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Why collect art?

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Traditionally, art collecting was an activity reserved for the royal, the church, and the wealthy. Michelangelo – one of the world’s most famous artists – is a great example of the historical relationship between religion, art, and finance. His painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II in the 15th century and Michelangelo worked closely with the powerful Medici family, who used their wealth for patronage of the arts.

Today, many people still believe that you must be a royal or billionaire to collect art. This is simply not true. In the 21st century, art collecting is more accessible and democratic than ever and there are more diverse reasons for acquiring art. In my 15 years of working in the art industry, I have guided collectors with a range of motivations and, in the process, encouraged each of them to create their own unique collection.

Taufik Ermas, "Plin plan (Indecisive)", 2013, 80 x 180 x 48cm, acrylic on polyester resin and fibreglass

Creating connection, story and legacy

Many of us begin our art collecting journey with a desire to decorate our home. From this starting point, most collectors develop a passionate interest in the arts. As you step into the world of collecting, you will be exposed to new art, ideas, and people. You will meet artists, other collectors and experts in the field who may become your life-long friends.

A meaningful collection experience is unlike a trip to the supermarket. I believe art collecting should be about discovery, connection, story and legacy. Every collection has a unique story to tell and while artworks cancertainly decorate your home, you may also fall in love with each artwork’s story that is often unbeknownst to the eye. I know some collectors who get excited by intellectual ideas; and they seek out only conceptually engaging artworks. Pieces in their collection are made with materials that suggest ideas. As the collector is focuses on the concept conveyed by the artwork rather than its conservation – they do not mind if the artwork deteriorates or decays over time. A work by a Singapore multi-disciplinary artist, Ezzam Rahman, is a good example (image 1). In his artistic practice, he works with bodily remnants that are collected as materials, from saliva to sweat. His installation piece, Here’s who I am, I am what you see, questions the idea of existence, life and death. Each of the sculpture in the installation is made from his own dead skin off the soles of his feet and nails, and it is not intended to be preserved over time.

Image 1: Ezzam Rahman,“Here’s who I am, I am what you see”, 2015, artist’s skin, nails, adhesive, second hand furniture and glass bell jars, variable dimensions, President’s Young Talents 2015 – 8Q @ Singapore Art Museum, Photo: Jun Tsujioka

For other collectors, building a legacy is their driving aspiration. A collector friend of mine focuses on artworks that are the ‘Zeitgeist’- the spirit of the time. He collects artworks that capture the politics, cultures, and characteristics of the present moment. Data.tron, an installation work by a Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda that is part of his collection, shows our current society’s ubiquitous use of technology and the overwhelming amount of data in the world (image 2). The artwork is both inspired by and created with present-day technology, creating a visual representation of the data present in our world. In decades to come, this artwork along with others in the collection could offer a unique perspective of today’s social-political concerns for future generations. While some collectors may look to collect artworks, which are retrospective on certain historical periods, others will focus on collecting pieces which reflect more contemporary styles and themes. As long you have a unique story to tell, you can build a legacy by sharing your collection with future generations.

Image 2: Ryoji Ikeda, data.tron, 2007, single projection audio visual installation, dimensions variable (suggested 600x800cm), DLP Projector, computer, speakers, Photo: Ryuichi Maruo, courtesy of Yamaguchi Centre for Art and Media [YCAM]

Financially investing in artworks

On the other end of the spectrum, some collectors are motivated by the financial opportunities within the art industry. The association between fine art and wealth has basis; you only have to look at the record-making auction of Leonardo da Vinci painting, Salvator Mundi, which sold for $450 million at Christie’s, New York last year. As with any financial decision, there are risks and a great deal of knowledge and experience needed to invest in artworks. Nevertheless, with the right support you may reap great rewards from the purchasing of artworks with a high resale price.

There is also much prestige to be gained from owning an artwork that was made by a famous and successful artist. Collecting art is more than a transaction; we can write ourselves into history by collecting important artworks and contributing to the cultural capital in the world. Owning world renowned artworks will add value to your lifestyle and enrich your personal brand.

Taking risks and enjoying the adventure

The process of collecting art can be calm and methodical or instinctive and competitive - this will depend on your style. There’s no right way to go about collecting, but what’s for certain is that most collectors fall in love with the adventure of acquiring artworks. Whether you’re hoping to emotionally connect with art or make a positive profit margin, art collecting will get your energy pulsing.

Some collectors even describe the experience as a drug (one which is far healthier than any vice!) As you begin your collection, you open yourself to new people and different ideas. You will want to learn more about interesting artists and you may seek out artworks which complement your collection. In no time, you may find yourself with a new addiction to art and collecting!

For beginners, art collecting may seem like a series of simple transactions where one buys what they like. While I encourage you to be enthusiastic and unafraid, you should not forget the risks and challenges that come along with the adventure of collecting. Keeping on top of your budget and employing your funds wisely is of course critical. You should always purchase quality artworks over quantity - and I’ll provide more tips on this in a later article.

Start your collecting journey

In future articles, I will share my tips on how you can build a meaningful collection whilst working with a budget. For now, I hope you may look at art collecting with curiosity and an open mind. The adventure is exciting and, regardless of your motivations, there are opportunities awaiting every collector.

To stay updated on my future articles, I invite you to follow me on social media. Curious about art collecting? Get in touch with me here.

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