10 commandments for new art collectors

World’s leading auction house, Christie’s shares advice for new art collectors on how to make that first foray into the contemporary art market.

New collectors

Shopping for Art

1. Buy with your heart — but have a strategy

I always tell new art collectors you buy with your heart but your brain has to come into play,’ says Han-I Wang, a First Open specialist in New York. ‘That means taking ownership of a piece by knowing where the momentum is and buying with a strategy. For example, you might want to set a maximum bid before you buy at auction.’

2. Think about how art will fit into your home

‘Remember that buying art for your home means that you will live with it every day,’ says Dina Zhang, a First Open specialist in Hong Kong. ‘It is important, therefore, to select works that please your eye rather than buying as an investment.’

Works from different decades and by artists with markedly different styles can comfortably co-exist in the same space. ‘A well-curated art collection can reinforce the style and tone you’ve chosen for your home, whether it’s opulence, drama, or bright show-stopping colours,’ says Zhang.

3. It is possible to purchase works by established masters

Seasoned collectors are always on the lookout for major works by established artists, and these remain out of reach for the collections of mere mortals, there are more accessible works. An artist’s early drawings, for example, represent a fantastic starting point for anyone wishing to own a work by a famous name. Also, certain motifs remain incredibly important to artists, recurring throughout their careers and becoming an essential part of their visual vocabulary. When buying, consider going for works that capture some of the most distinct elements of an artist’s practice.

4. Pay attention to provenance

‘In simple terms, provenance is the record of ownership for a work of art,’ says Han-I Wang. Did an important collector own the piece? Has it been exhibited before? These factors will play into the work’s price, so keep an eye out for this information in the sale catalogues.

5. Navigate the now

Embrace technology more than ever. ‘There’s a much more open feeling among younger artists and collectors,’ says Bianca Chu, Head of Sale for First Open in London. ‘It’s easier to gain access and understanding about contemporary artists thanks to social media platforms and the way we use imagery today has affected the way we collect art.

‘It sounds basic but a great way for collectors to learn about artists is using hashtags on Instagram. You see lots of images — who has posted them and where they have been posted from. Virtual reality has become engrained in contemporary art.’

6. Stay on top of trends

‘Now the trend seems to be African art,’ says Seattle-based gallerist Mariane Ibrahim. ‘I’m told the next big thing will be minimalist contemporary art from Korea. Trends are advantageous because they expose people to work they haven’t seen.’

7. Learn which galleries offer windows on emerging art scenes

‘One of the best things about major art fairs,’ says Stephen Mccoubrey, co-curator of the UBS Art Collection, ‘is that it is a fantastic learning experience and a great place to pick up new ideas. There’s nowhere else like Art Basel Hong Kong for seeing so much Asian art in one place, with south-east Asian galleries like Nadi, and Arndt which provides a really interesting window on the Indonesian scene. You may know an artist, but their new body of work can be wildly different in form and function. We’re now starting to see this, in cultures such as South Korea and China where formal abstraction has no background.

8. Examine the artist’s ecosystem

Collectors should be paying attention to the structure surrounding the artist says Viviane Silvera, director of On Art, a contemporary art tour, and filmmaker: ‘Are they with the right gallery? Are they with an influential dealer who will get their work in the right shows?’

9. Get your mistakes in early

‘Art is a bit like wine — seductive and about getting merry but the higher enjoyment comes in the subtlety and development of one’s palette,’ says Toby Clark of the Vigo Gallery in London. ‘You need to take the plunge and also to make mistakes. When starting out, making a mistake on an emerging artist is not such a big deal if you love the work.’

10. Look under the radar

Try to find the artist before the deluge of hype, argues veteran art dealer Guy Sainty. ‘Too many people in the contemporary art market still wait to buy things when they’re at the top of the market,’ he says. Another common mistake is in how collectors regard their buying: ‘Never think of art as an investment but be sure your money is well spent. The two considerations are quite separate.’