Collecting Art: The Essential Guide

There is a big difference between buying art and collecting art. Buying art is a more random activity, based on personal tastes and preferences, and with a specific purpose (usually decorative). Collecting art is a long-term commitment, with a more strategic purpose in mind. In both cases the buyer / collector should stick to work they really like, but if the purpose of the acquisition is collecting, there are two pillar skills that need to be taken into consideration: grounded research and a storytelling vision of the collection.

‘Triptych of Lucian Freud ‘by Francis Bacon reached € 125.5M at a New York auction. Photography – The Telegraph.

Most buyers acquire piece-by-piece, only paying attention to the element of that specific work that appeals to their taste, but forgetting to set a long-term acquisition plan in order to build a good collection. Find pieces you like, in varying shapes and sizes, and go along buying pieces randomly because laying out a coherent and systematic plan may prove to be a daunting job for even the most experienced collector.

The Importance of a Common Thread in the Art Collection

It is natural to make some mistakes during the process and to acquire pieces that are decontexualised from the original idea. This is mainly due to lack of knowledge and an almost immature enthusiasm of a new collector: you visit local galleries, hear eminently commercial proposals and end up being seduced by aesthetic components, vibrant colours, impressive dimensions, forgetting the most essential point of collecting: the common thread. It should be stressed that achieving full control of the procurement process is laborious and confusing, but it means knowing at what point collection stands, in which direction to go, how one work is related to the others, and how to organize the collection in order to give it meaning.

Great collectors are as well known and respected as the artists of the works they own. What makes a collector successful is the ability to select coherent works, be assertive in the analysis of infinite supply and enrich the remaining works of the collection. In any good collection, the total whole becomes more important than the parts that constitute it. Take for example the Commander Joe Berardo, who owns an enviable collection of modern art including the most important artists of the main movements. Although some pieces are peripheral to the careers of the artists included (such as a figurative work of Mark Rothko), the big names are there. And they make sense as a whole, gaining extra value by integrating a collection that tells part of art history.

Regardless of how a collector is perceived there are techniques that can be used to maximize the quality/ value of their art acquisitions by redefining and refining the process of selection and purchase of works:

Stay true to your taste

Have an accurate awareness of your taste, what makes you fall in love, and always keep that in mind. This factor will make your collection absolutely unique giving you a distinct value. When you ignore your own personal preferences for the sake of commercial interests, your collection will become homogenous with the crowd and ultimately boring.

Inform yourself well about the piece you are thinking to acquire

Don’t confine yourself to going to the same commercial spaces and speaking to the same people. Look for new galleries, other collectors, curators from different circuits, search the Internet, do not be afraid to explore new channels. What makes collecting distinct today from the past is the ease of access to information. Take advantage of this added value without any hesitation.

Reflect regularly on your preferences

It is natural that over time your tastes change and some types of work with being to bore you. Remember that good collections are never static rather they are constantly evolving.

Get a basic education on Art History

Look for professional training, explore speciality magazines, presentations, blogs, websites, follow opinion leaders, visit art fairs. Invest in a comprehensive library, art books are always a great way to deepen knowledge. It is important that this learning is on going and continuously updated.

Follow the Market Forces

Be aware of values, compare sales, and know who are the main players. This knowledge will also help you to avoid bad deals with overvalued pieces and misleading information.

Document all works from the collection

Not only authentication issues such as personal organization. Sign dimensions, purchase terms, themes, dates, amounts and other details. Not matter how good your memory is, eventually your collection will become too long to know all the information by heart. Moreover, this organization will allow to have a clearer picture of your own buying behaviour and what is missing in the collection, and what no longer makes sense, etc.

Prepare the future of the collection

As undesirable as it is, it is essential to prepare for the future of the collection when it is inherited. Whether the collection is transferred to a museum, an institution, family or friends, the organisation and documentation acquired over the years will be very useful in helping people understand what will be the best use of the collection.

What makes a memorable collector is their strategic thinking, their ability to remain focused on the overall composition of the collection, not to lose the common thread, and the ability to create a cohesive composition that makes sense and adds real value to the market. If you want to build a collection that lasts the test of, you have to start to structure your thinking immediately. Talk openly about the works that you have so that you transmit the love and respect for what you have built. Make sure people know how important your collection is for you.