Prolific art collectors will often reminisce about the start of their art collections, their first artworks or even how they found artists early in their career and became avid supporters before that artist became “known.” Even though the top echelon of art collectors travel the world in style, bouncing from gallery to art fair on a whim, every collector was once a novice, in most cases collecting art on a budget in a quest for the most compelling work.
While we often think of an art collector as a patron of the arts with several years worth of collecting behind them, every art collector has to start somewhere – and often that beginning is rooted in best practices of recognizing talented emerging and living artists and buying modestly priced artworks. Whatever stage of art collecting or buy9ing you’re currently at, we’ve assembled some tips from experts who have the best ways to support emerging artists without breaking the bank. From taking a peek at artworks that artists donate to a good cause, to finding ways to collect editions and more commercial artwork, there are many ways to develop a solid, impressive art collection on a reasonable budget.
Nonprofit Art Benefit Auctions
In the Spring and Fall of each year, there are countless art-focused nonprofits who hold fundraising and benefit events to raise money for programs for the year ahead. A fairly high percentage of these art benefit auctions either a live or silent art auction, likely to feature emerging artists whose work is recognized among the larger art world. Collectors will come in droves to have the opportunity to purchase their work and to support a pivotal nonprofit in one fell swoop. Typically featuring both unique artworks and editions by emerging artists, along with multiples by artists whose career is more established, these events can be the chance to go home with a work by an artist you admire – and can now admire even more for their philanthropic streak.
These art benefit auctions come laden with the price of entry for such events (typically $100 and up at the lowest level, several thousand for more established nonprofits or events featuring lavish dinner menus). However, several of these art benefit auctions typically partner with online auction sites such as Artsy or Paddle8 to host online opportunities for remote collectors to chime in and bid for their artwork of choice. As with any auction, it’s important to stay on top of the works you truly want and to bid in a timely manner. With art collecting – as with anything – it’s far better to strike while the iron is hot!
Limited Edition Works and Art Multiples
There are countless opportunities to purchase artworks by renowned artists that are created as a series of art multiples or in a limited edition issue. Everywhere from Phaidon books to prolific art fairs such as Art on Paper typically have art for buyers at a wide range of prices. These prices are typically set according to the number of works in the series, or whether prints are signed. There can be many factors at play with limited edition works, but in general, it is possible to score even a larger artwork (such as 3’ wide and up) for under a few thousand dollars. For emerging artists whose work is still being recognized, or who also show at fairs geared toward interior design clients, budget-friendly artworks can be found in droves at events like Affordable Art Fair and Miami INK.
For those collectors buying artwork from emerging artists who aren’t so widely known, or collectors happy to start with art multiples by an established artist, limited edition artworks are the best bet to begin a budget-friendly art collection.
Open Artist Studios
While art galleries and open studios can be intimidating environments for those uninitiated into the rites of art passage, both places are ripe with opportunities for art collectors willing to go out on a limb and make their collecting goals known. Many artist-studio rich areas to cities in Colorado and Vermont, have seasonal open studios where visitors can tour studios along city streets and find their new favorite artwork. Forging relationships with new artists as a collector gives fans of the artist’s work a great start – and, potentially, first dibs on new artwork and flexible pricing. By experiencing the artists’ works directly, and making known that you’re willing to go out of your way to see their work in an environment controlled by the artist, you’re showing your enthusiasm for an artist’s work. This can offer collectors chance to pick up works literally as the paint dries! Stay in close contact with artists as they are creating new work, and before it hits the walls of art fairs or exhibitions.
For those artists whose work is already represented by an art gallery, it can be a good strategy to be introduced by the artist to the gallery – or, for the extroverted, to saunter right in and introduce yourself. Curator and gallerist Pamela Jean Tinnen makes the point that the first foray into introducing yourself as a collector isn’t always so easy.
“When collecting art on a budget, the art world can be pretty overwhelming,” she says, noting that a good first step is to identify art galleries showing the types of art you hope to collect. Then, you have better chances of working with them to hone in on artwork that can fit your budget. “Developing relationships with galleries whose program you admire can be helpful. Often, you’ll be granted discounts or gain access to works that might not be on display.”
Tinnen notes that art, like any other investment, is a major decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly, but that working to find a common ground that meets the collector’s budget isn’t as impossible as it seems on first sight. “Know what you want, and what you’re willing to spend. And don’t think you have to spend a fortune to find work you like… [there are] original artworks by emerging artists out for under $1,000.”
Plan for the Future
Budgets can change over the years, and collectors who begin seeking art within one price range may likely transition to another scale of pricing eventually. Collecting art on a budget is rarely a static endeavor, but one that changes over time as you build confidence. Be ready when the time comes to collect within a new price point by keeping a list of dream artists for when you hit the jackpot. Collector Emily Rubin notes of her experience pursuing artists’ work out of budget range that it may not elude your collection forever. “If you see something out of your price range, keep track of the artist,” Rubin suggests. “His or her work may show up at an auction, where bargains are always possible or ask about purchasing on installment plans.”
Are you collecting art on a budget? What’s your strategy? What deals have you found and how have you grown your collection?
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.