A Young Collector’s Guide to Art

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Buying that first piece of art can feel like standing at the edge of a cliff, waiting to jump into the unknown. It can seem–if not scary–at least a little bit intimidating. But, as with most things, practice makes perfect, and each subsequent purchase allows for the next to seem less daunting. You begin to better understand your goals as a collector and the landscape that you’re operating in.

Instead of stumbling around in the dark looking for answers, your best bet is to ask someone in the know. A fixture in the art world since her time with Deitch Projects and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Artsy Sales Director Rebecca Bronfein Raphael is precisely that person. Here, we pick Rebecca’s brain to amass some helpful tips and tricks for the young collector, from buying on a budget to knowing when to go with your gut.

Are you a collector yourself?

Yes. One of the best pieces of advice that Jeffrey [Deitch] gave me was to buy art that you had to have–you had to live with it. He also told me to collect within my means. I’ve kept a steady art budget since my first job out of college so that if I found something that I had to live with, I knew I could buy it without missing a month’s rent!

What were the first pieces you went for and what was the feeling like?

The first piece I ever bought was a work on paper by the superbly talented artist Aurel Schmidt. She had shown a series of “Burnout” drawings in SoHo in 2007 and I fell in love with a work that had two burnt-out eyes, cigarettes for eyelashes and a grinning mouth made from a split banana peel. Unfortunately that work was sold, nor could I afford it at the time, but when I was moving from New York to Los Angeles, I contacted Aurel and asked her if I could commission a drawing similar to the one I had fallen for three years earlier. I’m eternally grateful that she obliged because it is still one of my most cherished pieces.

What should young collectors look for when buying works?

I always tell new collectors/clients that they should start by thinking of artworks or artists whose work they know, or work they were drawn to at a museum or if they remember a particular show at a gallery. From there, it becomes an exploration in those memories and their comfort zone to try and identify artists who are pushing the limits of the style or the medium that the collector gravitates towards. It’s also important to speak with the gallery directors who represent the artist’s work to understand how the gallery is working to advance that artist’s career: Are they selling works to museums? Are they producing a catalogue? Will they show new work by the artist at upcoming art fairs?

What’s the biggest mistake a young collector can make?

Getting too wrapped up in the investment game. I feel strongly that when a person is just starting to buy, she/he should be doing so because they want to live amongst beautiful and special things, not because they want to make a profit.

How does networking and relationships play into collecting art?

Collecting art is about gathering information. Which artists are currently showing? Whose work is receiving attention by top collectors or the press and where can it be seen? What is the artist creating next? These types of questions help a collector navigate what to look at and where, which is necessary given that there are thousands of artists and more ways than ever to discover art today. The hunt can be overwhelming!

The more people who you discuss art with and who you get to know in the arts business, the easier it becomes to focus on artists and artworks that you’re most interested in for your collection. Building relationships with dealers is especially important because they are the first people to have access to new work and if they know you’re in the market for something they’ll send it to you before it goes up on the gallery’s walls.

How does social media influence young collectors today?

Instagram is a fabulous resource for learning about art. I love to follow collectors and see what they’re posting and then I’ll often follow the artist who’s mentioned. One of my good friends goes to art galleries every weekend and posts incessantly about her trips, so by following her I get the benefit of “seeing” the New York arts scene without even being in New York City!

Can you start collecting for less than $1,000?

Yes. Works on paper by emerging artists or prints by more established artists can be found for under $1,000. In fact, on Artsy you can browse all the works in our database by price. There are over 14,000 artworks priced under $1,000, so surely there’s something for everyone!

Do your homework or go with your gut?

A bit of both. It’s important to learn about an artist’s education, their process and intent for an artwork, as well as what the artist is working on now or what’s upcoming on their schedule. While these factors are important, they’re not as important as “do you love the artwork?” If you can’t live without it, then go for it!

What are you most eager to see at Art Basel this year?

Art Basel in Miami Beach is as much a reunion of friends as it is an art buying opportunity. I always look forward to seeing former colleagues and friends I’ve made through my years in this business. I also can’t wait to get to Miami to see the artist projects that Artsy has brought together with the new Nautilus, a SIXTY Hotel. My colleague Elena Soboleva (@elenasoboleva) has curated an incredible set of installations, which we’ve been strategizing for the past five months. To see her creativity and passion come to life in the form of works by Dan Colen, Katherine Bernhardt, Eddie Peake, and Mira Dancy, just to name a few, is what I’m most excited about. That, and some Cuban coffee!

Catherine Haggarty. “Birthday Cake for a Baller.” 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and Proto Gallery. Available via Artsy.

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