Where to buy art. Pitfalls to avoid
COLLECTING ART CAN NOT ONLY ENHANCE YOUR HOME BUT BE A HUGELY ENRICHING HOBBY. HOWEVER, IT CAN BE HARD TO KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN. DAVID AND ALEXANDRA ROE, DIRECTORS OF SWANSEA’S ATTIC GALLERY, OFFER SOME EXPERT ADVICE
If you are a new art collector, you may at first struggle to decide what to buy and where to buy it. We would suggest the first stop for buying art is a commercial/private gallery.
Some private galleries can at first seem intimidating with their crisp white walls and carefully curated shows. If you can get beyond this, you will find them fascinating and enjoyable places to buy art – and if you select a good gallery, you will be in very safe hands as you develop your collection.
For example, we carefully select which artists show with us. We know all our artists personally and have often shown their work for many years. Our gallery has built up a reputation since it opened in 1962 and this is based on the standard of work we exhibit. In our gallery you are welcomed by us personally, but are then left to quietly look around.
Good gallery owners are very happy to talk about the work they sell: if the artist is new to you, they will be able to tell you about their background, techniques and influences.
Try to buy from galleries who know their artists personally; this shows they have put care into selecting the work on show. Approved galleries, such as ourselves, will even offer interest free loans though the Arts Council of Wales “Collectorplan” scheme to help you start your collection.
It is a good idea to check out a gallery’s website before you visit to see who they are currently showing.
The best time to visit any gallery is during their mixed exhibitions: it will give you a taste of the full range of work they sell. Our mixed shows are held in the summer and winter, and they typically offer a huge variety of work by many different artists.
Starting your research
A good tip before making your first art purchase is to start looking at art – in galleries, online and in books. Get a feeling for what subject, style and medium of art you like, and learn about your favourite artists.
Ultimately, there is a lot to be said for trusting your instincts: when you walk into a gallery for the first time, notice which artwork excites you. You will probably end up buying work that will have a lasting appeal. A piece of art can be with you for life, so it’s important you will not tire of it within a few months.
If you are drawn to a particular artist, get chatting to the gallery owner and find out a bit about where the artist has exhibited before: this will reveal a lot about how experienced and established they are. If the artist has an impressive CV, for example their work is in public collections, the chances are that the prices of their work will reflect this, and that work is likely to hold its value.
An independent gallery is not the only place to buy art, but beware of the pitfalls. There are many online sellers; some curate their work carefully but others enable artists of any standard to sell their work directly to collectors. It’s a similar story with eBay, but on-line you will have to run the gauntlet of fakes and forgeries, of which there are many.
Another option is to buy art from an auction house. You can pick up a bargain this way but you may also end up paying over the odds if you get carried away in the heat of the moment battling with another enthusiastic bidder. The auction houses who specialise in art often take steps to check or guarantee the provenance of the artwork they sell,
which dramatically cuts your chances of buying a fake, but others do not, which leaves you facing the same dangers as you would when buying on line.
If you really want a bit of excite-ment, you can try buying from art fairs or even from graduate shows. Both offer a huge variety of art of wildly varying quality, so you may want to hone your eye before trying this option. However, it can be a thrilling way to discover new artists and broaden your knowledge. Newer artists are more affordable, but more of a gamble when it comes to the longevity of their careers and whether their work will hold its value.
Another affordable way to start collecting art is to begin with original prints. These differ from the mass produced prints in that they have been personally created by hand using very specialised and skilled printing techniques.
A word of caution: some places sell mass produced inkjet (‘giclee’) prints that are printed by a machine often onto watercolour paper or canvas. These are often overpriced and can be little more than glorified posters, even if signed by the artist. Ask questions: a good gallery owner will be able to give you clear answers as to what you are buying.
The final pitfall is to avoid buying art on holiday. Someone who came to our gallery admitted to buying a large oil painting of a goat, while in Greece. The problem when abroad is one has little time to research the artist or the gallery. A lot of oil paintings are exported from China for local artists to add a few dabs of paint in front of the tourists. A painting viewed on a hot afternoon after a good lunch is going to look rather different when hanging in your sitting room.
Avoid the pitfalls and collecting art will be a hugely enjoyable and engrossing hobby that also enriches your life and enhances your home environment. The more you learn, the better your judgement will become, but remember: buy from the heart but use your head – especially on holiday!