The Number One Rule to Follow When Starting an Art Collection

Kaitlin Petersen
·3 min read
Photo credit: Hudson Christie
Photo credit: Hudson Christie

No one has to go it alone when it comes to buying art. Most online platforms offer complimentary consultations for advice on anything from what to look for and what size of artwork you need to how to frame a piece once it’s in your home. For an even more personalized tour of the art world, though, art advisors and consultants can tap into your tastes and ambitions, then introduce you to artists and works that align with those goals.

Working with an art advisor isn’t just for the ultra-wealthy, either: “I work with clients to source art that they feel connected to, that balances and completes their space, and that ultimately gives them long-term enjoyment,” says Katharine Earnhardt, founder of Brooklyn-based art advisory Mason Lane, whose clients are typically spending anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 per piece. “Whatever your budget, we’re good at translating art market jargon into stories that interest our clients so that they're filling their home with pieces that resonate with them on a personal level.”

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Part of the appeal of working with an advisor is the depth of their network and knowledge, which makes it far more likely to discover an up-and-coming artist whose work resonates. Miller founded her independent art consultancy 10 years ago after a career working in-house at galleries. Today, she helps her clients hone their taste while connecting them with works from a global network of galleries, art fairs and auction houses, independent artists, and even private dealers who can sometimes help her source and acquire pieces that haven’t come to market yet. (Most of her clients are buying in the $10,000 to $50,000 range, but she’s also tracked down Picassos.)

Tapping into an advisor’s expertise also ups the chances that the piece you procure is a sound investment. After all, wouldn’t it be fun if the piece you love also happened to appreciate in value? “It's all about spending your money wisely,” says Earnhardt. “Someone can take $100 and go buy art. If they hire us, they pay us $20 and then have $80 left over, and we're going to find them something much better for that $80 than they would've gotten for $100. It goes back to financial markets: If I tried to buy stock on my own, I would probably not make as sound decisions as I would if I had an expert. I’m paying [the expert], but I’m making better choices with the remainder [of the money].”

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If that sounds a little too involved, there are other options, too: Fair director Vanessa Seis and her team lead tours of the Affordable Art Fair for aspiring collectors, and offer personal shopping appointments for $50 or less. “It's very close to the art advisor experience, but it's not what an art advisor will charge,” she explains. “We ask, ‘When you go out to museums, what do you like? What mediums or artists do you like? What is your interior decor currently like? What are the spaces that are available in your house currently like? Have you set yourself a budget? Is there an idea, philosophy, or theme that you're very passionate about?’ And then we'll start pulling up artwork that would match all those criteria.”

No matter where you start shopping, Seis says that the number-one rule is to follow your passion—and ask a lot of questions. “If you go to a gallery or an art fair that is not like ours [in its transparency], and I would encourage you to be confident and be bold,” she says. “Ask about the price of a work when you find something you like. Don't ever think that you might not be worthy.”

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