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How to Start a Collection for Pleasure or Investment
March 1, 2012
If you’ve ever strolled the galleries and museums of any major city, you’ve no doubt been transported by the images captured in oil, watercolor, charcoal or pastel. But when there comes a point at which you want to go from observer to owner, how do you begin collecting fine art for your home or office?
What Inspires You?
Do Rothko’s abstracts challenge you? Are you transported by Monet’s brushstrokes? Are you moved by Hopper’s sense of isolation and yearning? Whatever the reaction, art strikes a chord in all of us. It’s that emotional and visual resonance that experts encourage you to pay attention to.
Clayton Williams, founder of Williams Fine Art, says before you do anything, “First decide what appeals to you so that you would be comfortable living with the piece.” Leslie Schofield of Leslie Schofield Design agrees.
When designing custom homes in Park City and Salt Lake City, she always starts by telling her clients, “Let’s find a piece that you love, then go from there.”
If you’re hesitant that your instincts may not be the best judge of fine art, long-time art collector and local attorney Carl Barton says not to worry. “I think you collect things that inspire you and that you enjoy looking at, and over the course of time you’ll get a better eye in terms of what is good quality and what is not.”
What’s Your Objective?
“One of the fundamental decisions you have to make about art is whether you’re collecting for pleasure or investment or both,” says Barton. If you’re not sure, then hedge your bet on pleasure.
Schofield works closely with A Gallery (she loves its framing selection and repertoire of local artists and contemporary art) to put together art packages for her clients, and she says a good designer and gallery can be excellent resources if you’re collecting for personal pleasure. But if you’re serious about art as an investment, she recommends finding an expert.
Erin Linder, director of exhibitions at Kimball Art Center, takes that caution a step further, saying, “Very few people get away with collecting art successfully as an investment.” She recommends collecting for your own enjoyment.
Take a Stroll
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and begin collecting, how do you know where to start?
One of the best ways to find what inspires you is to go for a stroll—a gallery stroll. Margaret Hunt, director of Utah Arts and Museums, explains that gallery strolls are a non-threatening way to see what artists in each community are producing. “Galleries are good about selecting skilled artists that are talented or have a fresh approach. When people get to know an artist, that piece they buy often means more to them, and artists are often present at gallery strolls,” Hunt says.
Linder adds, “Once you have one or two favorite galleries, make sure to get on the galleries’ mailing lists, talk to the people who work there, and let them know you’re interested in a certain artist or style.”
Linder also recommends following museums and art centers’ exhibitions and dropping by when one piques your interest. She also says to keep an eye on local universities, where “some of the most exciting art is coming out.” And she suggests watching for open studios on the west side of Salt Lake City, where artists will rent warehouses for biannual shows.
Avoid Common Mistakes
When asked about the don’ts of collecting, Linder starts with, “I don’t think you should buy art to match your couch. I think you look back on all the different spaces you live in—whether 20 years or two years—it’s always changing with how your life’s changing.”
Schofield warns against too much conformity. “Don’t get tied into one genre or one medium. Mix and match oils, pastels and charcoals. Add three-dimensional pieces, as well. Steel sculptures are huge right now, and it’s amazing what artists are doing in glass.”
When it comes to three-dimensional pieces, Linder says to think in terms of accessibility. “Three-dimensional art rounds a space out and makes it more interesting. But start small. Find pieces that can adapt well to a space and that don’t require three people to move it or a pedestal. Pick up pieces that can go on a shelf or coffee table.”
Linder also says to avoid crowding too much art in one space, and hang art at eye-level. “A good rule of thumb is to place the center point 55 to 60 inches from the ground.”