The scene: a Paris salon in the 1920s. Leo Stein (brother of Gertrude) is appraising a painting he later described as “the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen.” Still, revulsion can be compelling. For 500 francs, or about $100, he purchases the publicly condemned piece. The artist? Matisse. Talk about a prudent investment.
In light of the recent $44.4 million Georgia O’Keeffe sale, the Stein story proves anyone—especially on a budget—can collect art. Here’s how, in more contemporary terms:
See art in person. Visit museums and galleries. Attend lectures and panels or listen to historians and experienced collectors speak about art. An art education will make collecting that much more interesting. Also, browse online galleries. It’s a great way to compare and analyze various online offerings.
Start with prints
Prints are an easy and affordable place to start. Each will be numbered and signed by the artist, “confirming it as an authorized artwork to the collector.” Casey Fremont, director of Art Production Fund, explains. First purchase prints also teach beginner collectors something about the financial and emotional value of art according to Dennis Ammann, founder and director of 5 Pieces Gallery. From there, you can ascertain your aesthetic and build a unique collection by focusing on a certain era, country, or medium of interest.
Exhibition A comes highly recommended for limited edition, signed and affordable pieces by illustrator Bernadette Pascua. Founded in 2010 by fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, she says “What you collect is so personal and should make you happy every time you see it. Exhibition A was founded on the premise that the best contemporary art can be accessible and inform a larger audience about a world that can sometimes be a bit intimidating, but ultimately, totally inspirational.”
Support emerging artists
To own originals, Ammann advises purchasing from well-educated and widely exhibited emerging artists (his online gallery has an emerging artists section). “It gives collectors the chance to buy high quality art at affordable prices.” You’ll also support their craft and help to sustain the creative culture around the world.
Framing and placement
How and where you place your art is entirely subjective. Writer Stephanie La Cava prefers an undone approach, using map tacks to pin a Carol Bove print to her wall. Or, placing framed art on top of limited edition artist books from Karma or Fulton Ryder. For inexpensive, ready-made frames try A.I. Friedman. A semi-custom framing trick: buy a pre-made frame but have the matting custom cut. For entirely custom framing, try a small, locally owned framing shop. (Pascua recommends Brentano’s for the New York City set.)
Trust your instincts
'While art can be a great investment.” Fremont says, “it can also have absolutely no resale value.” So your response to the artwork—be it revulsion or adoration—is most important. Her suggestion? “Buy what you love living with and you’ll always come out on top.”
Photos courtesy of the author and Exhibition A.