This is a condensed version of Piece by Piece: How to Begin a Lifelong Art Collection, which appeared in the Spring 2018 print issue of Paprika Southern. To see the full article, plus an exploration of the photographic legacy of Jack Leigh, dreamy floral-inspired spring hair ideas, a citrus-infused brunch menu, and much more, you can pick up a back issue now.
Piece by Piece
How to Begin a Lifelong Art Collection
Written by Stephanie Tallevast / Photographed by Siobhan Egan
Through an art collection, a personal point-of-view is expressed with elegance and sophistication, and the statement it makes can be as distinctive as the individual who has amassed the works. A well-curated and thoughtfully-presented art collection can drive the aura, the style and the statement of any environment. Unlike presentations of an art museum or gallery, a personal art collection can be more of a reflection of the thoughts, the preferences and the authentic style of its owners, in a way that is spoken through the artwork, rather than primarily that of an artist, curator or gallerist.
For the seasoned collector, ideal display logistics have most likely been executed and future acquisitions may be budgeted well in advance of the next purchasing opportunity, but for someone who is just starting out in the world of art collecting, the nuances may seem a little perplexing. Giving direction and order to a small, existing collection or even making the initial purchase to begin a collection is not as overwhelming as it may seem. With some exploration, research and planning, building an art collection is an endeavor that can result in a striking and profound, as well as deeply personal, element of an interior space.
Start at Home Base
How does one begin an art collection or go from owning a few pieces to shaping a serious collection? At the outset, it is important to see what is out there and to develop personal preferences before going headfirst into purchasing. “Always be true to your tastes, first and foremost. Define your likes, dislikes, taking note of subject matter you’re drawn to, techniques, mediums, styles, particular artist, and how you feel about it,” says Leslie Lovell, owner of Roots Up Gallery in Savannah. Having an established taste in art makes the experience of collecting more impassioned.
A great way to research and define your taste is simply by visiting local galleries. Many specialize in representing regional artists. Never be afraid to browse, ask questions, and research pricing. When Leslie and her late husband Frances Allen founded their gallery the couple focused on southern, self-taught artists, and one defining factor in opening their doors was making art approachable. She encourages everyone to discover what they love in art by browsing galleries and museums, as well as by attending local art events, such as show openings, lectures and art walks. Many of these events give attendees the opportunity to meet and talk with artists and ask questions.
Combining Art, Heart, and Smarts
Savannah art patron and collector Lori Judge is a testament to how the acquisition of a single piece of art can grow into an impressive collection with purpose and presence. Her love of art and artists began when she moved to Savannah in 2000. Soon after Lori acquired an original print (actually bartering for it) from a Savannah College of Art and Design printmaking student. She says she still has as much of a connection with the work today as she did the first day she saw the work. That print (pictured above) began her journey as a collector.
As Lori continued to collect, she became more passionate about art. At first, she just enjoyed the process of discovery and acquisition, with no specific plans for her collection. In 2002, Lori began attending the international art fair Art Basel in Miami. The exposure to the art world in such an extended view eventually generated the notion that she herself could open her collection to share with her community. The idea for The Judge Realty Permanent Art Collection was born. Lori has curated and displayed much of her art in the Judge Realty office, located in the Savannah Historic District, for public viewing.
After additional acquisitions, Lori realized that many of her pieces had themes of economy, energy and the environment, issues already of interest and importance to her. Thus, a focus for the collection emerged. Lori utilized the services of Susan Laney, owner of Laney Contemporary Fine Art, to help her catalog, organize, and display her pieces. The process of working with Susan as a consultant helped to create some long-range planning and thoughtful insight into her collection. Susan assisted with display and proper records for all of Lori’s collected works.
At the addition of each new piece of art, proper record-keeping and display are vital. Susan Laney, owner of Laney Contemporary in Savannah, stresses the importance of documentation. She suggests making a template form for all works in a collection and recording information such as artist, title, date of the work, medium, size, where purchased, current location, and so on. Susan says it is best to enter this information into a database and to make a hard copy to keep in a file (along with the certificate of authenticity, if available).
Another practice Susan suggests is photographing every piece in a collection, either professionally or non-professionally, depending on the level of your inventory. In addition to keeping records for each work in a database and in a file, Susan suggests having them secured on the back the frame of the work to serve as an information backup. A good framer should be able to attach a document pocket to the back of most framing at your request.
The effort made to catalog helps give provenance and validity to your art. Susan notes, “Once a collection is properly cataloged and evaluated, it then becomes apparent if additional professional services will be needed.” This includes appraisers, restorationists, or insurance specialists. The entire cataloging project can easily be the do-it-yourself kind, but should time constraints or the need for a trained-eye be a factor, professional consultants can be hired to assist with the job.
The Bottom Line of Collecting
Leslie Lovell, Lori Judge, and Susan Laney all agree: buy only what you love! In the end, that’s what collecting is all about. Sometimes, other factors creep in to a buying decision, but Lori advises, “If you don’t love it, don’t buy it.”
Remember, the pieces in a collection give back in very specific ways each day. Be sure that you have researched enough to have an understanding of that connection. As Leslie reminds, “Have fun and choose things that speak to you, because these pieces are going to surround you.” A new collector may not fully understand how a well-selected work of art can enhance their life for as long as they own it, but it is one of the greatest joys of collecting. Susan sums it up, saying “Even if your taste changes, for the most part the real love that you have for a piece is a forever thing.” Yes, a forever thing: such is the love of art.
Explore art galleries or attend art shows. It is important to educate yourself about what is being created.
Set a budget every year. This is a practical way to make your collection grow.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Not all pricing is up for discussion, but often you can work out something satisfactory to all parties, especially on major purchases.
Become a part of your community’s art events to help develop your own taste, preferences, and knowledge in art.
Don’t follow trends in art; buy only what you truly love.
Use art talks and show openings as an opportunity to get to know artists personally. Forging a relationship with an artist can deepen your appreciation for their work.
Make the investment of time to catalog your collection. Turn to a professional if you need help in this task.
Find a framer who understands fine art and who can collaborate with you to best showcase your collection.
Don’t buy art purely as a financial investment; think of it instead as an investment in your quality of life and in your community.
#1 Tip from Lori, Leslie, & Susan:
Buy only what you love!
Read the full article, plus much more inspiration for creative and intentional living in the Spring 2018 issue of Paprika Southern!