The Art Collector's Guide

How to stay informed, spot trends and buy wisely.

By Judith Selkowitz, President, Art Advisory Services, Inc.

July 2015

As the second half of 2015 arrives, the “trophy culture” of the art world continues unabated. Contemporary auction sales have been robust, even overheated in the eyes of some, and new market forces are emerging to significantly alter the landscape of the art world. Case in point; the emergence of pop-up exhibition spaces launched to promote galleries’ less expensive and emerging artists. Online sellers and auctions also are proliferating. For example, Sotheby’s recently teamed with eBay and, in Los Angeles, some entrepreneurial dealers have invested in large warehouse spaces, which can be utilized both for storage and showcasing monumental sculptures.

What are the notable trends that serious collectors should be on the lookout for? Interest in three-dimensional artworks, including sculpture and ceramics, is now well established. There is a renewed following for textiles, which were very popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s, now in a variety of formats. Also, an emerging interest in 19th, 20th century and contemporary architectural and sculpture drawings, and contemporary African art.

Photo above: People travel near and far to see great art. This sculpture installation by Hélio Oiticica titled "Invention of Color,” can be seen at Inhotim Art Park in Brazil. Image courtesy of Art Advisory Services, Inc.

Demand for artwork in all media is still strong. As art advisors, we advise clients seeking value to look at 19th and 20th century works on paper and 19th and 20th century American paintings, as well as American realist paintings from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. And there are still good buys to be found in emerging artists from the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific.

Above: Gouache on paper, 22” x 30”, 1994 by Brooklyn-based artist Santi Moix.
Below: Untitled, Unknown artist of the Hudson River School, circa 1840, Oil on canvas, 23 ½” x 30.” All images courtesy of Art Advisory Services, Inc. except as noted.

Barring any disasters in the United States, expect the high end of the art market to continue, while the middle market will be bumpy, and the lower end will be speculative. Pursue works that are undervalued but well-regarded over time or, alternatively, pursue up-and-coming, undiscovered artists showing great promise.

The well-informed buyer always comes out ahead

The best collection strategy is to stay well-informed and self-educated. The vast majority of our clients are not as well-informed as they would like, simply because they are too busy. But, as in many fields of investment, the key to making wise acquisitions in the art market is to educate oneself about an individual artist or medium, and history has shown that the astute, well-informed buyer always comes out ahead.

Start by visiting the best quality exhibitions. A wealth of information is available to new or seasoned collectors, whether related to pricing, emerging talent, trends or geographical factors; anyone can visit auction houses to preview upcoming sales and learn which artists and which media are commanding reasonable prices and then track the auction results. Major museums, art fairs and some galleries sponsor lecture series that provide historical expertise and useful perspectives on market trends. The top art periodicals are an excellent source of information, with content that includes artist profiles, art show news, regional and global trends, market statistics and technical information. Well-regarded museums like The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York offer excellent online courses. Galleries, too, showcase a variety of artists and artworks, and the prices predictably range according to artists’ reputations and pricing history.

For many years, galleries have regarded art fairs as the best opportunity to represent their most prominent artists and artworks. For collectors, art fairs provide an overview of what the art market currently has to offer, with the added advantage of displaying an overwhelming amount of artwork, in one venue. Many collectors enjoy the art world for its rich social aspect. For some collectors, the pursuit of art is more of a lifestyle than an intellectual endeavor. The art world provides participants with an engaging social life, and important art fairs have evolved from a handful of unique annual events (Art Basel, Switzerland started in 1970) into destination venues for high style art merchants and marketers.

Today there are more than 150 art fairs. Some of those we would recommend include: Art Basel, Switzerland, which extended to Miami Beach and Hong Kong; ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America), New York; PAD (Pavillon des Arts et du Design) Paris and London; Frieze London; FIAC; Salon du Dessin, Paris; Biennale des Antiquaires (Paris); Art Brussels; TEFAF Maastricht; Art Cologne; and SP-Arte (São Paulo, Brazil).

Fernand Léger, 1938, gouache on paper. This artwork was purchased from a private dealer.

Another great source for discovering and acquiring new art is the private dealer. They provide access to a large array of available artworks. Auction house previews also allow a collector to examine the works first-hand before bidding. Before moving forward with the purchase of a new artwork, it is important to closely examine its condition, including a detailed condition report, a certificate of authenticity and provenance (the history of the artwork’s ownership and exhibition record). This documentation is especially important when dealing with artworks that predate 1945. It is best to consult an expert, who can attest to the quality and connoisseurship of the artwork. It is important to be certain that the artwork is an excellent example of the particular artist's work, and the piece should be examined in black light for any cracks or inpainting. After purchasing the artwork, the collector should select a frame (if needed) that would complement the art, and protect it from direct sunlight, which could be damaging.

The art advisor

We highly recommend contacting an art advisor to assist you with every step of the process, from learning about your own art preferences, to choosing the right framing for new acquisitions. The advantages of working with an art advisor are many. Choose one with knowledge, expertise and years of experience. A good advisor will spend time educating a client, introducing them to various types of art and providing guidance to ascertain the client’s taste and preferences. Some advisors can provide exclusive access to great artworks that are not typically available to the public, and provide entry into back rooms of galleries. Many have connections that allow them to negotiate the best prices.

The artist John Zinsser working in his Brooklyn studio. Some advisors can provide exclusive access to great artworks that are not typically available to the public. Image courtesy of John Zinsser.

We recommend approaching one or two art professionals that are trustworthy (make sure they have expertise and top references) and enjoyable to work with. Art fairs, for example, can be overwhelming, and consulting with your art advisor before attending can help a collector navigate the shows. A de-briefing after returning from a show can also help distill one’s thoughts on things that were found to be of interest.

A final word of advice

At Art Advisory Services, Inc., we believe that works on paper, prints, watercolors, photographs and ceramics all represent fair value at reasonable price points in today's overheated market. Geographically, we find Los Angeles, New York, Miami, London and Berlin are still vibrant centers of young emerging artists. Through focused research and legwork, undiscovered and under-appreciated 19th and 20th century works, and works by emerging or reemerging artists, can still be found.

Most of all: enjoy the hunt. Buy what you love!

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