1. Should I buy as an investment?
‘Buy something you love’ says Brigitte Mulholland, Associate Director at New York’s Anton Kern gallery. That first purchase should be because you’re deeply drawn to something, not market speculation. Sasha Gomeniuk, Associate Director of Hales, London and New York, agrees: ‘it is important to follow your curiosity and to understand your own intentions - if you are at early stages of art collecting it might be equally useful to look around and figure out what you like and respond to on your own!’ Most likely the work will be displayed in your home, so make sure the work is something you’re happy to live with. ‘Remember that the first pieces you buy do not have to define your collection forever’, so buy something that resonates with you now.
2. Who should I talk to?
If you see a work in a commercial gallery that you’re interested in, it’s perfectly common to go to the front desk and ask for a follow up: ‘the team will be happy to help, directing you to the right person’, says Francesco Dama of Galleria Lorcan O’Neill in Rome. Depending on the size of the gallery and team, certain staff members will be responsible for certain artists. Sasha Gomeniuk notes that there are advisors who can help you seek out certain works or bring new artists to your attention. ‘They can also help with guide you through art fairs and gallery shows, which can often be overwhelming.’ Galleries work with art advisors as much as collectors do, so it could be worth seeking a second opinion.
3. How do I find out more about the artist?
If the artist has gallery representation, the gallery will have full biographic information on the artist, including CV, exhibition history and selected press available on their website. If the artist is emerging, and perhaps doesn’t yet have representation, Associate Director of New York’s Alexander Grey Associates, Alejandro Jassan, suggests ‘finding their website and Instagram account if they have one’. Social media can be a great way to familiarize yourself with their work before committing. Jassan also recommends suggesting a studio visit as a great way of understanding the artist’s working practices better.
4. Are there other available works?
Ideally, says Christian Siekmeier, owner of Exile gallery in Berlin, the work you’ve already seen that has grabbed your attention is the one to go for. If the work has already been sold, however, it can be worth enquiring about other available works realised by the artist from a similar time period or from a broader body of work. This can be a great way of understanding how the artist works and could even lead you to an unexpected discovery.
5. Is the work unique or an edition?
The value of the work can change significantly depending on whether it is a unique piece or an edition. Photography and sculpture are most commonly available as editions. An edition can be a great way to buy a work by an artist whose price point might otherwise be beyond your reach. Hella Pohl, Director of Thaddaeus Ropac, London, Paris and Salzburg, recommends that when buying an edition, however, to ‘make sure that the work was conceived by the artist as such. For example, if I bought a print, I would prefer that the artist especially creates works for the medium, as opposed to a print of a work that is otherwise unique. Georg Baselitz has a fantastic graphic work that only exists as such and forms an important part of his practice.’
6. Can I pay in instalments?
‘Paying in instalments has become very common’ says Francesco Dama, so don’t be afraid to discuss this with your gallerist. Spreading payment over a year or so can be a good option when buying your first piece.
7. Are there additional costs?
Be prepared to factor in costs beyond just the purchase price. Sasha Gomeniuk notes that shipping and taxes are usually outside of the cost of the work itself. ‘It is always worth speaking to the gallerist to see if anything can be worked into the deal’. While this might not always be possible, cutting a small deal to include transportation within the cost of the sales price could be the difference between being able to afford the work and not.
8. How do I display the work?
Considerations don’t end with the price, however, as Alejandro Jassan notes: ‘Will the work need framing? Insurance? Installation?’ Depending on the complexity of the work’s installation requirements, maybe the artist will need to install the work in situ, or the gallery could help to recommend an installer. ‘In the end, the role of the collector is to protect and assure longevity to an artwork, therefore he or she must be ready to take responsibility of what each artwork carries with it. Some works rot, others can be toxic or sharp. Be informed and be prepared’, says Jassan.
9. What about documentation?
A certificate of authenticity is standard practice for authenticating your art work. This will always come with your purchase. Indeed for more conceptual pieces – think Sol LeWitt’s works that exist solely as a set of instructions – the authentication certifies the piece itself. If there comes a time where you want to sell the work on, a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist or gallerist is essential.
10. What’s next?
If you’ve bought a contemporary work by a living artist, you will doubtless want to follow their career. Brigitte Mulholland recommends asking your gallery what’s coming up for the artist, such as future shows with the gallery or museum exhibitions. As Sasha Gomeniuk notes, buying a work of art is more than just a transaction: ‘we are entrusted with our artists’ careers and finding the right works for the right collector means building a long term relationship not just between the collector and the gallery, but, most importantly, between the collector and the artist.’