Buying Art: A Beginner's Guide

30/03/2016 5:00 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Seth Joel via Getty Images
Rear view, Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, California, USA

buying art

Unless you mingle with underground creative types or happen to have a PhD in art history, buying a piece of art can be pretty daunting.

Do you go contemporary? Or art nouveau? Abstract or botanical?

Perhaps pop art is more your thing -- but will you regret it in five years’ time?

According to Simon Maidment, senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Victoria, we shouldn’t overthink it too much.

Instead, it's about choosing something that has value to you personally in some way.

“There’s an oft-repeated adage among private collectors that you should buy what you love: you, ultimately, are the one who has to live with it!” Maidment told The Huffington Post Australia.

Maidment explains there’s many levels of discernment when it comes to art but your chosen work should in some way, speak to the things you’ve been through or achieved -- or your aesthetic sensibilities.

banksy exhibition London's 2014 Banksy exhibition, curated by Steve Lazarides.

“Artworks have many stories to tell, sometimes about the world, sometimes about their makers and their own histories,” Maidment said.

“Whenever I take tours of the exhibitions I always try to include those small nuances about where things originate, what the artist was on about and their own context, and they are invariably the snippets that people respond to strongly."

Think of it like fashion. Your favourite wardrobe piece is rarely the skirt you got on sale in the city. It’s the handbag you bought in Paris or the denim jacket you scored at an op shop in Berlin.

You love it because it has a special story -- and that’s exactly what your artwork should have.

“Visiting art galleries and other places where there is information imparted by people, wall labels and publications that help contextualise artwork and situate it alongside other pieces, will invariably kick start that learning process -- exposure is key,” Maidment said.

Martin McIntosh, director of Outre Gallery is quick to shut down the idea that a good piece of art has to have a hefty price tag.

"You should buy something because you love it and are excited to have the artist's work on your wall at home -- it should move you -- rather than seeing it as a commodity or symbol of status," McIntosh told HuffPost Australia.

When it comes to price, McIntosh said it is based on a number of things including how established the artist is, how many times they've exhibited in the past and also the value of their previous work.

Interestingly, McIntosh said the amount of Instagram followers an artist has does not necessarily equate to sales.

"Every artist has their own method. It's certainly not unusual for them to decide on a price based on how many hours they've put into the piece -- while some are more intuitive and go with what they believe it to be worth -- but essentially, it comes down to supply and demand," McIntosh said.

McIntosh said you can look at spending anywhere from the hundreds into the thousands on a piece of art.

"Who the artist is selling to plays a role and also the venue they are selling in -- for example, if someone’s putting their work in a cafe as opposed to an established gallery," McIntosh said.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking galleries only exhibit established artists.

“We’re out at exhibitions in artist run spaces, smaller commercial galleries, art school graduate shows and university galleries. Joining a supporters group of a major art gallery can help provide some of that access,” Maidment said.

As well as research, Maidment said talking to friends about your prospective purchase is a good idea -- and if you can convince them to brave a couple of exhibitions while you get to know "the scene" -- even better.

andy warhol art gallery 'Dollar Signs' 1980 - 1982 by Andy Warhol.

If you are buying online you may run into the awful, horrible feeling of buyer’s regret due to colours not being as vibrant or problems with size and proportion.

And be sure to take into account additional purchase costs like freight which can be high, especially if you're purchasing from overseas.

There are also more costs buying from the secondary market in general, rather than from the artist directly or through their representative commercial gallery. Maidment said when in doubt, always try and seek out the artist.

“There’s nothing quite like seeing a work in a gallery or studio, spending time with it and saying ‘I’ll take it!’, that’s a wonderful feeling. You also get a lot closer to the person selling the work, whether artist, gallerist or whomever.

“That’s the first step to building a mutually beneficial relationship -- getting told when there’s other works you might be interested in before others, discounts on work, a channel to sell the work if you want to -- it’s a business more about people than many realise,” Maidment said.

McIntosh agrees.

"Artists are worth supporting -- especially in the Internet age where people will have an amazing art work as their screensaver -- yet have no idea who created it."

"Follow your heart, your eyes and how you react. There should be a sense of excitement of having an original artwork on your wall to enjoy," McIntosh said.

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