A Beginner's Guide to Starting an Art Collection

May  9, 2016

Becoming an adult is fraught with unforeseen perils and expenses beyond the obvious: car insurance, furniture that doesn't fall apart, a smart phone and a plan for it, insurance, a half-decent kitchen knife, taxes (it's not all sunshine and checks from the government—who knew?), etc.

And no matter how you prioritize your spendings, even the most interior design-inclined young adult might feel intimidated by the idea of starting an art collection on top of all these. Where do I begin? Where do I look? Can I afford art at all? Yes, there are flea market paintings and thrift store prints to pick over—but if you're excited about the idea of finding new artists and sourcing original works of art, there is hope yet.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

At a panel on the topic of sourcing artwork yesterday at the BKLYN DESIGNS expo in Greenpoint, I heard from the interior designers at AphroChic, Jenn Singer from her eponymous N.Y.C. gallery, and a curator from Uprise Art, an online gallery aimed at young collectors.

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Here are their best tips for starting an art collection, no matter what you know, don't know, or what your budget might be.

1. Go see more art.

You're not going to find artists you like, or art you can afford, without seeking it out—and doing so in person is the best way to see what's out there.

Gallery Openings

When a new show goes up in a gallery, the curator will usually host an evening show—the perfect thing to stop in and peruse since there's often free food or drinks, too. Here are some sources the panelists mentioned for finding gallery openings on the fly ("even if you only have an hour to kill walking around town," as one panelist put it).

  • Arthaps: Search by what’s closing soon, or even what's closing tonight.
  • Sort by their editors' picks.
  • Art Forum: You can even opt into their weekly email dispatch.

Gallery Exhibitions

On the flip side, the good thing about not going on opening night is you might get the whole gallery space to yourself. Find the art galleries in your neighborhood, and pop into them on your way home after work.

SF: today's the final day to check out works by #MilleeTibbs, #ClayMahn, and #MatthewShelley at #ArtMarketSF.

A photo posted by Uprise Art (@uprisenyc) on

Art Fairs

Not every art fair is as fancy and sceney as Art Basel—though if you're looking to rub shoulders with the art world elite in Miami Beach, that's one to attend (amongst many). They pop up in major cities all over the world but aren't limited to big urban spaces, so ask your local gallery if there are any coming through town!

Art fairs are a great place to see lots of different galleries and artists in one market-style place. (Also a good reason to book a vacation.) Here are a few to look up:

M.F.A. Shows

Every spring, graduating seniors at most art schools will put on a big show of all their work. Not only are they usually open to the public, but most of the art is going to be for sale. As Jenn Singer said with a laugh, "It's the best place to get their art for less, before they make it big!"

Today's #studioportrait: Ekaterina Zvereva, MFA 2016 #111Franklin #MFAThesisShow #studentartwork #academydaily #printmaking

A photo posted by New York Academy of Art (@nyacademyofart) on

Free Days at Museums

Maybe you aren't planning to buy a piece of art from a museum, but attending their free days (which often happen once a month) is another affordable way to get comfortable with past, contemporary, and emerging artists.

2. Ask all the questions.

It's no secret that galleries and their curators can be intimidating, but if you don't ask questions you (probably) won't ever get answers. Here's what the panelists advised piping up about, specifically.

Artist's Studio Visits

If you're in love with a piece of art but wish you had a better understanding of where it came from, ask the gallery owner about arranging a studio visit. "Gallery owners want to create a collector base—they want relationships," Jenn explained.

Prices & Plans

If the prices aren't posted beside each artwork, ask for them! And if the answer is more than you can spend all at once—but you're absolutely sure this is a piece of art you want in your life—ask about payment plans, too. Jenn says that most galleries will actually consider it, though they don't advertise as much.

Take-Home Trials

Similarly, many galleries will consider letting a potential buyer take a piece of art home with them on loan. At the online art source Uprise Art, they offer the same service. In many cases, you'll pay a monthly fee that either goes towards the later purchase, or acts as a rental fee.

3. Poke around online.

Social Media

When you encounter a gallery or an artist whose work you like, find them on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. There's a good chance they'll be posting about upcoming shows and events, new exhibitions, or brand new pieces before you read about them in the New Yorker.

Online Resources & Sellers

  • Uprise Art: Like an online gallery, Uprise offers original artworks in two main categories (under/over $800)—plus art advisers, updates about brick-and-mortar exhibitions, and blogs about their various artists.
  • Artsy: An online hub for galleries, museums, foundations, artist estates, fairs, and the like—as much a resource for getting inspired and educated as it is for purchasing something you love.
  • Etsy: Sort by mediums like painting, photography, drawing and illustration, mixed media and collage, and sculpture to browse a whole world of original artwork—often at a fraction of the price you'd find in a gallery.
  • 1st Dibs: While perhaps better known for its fine art (read: very, very expensive) collection, antique retailer 1st Dibs also has the option to sort by price.

4. Display it.

If you're going to go to the trouble of learning about and buying original art, you might as well find a place to display it in your home—no excuses! No hidden art! No promises that you'll do it in your next apartment. Here are some tips for getting it up:

Consider Unexpected Spaces

Forget what you've been told: There are other places to hang art besides in a giant gallery-style cluster on your biggest open wall. The kitchen, for example, is a great place to hang art (so long as they're out of the way of any excessive heat or splattering), as are small walls, or next to another piece of art you have up in a duo or trio.

Lean It

If committing to a hole in the wall is too much for you to handle, lean your art up: on shallow shelves, or on a bookshelf, or on the mantle (though not the latter if your fireplace gets super hot).

Plan Before Hanging

By cutting out pieces of newspaper the same size as your art and then taping those to the wall with painter's tape, you'll be able to find the perfect spot for your new piece without needing five hands and a measuring tape. Consider how it will relate to art nearby, in both scale and texture and color, find a stud using a studfinder, and don't stress too much before going for it (there's always spackle).

How do you find new artists and original artworks? Share your tips in the comments!

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  • TSchneider
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    Sean R
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


TSchneider May 15, 2016
Well written article, helpful advice for even the seasoned collector. The apps were new to me, downloading now.
Sean R. May 10, 2016
If you love it, buy it.
Years ago, I fell in love with these gorgeous tapestries displayed every week at a farmer's market (crazy, right?) in Minneapolis. They were pricey, esp. for a college student, but I drooled over them every summer for about 3 years. Last summer, I broke down, bought the best piece I could afford, and found out that the artist is a National Living Treasure of Peru! The whole experience really taught me to trust my gut when it comes to art. I know what I like and IT WILL BE MINE. ;P #noregrets