How To Buy Art Tips Art Basel

How to Buy Art Like an Expert

Words: Bailey Pennick   
Header Photo: Carl Court / Getty Images

Investing in art might seem daunting, but we’ve got some of the best people in the art business to give you a few pointers before you pull out your wallet.

Purchasing your first piece of art is a thrill unlike any other. You now own something that is unique, something that is the physical manifestation of passion and creativity. Most importantly, though, you have put your money where your mouth is and bought something that you absolutely love. There’s nothing more powerful than that.

But what if you want to get into art collecting, but don’t know where to start?

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With Art Basel this weekend and the holiday season suddenly upon us, we’ve pulled together artists, gallery owners, curators and more to give you the finer tips on buying some fine art. Consider it our gift to you.

1. Do Your Research
Art Share LA

Art Share LA

“The best way to discover what artists you like and see their work is to follow them on their social networks for a while. Instagram is a really good tool for that. I think that being familiar with certain artists before you walk into a situation like Art Basel or Paris Photo LA is to best because if you already have personal knowledge of what you like and what you don’t like, you won’t be intimidated. A lot of times those fairs can be overwhelming and its not the best environment to make such a financial decision on the spot.

[Another good way to do research on artists] is by checking art publications online, certain publications like and are great tools for learning about specific artists and galleries. Also, purchasing really high quality art books is a great way to educate yourself and the books themselves can be art themselves!”—Lawrence Azerrad

Lawrence Azerrad is a Los Angeles-based graphic designer and the creative director of LAD Design. He has designed tour posters and album art for artists like Wilco, Sting and Best Coast.

2. Beware of Gallerists
Red Bull Studios New York Art

Red Bull Studios New York

“If it’s art that you really like personally, it’s going to look good anywhere in your house.”

“I wouldn’t listen to the gallery’s [advice] that much. You want to do your research, but make sure to do it elsewhere. You wouldn’t walk right into a Mercedes or Audi dealership and buy a car sight unseen or only listen to what the salesperson on the floor has to say about it, right? You want to read about it, test-drive it, etc.

It’s also important not buy art based on your interior design—you don’t want to buy art to match your couch. Once you get to a certain level, you’d want to match your furniture to your art, but that’s when you get to a very baller level. You don’t want to buy art based on if it will look good in a room because then you’re just decorating.

If it’s art that you really like personally, it’s going to look good anywhere in your house. If it matters to you and you dig it, that shouldn’t come into the equation.“ — LA

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3. Have Patience
Maxwell Alexander Gallery Art

Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Culver City, California

“It’s never a good idea to acquire any work of art impulsively. I’m usually quite familiar with the artist’s practice and have developed an affinity for certain series or chapters within their oeuvre. If you can, try and do a studio visit and learn as much as you can from the artists themselves. If not, familiarize yourself with the artist’s galleries/dealers and develop a dialogue with them…

[Also, make sure to pick a new piece for your collection very] carefully. Never buy a work solely as an investment; it’s important to have a strong visceral and conceptual appreciation and understanding for a work. Its something you will live with and if you buy something you truly love, your fondness will continue to appreciate. If you do your research (and acquire an artist’s work at an early point in their career), its possible that their market can increase and the value of the work can appreciate as well, but follow your heart first and foremost—it will always pay off.” — Max Wolf

Max Wolf is the New York-based Studio Program Manager of Red Bull Studios New York.

Skrillex - The king of dubstep

Two nights later, he's seated, after a dinner mainly of salad at a big round table in the mostly empty Crystal Ballroom, deep inside Detroit's Masonic Temple, the biggest of its kind in the world (the venue was his idea). He's in a chair yet still seems to move, speaking in a fast, happy manner accompanied by hair-flopping nods.

4. If You Want to Make a Profit, Play it Safe
art space la gallery shot

Art Space LA

“Have you ever picked up a paint brush and tried to paint someone’s portrait, mastered composition and lighting with a camera, taken a piece of clay and molded it into an object?”

“First and foremost, above what any art critic or gallerist will ever tell you, buying art is about personal taste: Does it excite you, make you think, bring you calm, bring you understanding, represent a memory, stimulate your aspirations? Certainly you can invest in art to make a bet on an investment and treat it like a stock, bond or mutual fund that will gain value over time, but you are at the center of every one of your purchases and if you think the work is simply good than that is all that matters.

