6 Common Mistakes Art Collectors Make
For many art collectors, buying art is about pleasure and enjoyment rather than investment or speculation. Regardless of your motive this is a time marked by volatile art markets and increased legal risk so it is more important than ever to practice due diligence and resist the urge to buy on impulse even if money is no object. Buying recklessly can potentially have long-term adverse effects on your collection and its value.
Here are the six most common mistakes to try and avoid when buying art!
- No Art Insurance. Many collectors of fine art, antiques, stamps or otherwise don’t realize that their small infatuation for a certain type of object has the potential to grow into quite a sizable collection that may have substantially increased in value over time. Without art insurance you risk not getting the full amount covered in case of damage, theft, or loss especially in the current context of a booming art market. There are a few great art insurance companies such as Chubb and AXA Art that provide affordable and forgiving policies that give you much more coverage than your average Home or Property policies. The small cost of art insurance for peace of mind is definitely worth it.
- Forget to Inspect the Art. Have you ever gone to an art fair and spotted an object you fell in love with and bought it on the spot? It’s easy to do with the frenetic energy that sometimes accompanies art fairs and the race to buy art before someone else snatches it up. Remind yourself to stop and look slowly at the object to see any visible wear and tear, unusual markings and damage. Don’t be shy to ask about curious markings or cracks. Always ask the seller for their opinion on condition and if the work was restored in the past or not (this can effect value).
- Missed Records. One of the first questions I ask clients is whether or not they have invoices from their purchase or other documentation related to that objects transaction and the answer is usually ‘no’. Either because they never intended to sell it or they didn’t want the hassle of paperwork. Whichever the case, that one piece of paper can be your only proof of purchase and verification of that objects materials and provenance. Galleries can go out of business or are not obliged to keep those records so be sure to ask for a DETAILED invoice with an image of the artwork on it and store it away in a safe place. An invoice should include all the artwork and transaction details including artist name, medium, title, and price, the buyer and seller information and an thumbnail image of the artwork. You are likely to need this document to support resale, insurance, donation, and appraisal purposes. Ideally, every object you own should have a separate file that contains the invoice (aka Purchase Order), certificate of authenticity, provenance and exhibition history if any, past literary references, appraisals, scholarly statements, and press clippings or publications/catalogue raisonnés. Not only will good record-keeping help preserve an object’s history, it can also serve as supporting evidence if you ever need to answer questions about authentication or valuation. It will also save you a lot of time and headache during estate planning, insurance valuations, IRS audits and donations.
- Improper Storage or Mistreatment of Art. Hidden environmental factors such a humidity, mold, smoke and sunlight may not be so obvious but can prove detrimental to your artwork over a period of time. Avoid hanging your art next to windows, in humid environments or near areas where temperatures tend to fluctuate. Places that are less than ideal for artwork include bathrooms, boats, beach houses, fireplaces, and near air conditioners or heaters. If you are putting art in a basement be sure to install a dehumidifier and do not place any artwork directly on the ground in case of flooding. As a general rule of thumb, consider the medium. Works on paper, prints and photographs tend to be more vulnerable and oil paintings tend to be more stable and forgiving. When installing or de-installing your art, pay extra attention to handling your art with care. Wear gloves, pad the corners (to avoid hitting art against walls or furniture) and move the art slowly from one place to another. If possible, hire a professional art handler (any local art gallery can recommend one) and be present to make sure they are handling the art carefully. If necessary, hire a restorer to repair any damage. NEVER attempt to restore a work yourself. Remember, art and frames are fragile so err on the side of caution and handle with care.
- Lose Track of Art. Keeping track of all your art objects can seem like a tedious and thankless task but it can nevertheless save you a lot of time and headache when you need to locate it at a moments notice as well as give you peace of mind so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking that one of your prized possessions is missing or stolen. Storing art at multiple residences, storage facilities or even in a large multi-room residence can make it even more difficult to manage your art even if you proclaim to have an elephant memory. Make it easy on yourself and get an inventory tracking application like Collector’s Systems or an easy-to-install software program like Art Systems or FileMakerPro to help you turn the burden of inventory control into a thing of the past. These applications allow you to keep your entire collection under one roof. It can store the entire history of an object’s movements, valuations, and activity as well as store multiple images and documents related to that object. At the very least, a simple Excel Worksheet can suffice for the most basic inventory management. Your collection should be a controllable asset that you can easily show off and enjoy. Remember to keep your collection updated!
- ONLY Buy What You Love. While it one may seem counterintuitive as it is indeed important to buy art that you truly deeply enjoy and appreciate, contrary to popular opinion it is not always wise to buy art solely because you love it–especially if it is purely for aesthetic reasons. If you are interested in collecting emerging contemporary artists, for example you are most likely interested in the fact that it is challenging you to take a new perspective or pushing you in a new direction. Idea here is that people who only buy art that they love usually buy what they are already familiar and comfortable with and therefore don’t tend to take risks. The art may be derivative of some other artist and not particularly extraordinary as a result. A great artist is one who influences other artists and who has a profound effect on the broader culture. Contemporary art is oftentimes overpriced because it includes a premium with the expectation that that artist will have cultural relevance in society and will influence the next generation of artists. So even though it is important to buy what you love, it is also important to take risks and buy what makes you think or feel differently, too. Great art, if it is to be innovative and groundbreaking should make you feel uncomfortable and push you out of your comfort zone at least until you feel a real connection to it. Art has the wonderful ability to further open your mind to new ideas and find inspiration even if initially, you didn’t love it at first sight.
Good news–it’s quite easy to avoid all these mistakes so don’t worry! Just remind yourself of this post the next time you go on a shopping spree.
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Photo credit: Matthu Placek