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How to build a meaningful art collection

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

In my last article, I discussed the main motivations for collecting and how art can enrich your life. Regardless of your collecting focus and goals, there are certain guidelines that will assist you in building a meaningful collection.

1. Train your eyes and start learning

Start by finding out which artworks speak to you – this may differ for every person. You will need to see as much art as possible, so you can train your eyes in recognising quality and diversity. Get to know what quality looks like in terms of the concepts explored by the artist, and their technical expertise and mastery of mediums.

When you are intrigued by an artwork, take the effort to learn more about the artist and their creative process. Read books, research online, and speak with experts to better understand the theories and history which the work engages. Visit galleries, attend art fairs and research what’s happening at art auctions are some of the ways to familiarize yourself with the art market. If you want advice on where to start, I’ll talk about the art market in my next article. Most importantly, I encourage you to have an open mind; keep an eye out for opportunities to learn more about new and unfamiliar artworks. Curiosity and informed knowledge will assist you in developing your taste along your collecting journey.

2. Find your unique focus

If you collect a few disparate art objects, can the sum of these be considered a collection? That could be your personal collection. However, I believe that any collection needs focus and continuity to have added value. Your focus undergirding the collection may be broad (e.g. Australian Art, which could include works ranging from Indigenous bark paintings to landscape paintings of the Australia outback) or narrow (e.g. Indonesian Contemporary Paintings). The artworks in your collection can also be varied and individually unique, but there should always be some continuity throughout the collection. There could be continuity in one or more of the following attributes:

· Medium– paintings, sculptures, prints, video, etc.

· Art Genre– conceptual, romanticism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, etc.

· Themes or Ideas – religion, after-life, climate change, Australian wildlife, etc.

· Period in history– post-war in America, 19th century European art, post-Cultural Revolution in China, etc.

· Artists Represented – female Indonesian artists, young Melbournian artists, etc.

As a specialist working in the Asia Pacific region, I often connect curious collectors with art scenes that may be completely new to them. Artists working in different socio-cultural and political contexts may produce art that intrigues and excites you. Looking in smaller ‘untapped’ art markets may also provide you with opportunities to acquire top quality artwork at the price point of an emerging artist’s artwork in more established markets. Today, the Asia Pacific region provides great opportunities to collectors seeking to build meaningful collections that, if assembled thoughtfully, can leave a legacy and have the potential to grow in both cultural and financial value. One of the most important private collectors of contemporary Chinese art, Uli Sigg, started from humble beginnings driven by curiosity and an interest to record the rapidly changing political-socio-economic landscape of China, and collected before prices in the contemporary Chinese art market skyrocketed.

Zico Albaiquni (Indonesia, b.1987), “The Imbroglio Tropical Paradise”, 2018, oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 120 x 80 cm. Purchased 2018. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation. Image courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery

Regardless of your interest, there is no ‘best’ focus for you to choose since meaning and value is subjective. It’s also perfectly fine for you to begin collecting without a clear focus although it is advisably so to make it easier, but the collecting practice should not take the joy of collecting process. It is natural for our tastes to change over the years just as the aesthetic preferences develop and shift through the times. At the very least, simply thinking about a ‘focus’ for your collection will help you make more conscious decisions and limit impulse purchases. Working with a community of collectors and industry experts is a great way to share knowledge and gain insights on the experience of art collecting.

3. Consider your long-term goals

You can certainly begin an art collection without an entire plan mapped out. Life can be unpredictable, and your situation may change along the way. Nevertheless, I encourage new collectors to identify their long -term collection goals, with the following logistical factors in mind, to help them sketch out a roadmap.

· Budgeting: how much are you willing to spend on acquiring artworks – at present and into the future?

· Space: where will your artworks be displayed and/or stored?

· Succession plan: will there be continued care for your collection, should you decide to take a backseat? Will you want to involve public institutions in this process?

· Support: who will help you professionally manage the collection (i.e. access of works, purchase and getting it at the right prices, cataloguing, conservation, insurance, and potential re-sale of art)?

As a consultant, I am responsible for assisting collectors in identifying their collection goals and the intended value-creation through their collection. For example, artworks that capture important moments in history or provide critical commentary on ideas today will have great historicalor cultural value. On a more individual level, collectors may acquire artworks that have unique meaning to them – these collections would have personal value. Other collectors look to the art collecting for investment reasons and choose artworks based on their financial value. No matter the goals that you strive for, you can bring them closer to reality with a clear focus and thoughtful long-term planning.

4. Get connected

Building a meaningful collection takes knowledge, patience, skill and experience. Begin by training your eye, accumulating knowledge, finding a focus, and considering your long-term goals. Lastly, I encourage you to find other collectors and communities whom you can share knowledge and stories about art. I look forward to getting in touch with you, and let’s create these new connections.

“We are less lonely when we connect. Art is connection.”

– Nikki Giovanni

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