Hello Quartz Members,
Buying art can be an intimidating endeavor. Fancy gallery openings, exclusive art fairs, and swanky auction houses seem designed to scare off casual collectors who don’t have stacked bank accounts or the pedigree to tell rococo from baroque.
But in December, Sotheby’s reported an odd development. Almost half of the $7.3 billion in art sold last year was acquired by first-time buyers. It seems that the demand for NFTs and digital art has opened the door to a wider and younger market. Now new collectors, including a clique of crypto millionaires, are bidding on Beeples and Botticellis in record numbers. And technology is making buying art easier than ever—virtually anyone can bid from their mobile phone, even anonymously.
Of course, access doesn’t mean convenience. When navigating the sea of possibilities, it pays to know who, what, where, and how much you should be willing to spend money on.
What to buy: For love or money?
If you are buying something of value, you should consider your motivation for purchasing a work of art. Do you want it to decorate your wall? Is it an investment? Is it an act of patronage? Or are you buying it for pure aesthetic pleasure?
If upgrading your interiors is a priority, pay close attention to the physical qualities of the work and the space you plan to hang it in.
If you think of art as an investment, research auction databases like Artnet’s Price Database, ArtPrice, or Art & Financial Performance to see which artists have the best value. If you want to raise funds to support a good cause, check out student shows at art schools, galleries for underrepresented artists, or even fundraisers organized by nonprofit organizations.
But the wisest advisors will tell you that when it comes to buying art, there’s only one principle worth heeding: love. “If you love something, you will always find a place for it, even if you don’t think it fits into your home at first,” explains interior designer Christina Nielsen.
“Buy what you like to see,” Alina Girshovich reiterates in an article for Sotheby’s Institute of Art. “Avoid the pitfall of buying a work that doesn’t get traction just because it’s a desirable artist and you’ve been told that the value will skyrocket. There is never a guarantee of that.”
Where to Buy: Warhols on eBay
In theory, a discerning collector will seek to see a work of art in person before purchasing it to better understand its size, material, and emotional impact. A typical expedition can be a visit to an art fair, a gallery or even the artist’s studio.
This formula has been reversed in recent years. A third of art sales are now conducted online, as the latest Art Basel report (pdf) shows. Apart from the big three auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Philips and galleries like Artsy or Artspace there are a variety of ways to buy art on the internet. Here’s a shortlist of sites to start with and how much you’re likely to spend.
- Saatchi art: For those wanting to browse a large catalogue, the site is the world’s largest resource for art on the web, with over 3.7 million original works for sale. Paintings, photographs, sculptures and yes, NFTs too. $135-110,000
- Drawer: As a pick-me-up for the tyranny of choice, the online gallery releases a limited number of works each week. $300-800
- ArtFinder: AB Corp, where collectors can buy direct from artists around the world. $120-60,000
- platform: Launched in 2021 by well-known art dealer David Zwirner, the site has 100 new pieces for sale every month. $2,500 to $50,000
- Untitled: A UK based online gallery selling limited edition paintings and prints by neurodiverse artists. $100-2,000
- eBay: The popular e-commerce marketplace has an original art section. For example, there is a gallery of authenticated Andy Warhol sketches, prints and lithographs. Varies, $100+
- 1. Dibs: The high-end furniture retailer has a robust inventory of original artwork. Varies
Borrow or buy
If you’re unsure about purchasing, organizations like Project Art Works in the UK, as well as museums like the Braddock Carnegie Library in Pennsylvania and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver have established art lending programs. MIT’s List Visual Arts Center and the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum offer students the opportunity to borrow original pieces.
Borrowing art can help you focus on the type of piece you might want to buy; Parting with a valuable work can also teach a profound lesson about impermanence. At least you would have the most unique Zoom background.
However, if you decide to buy it, expect to pay more than just the list price.
- Buyer’s commission: Auction houses can charge the highest bidder between 15% and 25% plus VAT on the purchase price.
- art consultant: A professional art consultant can serve as your ally in the art market. You can refer to promising up-and-coming artists and open doors to exclusive sales. Art consultants typically charge between 5% and 20% of the final price.
- framing: Frames can protect the art you purchase or make an artistic statement in their own right. It is not uncommon for the frames to cost more than the artwork. For custom framing an 8×10 print, allow for $200 for a quality frame. (Check out the incomparable Barnes Foundation for inspiration and hangs.)
- art insurance: Standard home insurance only covers so much. If you’ve invested in a particularly significant piece or amassed a collection, experts recommend purchasing insurance to cover damage, theft or loss.
What about NFTs?
The burgeoning crypto art market is even more volatile and unpredictable than traditional art auctions – it’s hard to gauge how risky a purchase is because the market is so volatile. While some collectors have made fortunes reselling coveted digital art, a recent study confirms that most NFTs sold for $200 or less. If you don’t mind owning a digital art to keep in your online gallery or perhaps display on a screen, then go for it.
Tips from the pros
“Trust your taste and don’t follow trends or crowds. Don’t buy for investment and don’t buy NFTs as art. Buy them as NFTs. Don’t confuse the two.” —Lisa Schiff, Art Advisor
“Late works are almost always cheaper than those from the artist’s heyday, sometimes with good reason. The artist may be repeating their own ideas or producing work with less skill and energy. But once an artist is firmly in the canon, scholars begin to look at the entire career, and late works by Picasso, Matisse, and de Kooning are now accepted.” —ArtSpace, Collect 101
“The impact that a piece or pieces have in a space must always be considered. The tension is great, the clash is not. Presence is wonderful, yelling is not!” —Suzanne Tucker, interior designer
“True collectors are junkies looking for cultural value, not cash. They will always be looking for new voices, not just branded and easy-to-consume ones.” —Magda SawsCo-founder of the Postmasters Gallery
“Before you bid on or buy any artwork, you must ensure that the provenance offered by sellers is accurate, legitimate, and verifiable, and actually certifies the authorship of the art.” —art shop
do it for love
—Anne Quito, design reporter (collector of all things Milton Glaser)
A 🖼️ thing
A hymn to giving unheralded genius a chance, Vincent Van Gogh famously sold very few paintings in his lifetime. Belgian painter and collector Anna Boch bought one of these few, paying 400 Belgian francs ($76, about $1,700 today) for an oil painting titled The red vineyards near Arles. Today, of course, it’s worth many times that, although it’s on display for all to see at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.