Susan Mumford is an American expat entrepreneur whose favourite community of all time is leafy East Dulwich. Today, she shares 3 top tips for starting and building an art collection – applicable for art of any value, and collections of any size.
1. Work out why you’re collecting. Is it to decorate the house or office, to support artists / small local businesses and/or to invest?
Providing it’s decorating or supporting the arts: Visit local galleries, attend the Artists’ Open House during Dulwich Festival in May, go to the Affordable Art Fair at Battersea Park (October and March each year), and shop at online galleries (increasingly, galleries are based online and ‘pop-up’ at shows and fairs) as well online art marketplaces (though still mostly based in other countries, there is the UK-based artist site artfinder.com, and artsy.net has been building a presence here).
If you’re buying for investment: This is an entirely different proposition. You’ll want to seek the advice of an art consultant who will look after your best interests.
Most art buyers today collect art because they love it and want to support artists & small gallery owners. If an acquisition so happens to increase in value, all the better!
2. Buy what you like
Lack of confidence is the number one thing that stops people from purchasing art. It’s essential that you really love a piece. Something special happens that can’t be explained rationally when you truly fall for a piece. I observed this many times during my days as a gallerist. A visitor would pop-in, expecting to have a quick look before heading on to the rest of their day. And oh my! A moment of magic would happen with a work on display, and they would keep returning to it as if gravity was pulling them. Before they knew it, they were committing to buy it, whether that was in one payment or perhaps in a number of installments over the next few months.
Still concerned that you’re building a hodge-podge assortment? It’s okay. Your ‘collection’, however big or small, represents the varied and unique person that you are. It all comes together in the special blend that is your individual sensibility.
Sneaky pointer: Keep the first work of art you purchased, no matter how feel about it today. It’s a reminder of how it all began.
3. See a lot of art!
Nothing better enables you to confidently collect than looking, looking and looking more. Over time, you’ll find that you’re able to take in increasing amounts of viewing in one go (fairs can be overwhelming) and you’ll also discover that you know much more readily if a work of art will continue to captivate your attention or if it’s what Paris-based Marcus McAllister calls a ‘one-liner’ – that is, a piece that has immediate impact, but not much more.
Remember after visiting shows and fairs to browse artist and gallery websites. If you discovered an artist at a gallery show, make enquiries with the gallery (take note that professional artists and galleries work to ensure that prices are consistent across the board, which is essential to establish market value).
Final note: Have fun browsing, buying and displaying art. Nothing changes a setting more than a new work of art, and to know that you’re supporting the livelihood of someone who is pursuing a career doing what they love feels fantastic.
Susan Mumford is a game-changer in the 21st Century art world. Known as a ‘Dixie Brit’ based in London and spending increasing time in New York City, she’s the founder of two organisations that provide support to art world professionals: the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) and Be Smart About Art. Her personal mission is to empower and inform individuals who run and manage creative enterprises, thereby marrying creative & professional practice with integrity.