Intelligencer — How To Buy Art

Here's everything you need to know.

Two calligraphic works on paper by Taiwan-born, London-based artist Suling Wang, both untitled (2006), exemplify the artist’s allover compositions that draw on the recent transformation and modernization of her homeland. They are among 11 works of Chinese art that East West Bank in Pasadena purchased and promised to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Courtesy East West Bank, Pasadena

If you’re reading this at home, stop and look around. Do you see anything that moves you — anything meaningful, engaging, daring, or provocative? If you want to give your piece of paradise a personal touch, seek artwork that appeals to your sense of good taste and aesthetics.

You might be unable to articulate what you like, but as the saying goes, you’ll know it when you see it. If you look at enough art, you will develop an eye and begin to trust your instincts. The key is seeing as much as possible:

• Visit museums and take the docent-led tours.
• Take advantage of studio visits, art walks, tours, and lectures.
• Ask friends about the art in their homes.
• Look at art in public places.
• Explore art galleries.

Once you identify an artist you like, consider his or her credentials — particularly when dealing with high-priced works. Look at the artist’s exhibition history and note the public and private collections that include the artist’s works.

Find a dealer you can trust. Go to someone who understands the big picture of the art market and can astutely advise you.

Regardless of the demand or stature of the artist, you must love the work to live with it.

TIPS From The Experts

Look at as much art as possible.

Ask questions, listen, and learn about different subjects, techniques, movements, etc., to reveal and reinforce your preferences. Allow gallery personnel to educate you about their artists.

Research as if you are buying a house or a car.

Get your interior designer onboard. If you seek decorative work to blend into your home, a good designer will help you. If your tastes are more serious, there are designers who understand fine art and have strong alliances with good dealers.

Avoid impulse buys. Keep a list of pieces that interest you and become intimately familiar with a piece before buying it.

Collect a few excellent pieces rather than many mediocre pieces.

Buy the best of an artist’s work in a series or period.

Assure the authenticity. Reputable dealers will provide a certificate of authenticity and, if appropriate, the provenance for each work.

Check out student art shows, a great place to find and support emerging talent.

Ask how to frame, light, and maintain the artwork.

Know your dealer. As the relationship develops, the good dealer will become a confidant and adviser. They will do more than move inventory into your house; the best dealers will have some of the best work.

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