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Art buying advice

HOW TO BUY ART

There are essentially two reasons to buy art. The first is because you love it and feel passionately about it. The second is because you see it as a potentially lucrative investment. If you are reading this then you will probably already know which category you fall into.

Buying art for love:

If you’re not going to buy a piece of art because you think you might make some cash out of it, then the possibilities before you are endless. There is so much art out there to choose from that before you look at how to buy art, you must be honest with yourself about what it is you’re really looking for.

Deciding what you want will probably be the hardest part of all. Do you prefer photography or painting? Still life or sculpture? Landscape or figurative? Remember you will live with this piece of art for ever so the most important advice is “BUY WHAT YOU LIKE”!

It was with this conviction in mind that we launched Londonart 15 years ago. We wanted the selection of art to become easier and less time consuming; less biased and more democratic. It does not seem right that just a few curators dictate our tastes; we all have an opinion of our own.

You might also want to take some practical issues into consideration: do you have a specific place in mind in which to display your acquisition? Have you just moved house? Redecorated? What size is the space you want to fill? What is the colour scheme? Will the piece of art be the focal point of the room? Is the artwork a gift and if so are you sure your choice will be well received? Ideally, you will love the artwork so much that you will want to make the space work around it rather than the other way around.

Buying art as an investment:

Owning original art is not just a great way of sprucing up your home, it can also offer potential returns to shrewd selectors of future Tracy Emins or Damian Hirsts.

If your looking at art as an investment opportunity and contemporary art is your bag, you really need to do your homework or get help. There are over 1 million artists in the UK - around 100 with superstar status at any one time. The main market for these works is not the public themselves but gallery spaces and exhibitions that the public pay to go and see.

Around £500 million a year is given by the Arts Council to public institutions like the Tate to buy and hang art. Not one of the 100 celebrity artists would have earned their status without public spaces taking an interest in their work. In turn, this interest then helps the artists sell to the super-rich collectors (of which there are around 100).

The curators who select the work are the people who hold the power at present. And believe us, having been involved in the art industry for the past 10 yrs we can assure you that some pretty dodgy things go on !!!!
    Some advice:
  • Buy early in an artist’s career. It’s usually not until an artist is at least in his or her 40’s before he or she can command good prices with opportunities for resale. In addition, the tax de droite was introduced this year (finally putting us in line with the rest of Europe), which means that artists are entitled to royalties on the resale of work.
  • Look for artists just starting to get shown in public spaces.
  • Get to know the artists directly
  • What makes art valuable is DEMAND. Artists sometimes only produce a small body of work but if there is a the right sort of buzz amongst the right sort of people, he or she will have greater success than a much more prolific artist.

All this preliminary research may seem like a bit of a chore but if you are unsure about exactly what it is that you are looking for, then it really is the best way to go about educating yourself. If, however, you already have an idea about what you want to buy and are more interested in the question of ‘how’ to go about this, then the following information should point you in the right direction.
    Some ways of buying art include:
  • From galleries
  • Through art dealers
  • Online
  • At art fairs
  • At auction
  • From university graduate shows

Listed below is a break down of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each of the six methods mentioned above.

1. THE GALLERY

    ADVANTAGES
  • You can look at the works of art directly rather than from a reproduction of a printed image.
  • You will have a selection of different pieces in front of you, allowing you to compare a lot of different pieces and their prices.
  • You can see the type of work that is selling well, which may give you an idea of what constitutes a good investment.

    DISADVANTAGES
  • Galleries can often be intimidating; you may feel as if you are being scrutinized by the people working there which might undermine your judgement.
  • If you’re not looking to invest, prices and ‘Sold’ tags may also cloud your judgement. Remember, you are buying art for you and not everyone else that has come into the gallery.
  • Remember that you are not just paying for the piece of art; the gallery will be taking a significant slice from the figure on the price tag.

2. THE ART DEALER

    ADVANTAGES
  • It is an art dealer’s job to communicate between artists and buyers. It is his/her responsibility to find out exactly what it is that you are looking for and tailor what is on their books to match your criteria. Choosing the right dealer will save you a lot of time and hassle.
  • A good dealer will have a reputation for being able to anticipate fluctuations in tastes and value and being able to accommodate for it appropriately.
  • The very best dealers will be able to create a market for certain artists just by agreeing to represent them.

