Collective Soul

A Gallerist sheds light on how to build an art collection with confidence

Melissa Morgan provides expertise about fine art and curating a personal collection.

Photo by Ethan Kaminsky


“Always love what you buy.”

This motto inspired Melissa Morgan to purchase her first fine art piece — a Picasso six-color linocut she says reminded her of her late husband and stirred her passion for work on paper.

“I love not only the accessibility but its importance in art history,” says the gallerist, who opened Melissa Morgan Fine Art on El Paseo in Palm Desert a decade ago. “Collecting prints by such modern masters as Picasso and Warhol also sparked my interest in midcareer contemporary artists,” she says. “Being a part of art history in the making is exciting to me.”

Here, Morgan provides a crash course on the art of curating a personal collection.

How does one start an art collection?
Exposing yourself to art is key: Visit important galleries and museums, and get to know what you like. This will help you narrow your focus. Spend time with the dealers and experts in your area of interest. Starting a collection begins with purchasing a piece you’ve fallen in love with.

Define “good” art?
Much of this is subjective, yet there are some key questions to ask: Does the artist have a museum or exhibition history outside of a commercial gallery? Does the artist have a vision or narrative beyond the obvious canvas? Has the output of the artist remained consistently good? These are all measures of longevity in an artist’s career. There is a distinction between expensive decoration and fine art: The latter builds credentials on the combined interest of collectors, press, academics, galleries, critics, and the public. It creates a measurable buzz that is continually stoked while it faces critical analysis.

What is provenance?
Provenance is the history of a piece of work — a “paper trail” of who has owned the piece, shown the piece, and so forth. This proves authenticity but can also add value to a piece if it has an interesting history, such as once belonging to part of an art collection by a famous or historical person.

Should I collect from only famous artists?
People in the art world hate hearing this, but it is similar to the stock market. If you buy “stock” in a blue chip artist, the investment will be sounder. Investing in “unproven” artists is riskier. However, the rewards can be greater. Most collectors focus on all levels, with a significant portion of their collection in midcareer art.

How are prices on art decided?
Simply stated, supply and demand. Generally, the more experienced and well-known the artist, the higher the price. But prices are also affected greatly by major auction results.

Are there any bargains?
If you love the work and can afford to buy it, it’s a bargain. Don’t expect to find a Picasso Blue in a consignment store, though.

Is art a wise financial investment?
In the long term, art can be a solid investment. It’s a less “liquid” investment unless a particular artist trends heavily. Don’t let a dealer tell you that any work is a guaranteed investment; love what you buy first.

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