what to buy, where to look

Work by artist Nicholas Bowlby at the Affordable Art Fair on October 20, 2021 in London, United Kingdom

Puja Bhatia | Getty Images

You have a mortgage, own your car, and perhaps have a mix of safe and riskier stocks in your portfolio.

You have some disposable income and would like to invest in art for your home. Where to start?

Well, the experts CNBC spoke with always advised new collectors to do their research.

“We really cannot overestimate the importance of reading, of learning, of visiting museums, of perfecting one’s eye,” according to Karen Tayloradvisor and broker.

“And really… figure out what you like, because there’s all the difference in the world between a collection and a bunch of stuff,” Taylor said, speaking to CNBC at the Winter Art & Antiques Fair in London, USA. United Kingdom.

“Collectors [should] attend as many gallery openings, graduation shows and art fairs as possible – this is how they can develop their own preferences and get a sense of the art they really connect with,” said Maria Artool, CEO of the association. International body of artwhich organizes exhibitions, in an email to CNBC.

Will Ramsay, founder and CEO of Affordable art fair, who organizes exhibitions around the world, said collecting art is easier than you think. “You don’t have to be an art expert at all. Talking to people in the industry and visiting galleries is a great way to keep up to date with what’s going on,” he said via email to CNBC.

But don’t expect to develop your tastes quickly, Taylor said. “A collection is a journey, the journey of a lifetime for many people,” she said.

Art as an investment

While the most common types of investments aim for short- or long-term returns, art is not seen as something to buy and sell for quick gains, according to people interviewed by CNBC.

“There is…an etiquette in the art world that you can’t just ‘flip’ something, and we would never recommend doing that,” said Robert Diament, co-host of the emission Talk about art podcast, told CNBC by phone.

However, the value of contemporary art is likely to grow in the long term, Diament said. “I would say 90% of the time you’re probably still going to get some sort of investment potential in art… The main thing is to buy something you love,” he said.

Death Mask by Tracey Emin, on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, UK on June 19, 2023.

Carlotta Cardana | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Diament specializes in contemporary art and began collecting prints by British artist Tracey Emin about 20 years ago, he said. “I was really excited about her signing them, so you could… have the artist’s hand on the print,” he told CNBC. He paid “in the thousands” for the coins, which are probably now worth much more.

Although he didn’t buy Emin’s work with the intention of making a return, he described its growing value as “almost like an added bonus.”

There’s also a satisfaction in buying something from a living artist, Diament said. “Not only do you get something really great to live with and love, but you also help an artist further their career,” he said.

The art market

In the high-end segment, art sold at auction saw its sales increase by 30% compared to other “investments of passion” such as watches, jewelry or wine, according to the agency. Knight Frank Luxury Investment Indexwhich looked at the performance of collectibles in the 12 months ending at the end of June.

Knight Frank data comes from consultancy Art Market Research, which maintains a register of artists whose work has been sold at global auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s more than 30 times in two years, and is largely comprised of modern, contemporary and impressionist artists.

Meanwhile, the Affordable Art Fair is growing, Ramsay said. After hosting 14 shows in 2023, it will launch events in Austin, Berlin and Brisbane next year. Cities want to help new artists exhibit and sell their work, he added.

A woman looks at a work of art during the ‘Eileen Agar: Angel Of Anarchy’ exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery on May 14, 2021, in London, United Kingdom. Art experts recommend people visit galleries to hone their tastes before investing.

Jeff Spicer | Getty Images

While some collectors might think about their legacy later in life and decide to donate their works to a museum, others may leave pieces to family members as part of their estate, meaning art returns to the market. “Others are very happy to put everything back on the market … and let someone else have fun,” Taylor said.

Taylor handled the sale of a George Romney drawing, a study of Satan for Fall of the Rebel Angels in the 1990s, which she has for sale again. “You need a constant supply of product,” she said.

“When inflation starts, artwork retains its value,” Taylor added.

What and where to buy

Limited edition prints are a good place to start, Diament said, and he recommended Voltaire’s housewhere people can buy online or in person at its London gallery.

A signed print by British artist Magda Archer titled “It’s not all about the ‘likes'” is on sale on the site for £60 ($74.20), while works by Latvian painter Ella Kruglyanskaya begin at £500.

THE Carl Freedman Gallery, of which Diament is director, is currently exhibiting works by “social realist” artist Benjamin Senior, from around £7,000. Senior works with egg tempera – popular during the Renaissance era – where egg yolk is mixed with pigments to create a paint that builds up in multiple layers to create an image.

Senior produces a handful of pieces per year. “It’s still really affordable considering they’re so rare,” Diament said.

Taylor, meanwhile, specializes in British watercolors from the 18th to early 20th centuries, known as the “golden age” of the technique. “It was a time when there was a great flowering of talent… it coincided with a period when Britain was a very prosperous place, there was a market for their work,” Taylor said.

A woman looks at ‘Venice: Piazza San Marco’ by British watercolorist Richard Parkes Bonington at the Wallace Collection, London, September 2023.

Judith Burrows | Hulton Archives | Getty Images

For a budget of £10,000 you could buy five to 10 pieces from this period, Taylor said. “It’s a fabulous, affordable area… we could really start a very decent collection,” she added.

Many new buyers focus on a particular region or style and create very curated collections over time, Taylor said. One of his clients, a young American, travels frequently and likes landscape paintings of European countries. “He came back to me after a few years and said [he’d] I decided to focus entirely on Italy, otherwise the collection becomes a bit disparate,” Taylor said.

“Some people like color, some people like to focus on designs without color…there are people who only collect one artist,” Taylor said. “Some people like portraits, and it doesn’t matter if they’re other people’s ancestors. If they have an interesting face, they have a kind of universal appeal,” she said.

Art is sometimes seen as elitist, Diament said, but there’s no need to be intimidated. Small local galleries are likely eager to be visited, and you may be able to see some works before others, he added. “It’s often the first time it’s been exhibited, and there’s something really exciting about that,” he said.

Ramsay’s advice is to buy something because you like it. “Before you commit, take some time to think about it…art should have a certain longevity. Some art may immediately arise from you for whatever reason. But upon reflection, you may realize that it doesn’t won’t keep your interest. You’ll know it’s meant to be yours if you keep thinking about it,” he said.

Artool said the International Body of Art encourages buyers to “be part of the artistic process,” through studio visits, and that people sometimes have the opportunity to help organize exhibitions with the artist. “It removes the barriers that would traditionally be present when purchasing a work of art traditionally,” she said.

Buy at auction

Auctions can be a good place to buy art, partly because they provide access to a free market, but also because large auction houses have specialists that buyers can consult, according to Isabelle Paagman , senior international specialist in contemporary art at Sotheby’s.

When choosing what to bid on, figure out what you like and set a budget, Paagman said. “It’s always about what you answer and then you do the research to back it up. It also really depends on the mission that you give yourself and the budget that you want to allocate,” she told CNBC by email.

Provenance – which refers to the history and ownership of a work – is often an important factor when purchasing a work of art.

“A work of art purchased at auction will, more often than not, be associated with an exciting story, and when you buy it, you become a part of that story. You become involved in a highly esteemed lineage of provenance,” Paagman said. added.

A large mural by American artist Shepard Fairey on the wall of a building in Paris, France. Sotheby’s has a number of Fairey’s prints for sale online as part of its ‘collection starters’ range.

Chesnot | Getty Images


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