Get Smart: Real Life Advice for
Collecting & Investing in Art on a Budget

I've recently had to admit that at age 32, it is about time for me to think about putting together some kind of financial plan. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, 401Ks — all those things I don't understand and am bored to tears by. But I've promised myself that if I get one of those 401K thingys, I can truly diversify my portfolio by investing in a little bit of art. Let's consult the experts…


  • Amy Goldrich is a New York attorney who specializes in Art Law and who has collected art for over 10 years. Her Collecting Art On A Budget guide for Luxist includes such tips as "Go to benefit auctions… Benefits, where artists have typically donated their work, tend to show art you wouldn't see, because they're not so heavily curated" and "Meet the artists. If you develop a relationship with a young artist whose work you'd like to follow, they are likely to let you know where they're showing and what they're making — or you can even commission a piece."

  • The Washington Post's Art On A Budget states, "The queen bee of the D.C. art world, Margery Goldberg, is here to remind us: Buy art because you love it and want to live with it forever. If you do, it's hard to have regrets about parting with the money." And how much money should you expect to part with? "'You don't get anything decent under $360,' says Marc Zuver, exhibit director at Fondo del Sol in Dupont Circle. 'More likely an artist is going to start at $800. You've got to spend money, and you've got to have a good eye. If you put $3,000 a year into buying first-rate art, you'll never lose money, and you'll have fun owning it. Twenty years later, it'll beat everything except gold as an investment.'" While $360 seems like such a random number (and this article was written in 2008), that is quite encouraging. Once again, getting to know artists and dealers comes into play: "There is generally a 10 percent leeway in price, and most reputable dealers will give regular customers a 10 to 20 percent discount right off the bat, says artist and critic F. Lennox Campello, who has been involved in the art industry at almost every level, from dealer to gallerist to blogger. And most galleries offer payment plans without interest." Campello goes onto say (really, I could quote this whole article), "The most important question to ask is, 'Is this original work?' Technology now can visually fool people into thinking that a reproduction is an original. When you see the word 'print,' be careful."

  • LearnVest's Collecting Contemporary Art On A Budget is a list of online resources for collecting art, from well-known sites such as Etsy and 20x200 to the intriguing Artspace and RedBubble. Have you purchased anything from those sites?

  • Punch Debt In The Face's Collecting Art On A Budget advises, "The best strategy in my opinion for buying affordable, good work and avoiding fakes is to buy living, 'emerging' artists who are just starting out and therefore less expensive than they may become later. I emphasize 'may' because there's no guarantee your purchase will increase in value, and a good chance it won't." But as you could say that about stocks as well, at least you'll have something pretty to look at no matter what. They go onto mention buying work directly from artists' websites. You're eliminating the middle man of the gallery, but you probably won't be able to see the works in person before you buy. If you're serious about buying, try writing a heartfelt note to the artist. They may be happy to arrange a studio visit so you can see all their works and — exciting! — works in progress.

The only advice I have to offer is this: get to know the artists in your life. Attend their shows, attend their friends' shows, figure out what you love and whose work intrigues you. If you love the art but don't have the dollars, perhaps a trade can be tastefully, tactfully negotiated. (In other words, do a bit of discreet snooping to see what prices their work goes for so you don't offer to trade 3 hours of babysitting for a $2,000 sculpture.) Maybe you can design and build their website in exchange for a painting, or spend a weekend moving them into their new studio in exchange for a sketch.

However you go about it, and whether or not your pieces appreciate in value, gallery openings are great parties, artists are fascinating, and art is a joy to have around. Who knew investing could be so fun and pretty? Artists & collectors, please share your advice!

(Image: Leela Cyd Ross / Joan's Artist Abode House Tour)

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