Many galleries are all austere white walls, curators with good hair cuts, and intimidation. Walking into one on a whim to buy a painting that will fill that yawning empty space above your couch requires gumption and a fair amount of knowledge.
But that’s no reason to settle on an overpriced print from a big-box store. Rebecca Wilson, chief art curator at Saatchi Art, and Stas Johnson-Chyzhykov, associate director of collector relations at Artsy, gave us their top tips for buying a perfect piece of art for your space.
1. Start with an intention
The highest hurdle when buying a piece of art is the fear that you’ll look dumb trying to communicate what you want. Art has its own vocabulary, and not knowing it can be very stupefying. “If you’re not experienced in the art world, it can be intimidating to enter a white cube and not know where to start,” Johnson- Chyzhykov says.
The key to overcoming that sense of dread, both specialists said, is having a project in mind when you start: Maybe it’s an empty space on your wall that needs to be filled, or a desire to add a specific color to a room.
“Once you have an intention, it doesn’t matter if you know the vocabulary,” Johnson-Chyzhykov says, “You’ll know what you’re looking for, and that makes it much easier to find something you love.”
2. Know your budget
“A good first priority for a new collector is to focus on what your budget is,” Wilson says. Before you even start looking at art and trying to decide what to buy, you should decide how much you want to spend. “Be specific about that—and fairly fixed,” she says.
So, how much money do you have to have to start collecting art? “I don’t think there’s a lower limit on buying art,” Johnson-Chyzhykov says. “You can buy artwork regardless of what your budget is. The key is just to have one.” Both Wilson and Johnson-Chyzhykov say that you can get a very nice painting by an emerging artist for 500 dollars. “But if you’ve only got 100 dollars,” Wilson says, “there is still a lot of beautiful art you can buy for that.”
3. Get the most bang for your buck
Once you know how much you want to spend, you should try and get as much as you can for that money. “Generally, the more you can get for your money the better,” Wilson says. “If you have a $1,000 budget, for example, and the option of a 20-inch by 20-inch painting or a 40-inch by 40-inch painting, for a new collector I would say to go bigger if you can, so you’ll have a stand-out work.”
A good way to get great work cheaply is to buy work by emerging artists. “The work might go up in value, but that’s a secondary concern,” Wilson says. “It’s amazing what you can find by artists who are just starting out. There is some really beautiful work out there.”
Plus, if you’re looking at work in a gallery, Johnson-Chyzhykov says to always ask if the price is final. “You can always openly ask if there is any flexibility in the price,” she says. “Galleries often incorporate a 5 or 10 percent discount.”
4. Try shopping online
Typically, collectors buy art in galleries, limiting options to curators’ choices and the galleries where they live. In the past five years though, the curators tell me, online art purchasing has revolutionized what you can buy. Online companies like Saatchi Art, Artsy, Absolut Art and Uprise Art are removing the barriers of entry for new art collectors and democratizing the process.
“If you don’t travel, online offers the opportunity to see art from all over the world,” Johnson-Chyzhykov says. “Our site [Artsy] has more than 4,000 galleries listed and is truly international.” The collection site Wilson works for, Saatchi Art, even offers the use of complementary online curators who can help you find a piece that matches all of your desires for your room.
5. Ask about the work’s story
“Art is a conversation starter,” Johnson-Chyzhykov says. When someone comes into your home and sees it on the wall, you hope that it’s good enough to inspire conversation. “As the owner of the artwork, you really want to know the story behind it.” Once you find a piece that you might want, find out everything you can about it.
Galleries will have information on the artist’s life and training, and can tell you the story behind the piece: why it was created, what it means to the artist, and a myriad of other cool facts with which you can dazzle your party guests.
6. Buy something you love
“The more you look,”Wilson says, “the more you’ll understand what you like.” And no matter how little you know, or how afraid you feel, if you see something you know you love, buy it. “Don’t be afraid to make that first leap,” Johnson-Chyzhykov says. “You’ll be living with this art. You want to be inspired by it every day.”