How to Collect: Developing a Collection

4 April 2012
How to Collect: Developing a Collection

Interested in collecting paintings?

Paintings are highly desirable for collectors – they are unique objects, which have a substantial presence, and it is a medium that accommodate all tastes.  Paintings are relatively easy to install, display and store and the materiality of painting is very attractive to most art lovers.  Paintings by important artists are more likely than other works to accrue value and they are often highly sought after by collectors, so can be difficult to acquire from galleries whose artists are in demand.

Interested in collecting sculpture?

Like painting, sculpture is another highly attractive medium for collectors.  Sculpture comes in a range of materials and sizes – designed to fill a room or sit on a mantelpiece – and can be tactile and even kinetic and interactive.  Unlike paintings, sculptures can come in editions.  Heavy works may require floors to be reinforced and some pieces can be fragile and difficult to handle, so special installation and conservation advice may be required.

Interested in collecting drawing?

Drawing has become a highly desirable medium for collectors in recent years, providing an opportunity to buy a unique piece often at a fraction of the price of a painting or sculpture.  The proximity of drawing to the artist’s creative process gives drawing an immediate quality, making drawing an attractive area for collectors to focus on, and collecting drawings is a way to strengthen a collection of an artist’s work in other media.  Drawings are prone to fade however so they require specialist attention and historically, drawings are easiest to forge of any media, so diligence regarding authentication and documentation is required!

Interested in collecting photography?

Like drawing, photography is often reasonably priced and, because it is usually produced in editions, it can be easier for collectors to obtain works which in some cases may also be held in prestigious institutional collections.  Photography provides an opportunity to acquire a striking image – there is an image for every type of collector’s taste and interest – and is relatively easy to install, display and store.  Conservation issues are paramount however, since photographs fade over time.  It is important that they are not exposed to direct light and are displayed in stable environments, as they are highly sensitive to damp and changing humidity.

Interested in collecting prints and limited editions?

Prints are a good way to obtain an affordably priced piece by a well-known artist – increasingly produced on the occasion of an artist having an exhibition in a public institution – and are relatively straightforward to display and store.  Often more quirky, experimental and informal pieces, prints can be exploratory in the artist’s creative process and output and make a nice addition to a collection of an artist’s work in other media.  Low edition print portfolios are an excellent and economic way to begin a collection, and if of sufficient quality and kept intact, can appreciate substantially in value.

Here is a link to recommended print producers.


Interested in collecting moving image and new media?

Despite its influence in contemporary culture and its omnipresence in contemporary art in recent decades, film and video are still considered an unconventional form of art to collect.   As a result, collectors of moving image are considered ambitious and highly evolved risk-takers!  Most moving image works require special equipment and technology to display and will need specialist advice to install and conserve.  Also, collectors interested in moving image works need to be aware that certain types of film stock, video tapes, DVD and equipment are becoming obsolete.  The collector will need to upgrade not only the technology for showing the piece but also the format of the artwork, so the artist or dealer should be consulted about future upgrades.


Interested in collecting installations and site-specific work?

Installations and site-specific work are the hallmark of the serious, ambitious and highly committed collector since it is not easy to display, store or conserve, and will need full input from the artist and their gallery to present.  Site-specific works can be adapted from their original to new contexts for public and private situations, and in some cases, are simply the documented permission to install rather than the work itself.  Often installations owned privately are offered on long-term lone to public institutions which have the space to show them and have the required curatorial and conservational resources.  Difficult to display, often challenging on the eye and conceptually driven, installation and site-specific works are a relatively high-maintenance niche and as a result, can be difficult to sell.

Interested in collecting performance?

Collecting performance is a relatively new phenomenon and is in fledgling form for private collectors and public institutions.  Performance emerged in contemporary art in the 1960s as a form of non-transactional, non-saleable practice resistant to the gallery system and art market and it implicitly raises conceptual challenges to the act of ownership.  Residual ephemera, photographs and documentation form the basis of archives of performance art which have entered collections since the emergence of this area of practice decades ago.  However, collecting works of performance art per se involves specifying the exact conditions of the art work and a contractual agreement of when and how the artwork can be authentically presented by an individual owner.  This is most typically a contract defining the transaction of a work of creative/intellectual property in exact terms and a licence to present the performance.  Like site-specific, installation-based and new media, performance has yet to find a wide base of private collectors and is untested on the primary and secondary market.

How do I develop a coherent collection?

Some collections evolve organically in an undetermined way, whereas some collectors take their time looking, developing their knowledge and networks, researching artists of interest within a defined framework.  This framework can be conceptual, i.e. ideas and themes, or media-specific, i.e. painting, sculpture, drawings etc.


What is `horizontal’ collecting?

`Horizontal’ collecting means developing a collection of works by a broad range of artists whose work you find interesting.

What is `vertical’ collecting?

`Vertical’ collecting means focusing on a small cluster of artists and buying their work in depth.  The advantages of this approach include a deep understanding of an artist’s artistic development and the respect of the gallery that represents them as part of a long-term relationship.  Building up a collection of depth of one artist that can be displayed by or loaned to public institutions can be very useful for artist, gallery and collector alike.


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