My husband and I are currently relishing a short getaway from our tiny humans in Healdsburg, California. There are only so many wine tastings we can manage in a day (one), so we were killing some time before dinner browsing through the local art galleries. We love art, but have champagne taste on a beer budget and rarely are serious about a piece. Until last night.
In the back room of a gallery was a series of surrealist photographs made in the darkroom by combining two existing pictures. One was tennis-related, a subject matter we love and an uncommon topic in art, and we were intrigued. We spent the evening discussing whether to buy the art and researching some basic questions:
- How well-known is the artist?
- What technique was involved | how difficult/expensive was the art to produce?
- Is the inspiration/subject matter unique?
- How many pieces are available? (unique to prints, photography and several other mediums, the same piece is produced multiple instances)
- What kinds of awards, accolades, or permanent museum pieces does the artist have?
- Is the artist still alive? Are they still producing art?
Even after answering these questions, we still didn’t have a answer to whether it made financial sense to buy this piece. For edification, the piece we’re considering cost less than $1,000. Although the gallery owner assured us the piece would “skyrocket” (his word, not mine) in value in 10 years, we’re not expecting the artist’s work to pop up and some of the well-known art shows like an Art Basel, let alone the rise to the status of the next Ansel Adams.
Then there’s the question of the secondary market—where would you re-sell to capture any increase in value? Galleries typically don’t take one-off pieces. Auction houses tend to only work with known artists. And even if one of those would take your work, their cut is typically 50%. So your piece would have to at least double in value before you actually “made” money on your art.
If you’re serious about collecting art, amassing a smorgasbord of pictures you like is an ineffective approach. Pick an artist, genre, such as surrealism, art from the 1940s, modern art, lithographic prints or impressionists. Find unique pieces with an interesting story. In addition to forming a relationship with galleries who operate in that space, keep up with up and coming art sources like saatchiart.com.
At the end of the day, for most mainstream art, it’s hard to predict if it’s a good buy, let alone a good investment. It can come with extra costs like framing or special packing considerations in the event of a move. The only question that needs to be answered is if you like it enough to pay the price tag for it. Or, as Marie Kondo says, “does it spark joy?”.
The jury is still out on whether we’re going to acquire the piece in question. If we do, it won’t be a financial decision, it will be because we love it!