Upbeat producer Zoë George asks Suite Gallery owner David Alsop how to build an art collection, where to buy art, who to buy it from and whether you should by from the head or the heart?
Where do we start?
Even thinking about buying art is the first obstacle.
Then research is the place to start. There’s lots of opportunities to purchase art, either at a gallery, or a café, or even online.
Be discerning and start focusing on things that interest you and art works that will potentially grow with you, made by artists who will potentially be successful artists.
Should we always buy New Zealand made art?
No not necessarily. First rule is to buy something you love.
So we should buy from the heart not the head first?
You should definitely buy from the heart. Imagine taking something home you didn’t like the look of and having to look at it. You must enjoy and love the image or object. It’s a very fulfilling thing to get that right.
We can buy art at art fairs, auction houses and galleries. Where’s a good place to get our first piece of art?
There’s the primary market and secondary market for artwork.
The primary market is the café, gallery, or art fair where you are buying from a person representing the artist. You know the artist will get some money or return from the sale. In contrast to a secondary market or resale market, where people buy and sell at auction.
In those situations mostly the artist won’t get anything out of the sales. We did look at giving artists royalties. There’s one auction house in Auckland giving a voluntary percentage to the artist. But artists shouldn’t bank on retiring on royalties!
Can I buy art directly from the artist?
You can. Platforms like Instagram are opening up opportunities for artists to display their works. A lot of people who are interested in the artist will follow and see what’s coming out of their studio. Professional artists who exhibit regularly will expect you to go through a gallery. The gallery is a go-between. Gallery is an important relationship contact point for any new art buyer. As soon as you visit galleries you will see a huge range of skills, backgrounds and philosophies, so must find someone you can get along with and trust.
How do we know how much something is worth?
There’s been a lack of transparency in the art market that has scared people. How can we be sure what they are looking at is worth what it’s worth? We have a secure online catalogue so they can look at everything we have in our storeroom, and see across an artist’s 10-year history with us and what their artwork cost then and now. An open policy and being willing to share pricing is important.
How do I ask for the price?
In most galleries, who hold regular exhibitions, there should be a room sheet that lists the prices. Sometimes the prices are next to the piece. But with us we have a room sheet.
Can I haggle?
Yes you can. But I think older style galleries wouldn’t have a bar of it. But at the end pragmatic decision making never hurts anyone.
What about getting a discount?
It’s dependent on the circumstances. For buying 2 or 3 works at a time, people should ask for a discount. You can also spread payments. Most galleries will be willing to spread payments over three or six months. There’s even a finance company in Auckland now that has interest free loans for art buyers.
What are some things I shouldn’t do when I walk into a gallery?
Taking a photo without asking. If you are allowed to take photographs do credit the artist. Don’t say that you could make it yourself. Don’t ask a gallerist if they are the artist.
Can I ask the gallery owner for advice or are they trying to sell me art?
Gallery owners are a very rich source of information. They live and breathe their artists’ works and practice and what you should be looking for in terms of the art.
I will discourage people from looking in our stock room even though there are some good works. For a young collector you ought to be looking at the best new things, not the best things I have from two or three years ago. It might sound counter- intuitive, but it’s about being honest and building a relationship with them. It’s about helping them find the best works for them. When you are starting out you deserve to be looking at the best and freshest items out there.
Other than a gallery, we can also buy art at art fairs. How do these fairs work?
There are two types of fairs. Those driven by gallery entrants – like the Auckland Art Fair - and those where artists can exhibit themselves – like the New Zealand Art Show.
You come into a gallery and there might only be eight or 10 items on the wall. It’s about having the best of the best available.
People also get confused when they have too much choice. You need to exercise common sense.
How do we build an art collection? Can it be lots of things from one artist, or can it be lots of things from lots of different artist?
It can be anything you make it. Focusing on a medium is a common thing these days. From photography others might like emerging women, or artists from certain areas.
Take it slow, don’t rush out and buy 10 things in the first week. I’d be surprised if you had the same things in 10 years as taste change. Even some of the seasoned art collectors probably look back on the early things they collected and they wouldn’t be in pride of place.
Is photography a good place to start for collecting?
Yes. Photography is an interesting area. Price wise for people to get work from major New Zealand photographers, it would be about a tenth of the price to buy a painting from a similar level painting artist. It’s because photography is a reproductive medium. There may be other editions of the work in existence, but that shouldn’t matter. If somewhere like Te Papa owns one of the prints then that’s a feather in your cap.
Any final tips for buying art?
Think about the response you are having to the art work, have courage and support the artist. They can only continue if we support them. The activity of viewing artwork and collecting is a very positive experience. When I got into this many years ago there was a sense of pride and warmness that was generated of collection of new artwork.