There’s a common myth that art collecting is reserved for the sort of people who have their own yachts, live in sprawling estates and collect Lamborghinis. The truth is: you really don’t need to be a high roller to curate your own collection of contemporary art. The world is packed with compelling, affordable artwork; the secret is knowing what to look for and where to find it. This is because there is a big difference in collecting art and buying wall stuff from Crate and Barrel. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Think Small
Life-sized works of art are very much “the thing” these days, and while they are certainly eye catchers, they often come with hefty price tags. You’re in Luck however: smaller works can pack just as strong a visual punch, and they tend to be more affordably priced. If you’re relatively new to collecting, smaller pieces will also help you get your feet wet and explore different styles, subjects and artists. And as your collection grows, you can create a wall display of smaller pieces that looks just as compelling as one large work (perhaps even more so).
2. Explore Your Options
At an art fair or gallery opening, artists tend to display a small selection of their work—often their higher-end pieces, or piece they “think” will sell there. Back in their studios, they no doubt have many more creations they’d like to sell. If there’s an artist whose work really resonates with you, approach them (or their representative) and inquire if they have pieces that might be more in your budget or size range. Many artists offer smaller works, or limited-edition, archival-quality reproductions. If you have a particular price point in mind, you might also suggest commissioning a work. Don’t be embarrassed about asking an artist or rep about pricing. They have budgets too and any artist who is passionate about their work would rather help you love one of their works rather than go home empty-handed.
3. Frequent Budget-Friendly Fairs
Art Basel, the Armory Show and Sotheby’s are fine and good if you have a six-figure salary or are an heiress or baron. Otherwise, there are plenty of affordable, high-quality works at many contemporary fairs around town. Scope Art Fair tailors its offerings toward a younger, more budget-conscious crowd, as does the popular Affordable Art Fair. And in its 35th year, Artexpo New York continues to showcase a wide range of reasonably priced contemporary artwork from artists across the US and around the world. Tip: While you’re at these fairs, be sure to check out their SOLO pavilions for emerging artists (whose works are generally more reasonably priced and can often be the pieces that appreciate the most). We have a friend that purchased a piece about 10 years ago for under $1000 and that artists work is selling in the $50k range now!
4. Scope Out Studio Tours
Nothing beats visiting an artist in his or her studio. Smell the fresh paint, see the latest works, chat the artist up and—most important—get hot-off-the-easel artwork without markups. Many of the city’s galleries participate in open studio tours throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out.
5. Ask About Payment Plans
If you’ve fallen in love with a work of art and you simply can’t afford the price tag, you might want to chat the artist or gallerist up and see if they offer payment plans. Many artists will be happy to work with you and arrange to receive payments in installments. At Artexpo, some artists work with show sponsors like GE Capital, which offers both artists and buyers financing programs with payment plans that can run anywhere from 6 to 12, 18 and even 24 months without interest. These types of programs are great because they empower people to enrich their homes and lives with extraordinary art, sans the big financial pinch.
Curating a compelling fine art collection is easily within anyone’s reach. Just keep your eye out for studio tours and affordable fairs, and be sure to explore sizing, pricing and payment options with your favorite artists. Above all, feast your eyes and enjoy. As with many things in life, the journey can be just as much fun as the goal.