications or ones that might have slipped off the tongue of today's stars. Soon enough you'll get an idea of what might make for a shrewd purchase. Sometimes listen to your gut. Occasionally it pays to be impulsive with emerging artists. Treat every work with respect though, and if it's not hanging in your abode or a gallery, be sure to house them in a bespoke storage unit or use the services of a fine art storage company like Cadogan Tate.

● Ask important questions

Understanding the details about fine art purchases is vital. It's fair to assume that if you're interested in buying art, you know a thing or two about it, its movements, key artists, various techniques and general industry chitchat. However, one may not be so au fait with the intricacies related to buying and selling. This is something that fundamentally comes with experience.

All that said, there are certain questions that a prospective buyer can rely on no matter how conversant they are or not. For example, being able to authenticate a work of art, especially if it's by a renowned artist, is vital. No one wants a fake by Claude Monet.

Ask then, what is its provenance, its history, whether it comes with documentation. Where has it come from? Who has owned it previously? Why is it up for sale? Has it undergone any conservation work? Not only do questions like this help create a better all-round picture; they also can, where the situation permits, give greater leverage to the buyer.

● The value of taste

Something that often gets overlooked early on is the concept of taste. While it is important not to limit purchases exclusively to works within the confines of what you like, if you're cultivating a collection, it makes sense to build one up that directly appeals to your artistic leanings.

"Within a collection, it is expected that there will be a certain amount of cohesion: whether that is defining what resonates with you, or building round a loose theme e.g. subject matter, style, artists or medium," explain the organisers of the Affordable Art Fair, a global expo that takes place in Amsterdam, Bristol, Brussels, New York, Milan, London, Singapore, Hamburg, Mexico City, Rome, Seattle and Stockholm.

"Having said that though, as long as you have a sense of what you can afford and you pick pieces that you connect with, then you can’t get much wrong. Art should be an emotional experience, so the biggest mistake you could make is buying something you don’t love."

● Enjoy it

If a work of art affects, moves, entertains and enthrals, speaks to you, says something about life, about the world you're living in, or is something you find outright beautiful purely on aesthetics, then, if within budget, go for it, enjoy it.

But, and this is imperative, do your homework, even if it is a cursory Google of the artist whose work has piqued your interest. A collection shouldn't, as Mr. Kouli noted, be dictated by outside influences. This is about you and what you like.

Though the following advice was directed towards artists, Pablo Picasso's words can resonate with art buyers. It's not a bad maxim to live by at all: "Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time."

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