    DISADVANTAGES
  • A bad dealer will not be able to cater to your needs and may cost you much time and money.
  • Dealers are often associated with a specific artistic field and so if you have not carefully researched what it is that you’re looking for, you may end up purchasing something out of exasperation rather than personal preference.

3. ONLINE

    ADVANTAGES
  • This is one of the most democratic ways to buy art. Online galleries like Londonart can exhibit the work of hundreds of artists specializing in many different genres including figurative, abstract, landscape, still life, sculpture and so on. This gives you the widest possible range of art to choose from.
  • Because so many different types of art are collected together on one site, you may discover a preference you did not even know you had.
  • You can browse the artists’ work from the comfort of your own home with no pressure to buy and nobody to make you feel intimidated.
  • You can do this at whatever time is convenient to you; you do not need to comply with any rigid opening or closing times.
  • You can build up your own gallery of favourite artworks as you browse the selection. This then enables you to form an idea of the sort of work that you’re interested in and compare prices between them.
  • If you are looking to invest, then an online gallery should be able to tell you which of their registered artists is the most popular and hence, the most likely to be a good investment.
    DISADVANTAGES
  • Seeing a piece of art online is not the same as seeing it in real life. It can be difficult to get a sense of scale and proportion from a computer screen.
  • Sometimes it can all seem a bit too easy – just clicking buttons is not like spending real money and so it is very tempting to go over your original budget.

4. THE ART FAIR

    ADVANTAGES
  • Art fairs are excellent ways to see the work of up and coming artists alongside some more established names.
  • There is far less pressure to make a purchase at a fair than a gallery. It has been suggested that of the 47000 visitors that attend the annual Frieze Art Fair in London for example, around 80% are there purely to spectate.
    DISADVANTAGES
  • Because they are only on for a limited period, art fairs – especially the major ones like Frieze and the London Art Fair – tend to get very busy and so it can be difficult to devote as much attention to each piece as you would in a high street or online gallery.
  • If the art fair is only on the go for a week or two, you may not have time to make a properly informed decision. This may result in the purchase of something that you later regret.

5. THE AUCTION

    ADVANTAGES
  • Art sale by auction dates back to the 17th Century. Auctioning is a well established way of determining the value of a commodity that has an undetermined or variable price. An auction can be with a minimum or reserved price or it can be absolute or no minimum. In the latter case, there will always be a sale, whereas in the former, if the minimum price is not reached, there is no sale. The three most important auctioning houses in the world are Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s. The auctioning house can be a very exciting place for a collector of art.
  • At the time of writing, the art market is experiencing a massive boom. Prices for individual works of art are smashing all time records. If you have a spare few million in your pocket, this is the time to invest in serious art, but remember prices can go down as well as up.
    DISADVANTAGES
  • For the first time buyer, the auction house is not a good idea. The pace is very fast and most of the people there will be serious collectors who are prepared to spend a lot of money for what they want.
  • Bidding can be very confusing and the atmosphere can be very tense. Even more so than at an art fair, this pressure may prompt you to make an offer that you later regret.

6. THE GRADUATE SHOW

    ADVANTAGES
  • Hundreds of up and coming young university and art school graduates display their work at the end-of-year exhibitions. Here you will be able to view a wide variety of work by the next generation of artistic luminaries. The exception here is The Royal Academy which showcases students work throughout the duration of their course, allowing you to build up a working knowledge of the direction each individual is developing towards.
  • You can feel confident that the artist is a professional as he/she has just graduated. You’ll probably have the opportunity of meeting the artist and possibly the dealers/gallery representatives who are there to talent spot and may well be able to give you advice.
  • Any work you buy is likely to be cheap as this will probably be the artists first ever show.
    DISADVANTAGES
  • You must bear in mind that this is very immature work; the artist may change his/her style radically as he/she develops, so if you are looking to invest in something that will only grow in value as time moves on, you run the risk of disappointment.
  • It is possible that you will be pressured into buying something purely because the artist is a recent graduate – especially if you talk to the artist in person. Remember – emotional blackmail is an art that most students have perfected!

We hope that the above information has been helpful to you. As long as you remember a few basic rules, buying art should be an enjoyable experience. Try to invest some time in becoming acquainted with the art world and the way that it works. But more than anything trust your instincts.

Best of luck!

Carly Wilkie Steven on behalf of the Londonart team