But for those looking to make a sure bet above all personal tastes, I would suggest three considerations to think about towards art that has and will hold, if not grow, its market value:

Cultural Relevance

Throughout time we have recognized famous artworks based on their connection to an era or empire. Renaissance, Romanticism, Modern, Contemporary, these are all words that relate to artists working in a time or place, an era of dominance that we as human species define what life, love or hate represented at the time of its creation. (Artists to check out: Hebru Brantley, Jas Petersen, Bryan Espiritu)

Hard work

One of the greatest measures of success in any profession is hard work. Did anyone practice harder than Kobe? Does Elon Musk sleep? Does Noah 40 Shebib ever leave the studio? (Artists to check out: Lefty Out There, Nate Delinois, Matty Mo)

Exceptional Talent

The last pillar to consider when buying a piece of artwork is plain and simply exceptional talent. Have you ever picked up a paint brush and tried to paint someone’s portrait, mastered composition and lighting with a camera, taken a piece of clay and molded it into an object? One thing is true across the board, it’s all really, really hard to do well. There are artists out that there that simply suspend understanding of how it was possible. How they looked at a blank canvas and were able to bring to life a piece that makes everyone who sees it stand in awe. (Artists to check out: Christina Angelina, Cory Vanderploeg, Nick Brandt, Conor Harrington).”— Jason Eano

Jason Eano is a Toronto-based Senior Producer and Strategist for the creative agency Hermann & Audrey.

5. Ask Questions
30 Days of LA Art

Lawrence’s art for 30 Days in LA

“Ask questions! That’s my biggest tip: ask questions and ask for payment plans. The majority of galleries will break up payments for you interest free, but they’ll keep the painting [until the full price is paid off], that’s the security. Go to show openings, meet artists and then just start buying. Spending a thousand dollars on a piece might seem crazy to you now, but, when you first do it, you’ll realize it wasn’t that bad and you’ll start to really figure out your style.

I would also recommend going to a bunch of art shows. Start finding out what you like because when someone starts collecting, the first handful or so pieces that they collect, they’ll get rid of in five years. So the more openings you go to and the more museums you go to, the more your taste will be refined and you’ll start to see which galleries are legit based on the clientele. That’s probably the toughest part actually, finding a gallery that you can trust, but if you find one you can trust and you’ve done the research, they can really put together a good collection of art for you. That takes a lot of research on the part of the buyer. Go to art fairs in your city and ask a lot of questions. Every gallery person will be able to answer your questions.” — Beau Alexander

Beau Alexander is the Los Angeles-based Gallery Director for the Maxwell Alexander Gallery, which specializes in American Realism.

6. Decide if You Want to Start a Collection
how to buy art art basel tips

Art Space LA

“The first thing I do when I [look at a piece of art] is ask myself a couple of questions: Do I like it? Does it move me? Secondly, I move into look at the artist’s name and the price tag. Then, if it’s in my budget I then start to study the artist and the series. Buying art isn’t a necessity, but more of an impulse… It’s important to go into a purchase with an open mind. Buying art isn’t like going to the mall to buy a black dress—be open to what you find. Don’t just envision it on your wall at home.

[When you start collecting, make sure to] take the paintings you got from your family, Ikea or Aaron Brothers down. This will give you a clean slate to start the journey. Remember to buy from your heart. It’s not an overnight accomplishment to fill your walls with items you love, but it will happen!”— Cheyanne Sauter

Cheyanne Sauter is the Los Angeles-based Executive Director of Art Share LA.

7. Support Artists Directly

Buff Monster’s larger than life work

“Buy the work you like, from people you like.”

“Buy the work you like, from people you like. Support the artists (and the galleries that support them). Keep in mind that when you buy something at auction (including eBay), that money doesn’t go to the artist. Artists need all the help they can get! Also, early on, you might by one piece from a huge range of artists, but I think over time, you’ll want to focus on getting several pieces from a much smaller number of artists. Lastly, from what I’ve read, the people with the biggest (and most valuable) collections don’t buy art as a financial investment. They buy work as in investment in their own quality of life and to support and further the arts.

[When I’m buying new pieces,] I look for work that inspires me in one way or another. I also look for pieces that are good examples of the artists’ oeuvre—a single piece that really represents what they do (or of a particular body of work they made.) Sometimes it takes many pieces to really capture what they do.” — Buff Monster

Buff Monster is a New York-based street artist and internationally renowned visual artist.

8. Buy What You Love
chet faker 30 days in la art

Lawrence’s art for the Chet Faker 30 Days in LA show

“You have to make sure you’re buying the art for the right reasons and if you’re buying art because you think it will be a monetary investment or because it matches your interior design, those are not the best reasons to buy art. I think the most important thing is the meaning behind the art and that it matters to you as an individual.

I’m a strong believer that the most important thing is that there has to be something that you feel good about personally and the meaning of the content is of significance to you and you like the message that the artist is presenting. If you’re just buying art because it’s a hot trend or everyone’s talking about it, well trends come and go, and the value of the subjective—obviously there’s financial value—you want to buy something that’s personally valuable to you on a heart level, not a trend level.”—LA

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11 2016 The Red Bulletin

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