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A Guide to Starting an Art Collection

Are you wanting to start collecting art but don’t know where to start? Or perhaps you are not sure if art collecting is for you due to the misconception that art collectors are exclusively wealthy individuals who decorate the walls of their mansions with multi-million dollar masterpieces. This, as stated above is nothing more than a misconception and while, yes, very wealthy individuals are major art collectors, it doesn’t mean you can’t be one if you are not a millionaire.

Take the story of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel as an example of how anyone can be an art collector regardless of their income. The Vogels were a New York City couple that amassed what has been called one of the most important contemporary art collections in the United States while working as civil servants. Herbert was a postal clerk and Dorothy was a librarian and with their modest salaries, they created an art collection on the cheap by buying directly from emerging artists who subsequently became super famous. Their discipline, methodological approach, and their shared love for art challenged what it means to be an art collector and who can become one. If you want to learn more about Vogel’s story, you can watch their documentary.

Building a strong art collection takes time, a lot of research, and at times the help of a professional. Keep reading to know what to keep in mind as a first-time art collector.

Define your Goal

This is when you answer the reason why you want to start a collection. Is it for investment? To decorate your living space? To support emerging artists? Answering these questions will determine the type of collection you end up building. Your goal should reflect your taste and style.

Set your Budget

Establishing your budget will determine what is available for you to buy which will ultimately determine where you will shop. Knowing your budget will save you a lot of time. For example, if you have a budget of $1,000 or less per artwork then you will probably want to stay away from mega galleries and art fairs, such as Gagosian and Frieze to name a few, where artwork tends to be higher than $10,000. Of course, visiting such establishments is never a waste of time as they are great places to train your eye on what it is that you like, but if you are visiting with the purpose of buying and your budget is low then you will be disappointed.

Do your Research

The research will allow you to discover artists and learn about their background and their work. Knowing the education of an artist, their exhibition history, as well as whether or not their other artwork is part of an important collection, are all factors in determining if the price of their artwork is reasonable and it also helps to determine the sustainability of their career.

When buying from the secondary market, then your research should additionally include authentication and provenance. The secondary market refers to art being re-sold, perhaps through a dealer or at auction. This is much different from the primary market which refers to when an artwork hits the market for the first time, maybe being sold at a gallery, or directly from an artist's studio. As a secondary market buyer, you are not the first collector so you must make sure the piece you are buying is original and not fake. Provenance is important and the seller should give you this information as it may be crucial for authentication and to determine the value of the artwork.

Where to Search for Art

Searching online is one of the easiest ways to find artworks for sale. Artsy is one of the best platforms for beginners to explore when buying art. According to Artsy’s website, “There are currently over 600,000 works available for sale on Artsy, provided by galleries, auction houses, museums, and institutions from around the world. These works range in price from $100 to over $1,000,000, with new ones added every day.” The artsy platform allows you to narrow down your search by movement, color, medium, and price range, making it convenient to search artwork within your requirements.

Galleries and art fairs are also great places to explore and discover artists. Now, due to the pandemic galleries and art fairs are all virtual which makes it easier for you to access them from the comfort of your home. The Other Art Fair is a great place to find emerging to mid-career artists at affordable prices.

What to Purchase

Limited Edition Prints & Photography

If you are interested in starting your collection with artwork by a famous artist but are limited by your budget, then limited edition prints are your best option. Limited edition prints are a series of identical prints, which means they are generally more affordable. They are original artwork and because of it makes it a great investment, as its value can increase over time especially if signed by the artist. The different kinds of prints available in the art market are serigraphs, lithographs, woodcuts, engravings, linoleum cuts, etchings, giclee, and offset prints.

Similar to limited edition prints, photography is a great way to start an art collection. Photography can also be available through a limited edition series and a lot of the time the price tag is dependent on the number available in the series. In recent years, there has been an increase of attention to this medium, and art fairs such as Paris Photo have made it easy for collectors to view photography from around the world in one place.

With limited editions the smaller the edition quantity, the more valuable work could turn out to be. If you are not interested in limited editions, you can always buy a one-of-one piece by an artist.


Original paintings are more often the preferred choice of medium for collectors. A painting can fetch millions of dollars but you can start by buying affordable pieces from emerging artists who are still under the radar. This not only does it allow you to afford original paintings to add to your collection, but it is also a great way to support artists early in their career.

Sculpture and Design Objects

Three-dimensional works of art make wonderful display pieces within your living space and are also a great way to add variety to your collection. Objects that are signed by the artists and are skillfully made can add value to your collection.

Things to Keep in Mind as a 1st-Time Buyer

  • Authentication- documents that prove the provenance of the artwork.

  • Insurance- intended to pay for the repair of a damaged artwork or the financial loss when the artwork is destroyed or stolen.

  • Logistics- shipping, documentation, handling, and packing of your artwork.

  • Storage- best ways to store your artwork to ensure it remains in perfect condition when it isn’t hanging on your walls.

Taking Care of your Collection

It is important to properly take care of your artwork to ensure its longevity. You should ask for advice about the atmospheric conditions your artwork should be kept in, as well as guidance on hanging, lighting, and maintenance. Often the best person to ask about care tips is the artist or the gallerist from where you made the purchase. If the artwork is old and requires special attention you should hire a specialist.

Hiring an Art Consultant

If you are interested in starting an art collection but do not have the time to invest in the research process, then hiring an art consultant could be the best option for you. An art consultant can search for artworks based on your requirements and budget. They can also help inform you of your purchase.

Hopefully, this guide helps you on your journey as an art collector. And remember when it comes to buying art, always choose quality over quantity and buy for love.

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