I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to build a meaningful, valuable art collection – particularly for those early in their art collecting journey.
Let me start by clarifying how I define collecting. Collecting is buying art consistent with a unifying theme that, as a whole, tells a unique story. That theme is of your choosing, which is liberating and fun. The discipline comes in the research, savvy and patience required to acquire the right pieces to tell the story.
Historically, collecting has been the domain of the ultra-wealthy. As societies have become richer and more democratic on whole, the art market has expanded -- in terms of artists, collectors and the supporting ecosystem. Today, collectors come in many forms, across a range of budgets. You don’t have to be a millionaire to be an art collector.
The chief benefit of collecting is personal pleasure. It’s the joy of living with unique or extremely rare pieces of art, of your choosing. Collecting can also have financial benefits. Good research, timing and luck can lead to upside, sometimes significant upside, if you buy a work by an artist before their value is fully appreciated by the market. Also, keep in mind that the value of individual pieces can rise by virtue of their being part of a well-respected collection.
Before you buy your next piece, I recommend you consider the following approach to confidently add to your collection.
Develop a guiding thesis.
A guiding thesis is a statement that guides your collection. You then explore your thesis through the work that you acquire. The thesis is the unifying thread that ties your collection together and makes a coherent narrative. The thesis is personal and should be consistent with your values and interests.
Buy what you love.
Since the principal benefit of having art is the joy of living with it, you should buy works that you love. Developing your art taste may take some effort since there are so many different styles. But by viewing art, learning how it is made, and reflecting on your feelings as you engage with the work, patterns emerge and your taste becomes clearer.
Know the market.
Keep in mind that the financial value of an art object is largely based on its cultural value. It is not really based on materials used or time spent on the work. In that sense, artwork is very different than most products traded in markets.
Also, the best unit of analysis in the art market is at the individual artist level, as artist’s values largely move independently of one another. Sure, some cultural trends lead to the rising value of a group of artists. Even so, analyzing the market at the individual artist level is best practice.
You can purchase works on the primary market, through galleries or dealers, or through the secondary market which is auction houses. It is important to know that there are other players in the ecosystem who shape value, notably cultural institutions i.e. museums, and cultural influencers i.e. other collectors. It’s important to have a firm grasp on how the market works, particularly if you strive to acquire works that appreciate in value.
Purchase meaningful, valuable art.
Once you have developed your thesis, refined your taste, made a list of target artists, and studied their markets, now you are ready to buy. Look for the best time and channel, whether it is at an exhibition opening, an art fair or an auction. In some cases, you may even be able to commission a work from an artist.
Following this approach, you will build a collection that is meaningful, and you may even see a healthy return on your investment.
If you’d like to learn more about building a meaningful and valuable art collection, please reach out to me.