Photo Courtesy Touchstone Gallery
Art Collecting 101
Buying art is possible on any budget. Not sure where to start? Here's some expert advice to help you get the hang of it.
For Art’s Sake
It’s easier than ever to buy one-of-a-kind works—if you know where to go and what to ask
When Herbert and Dorothy Vogel bought their first piece of art in 1962, they were unlikely candidates to become great collectors. Herbert, who died last year, was a postal clerk, Dorothy a librarian. They lived in a modest one-bedroom in New York on city-employee salaries. But they amassed one of the most significant collections of modern art, later bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art. What they lacked in income they made up for with an obsessive devotion to seeking out new, exciting work.
The lesson from the Vogels is that owning good art is possible for almost anyone.
Buy What You Love
Plus other do’s and don’ts from seasoned collectors
Don’t . . .
make impulsive decisions or buy something unless you really love it Galleries will usually put something on hold if you want to think it over. But don’t wait until it’s too late, either. “I encourage collectors to buy with their heads and their hearts,” says Shira Kraft of Hemphill Fine Arts. “If you feel it in your gut, do what you can to acquire that work.”
buy something just because you think it’s a good investment you can flip in a few years If you get stuck with it and you don’t love it, it’s yours for the long term.
buy something because it matches your home decor Chances are in ten years you’ll still have the art but your couch/wallpaper/throw pillows will have changed.
be intimidated or afraid to have an opinion There’s no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to art. “Everybody has a different vision,” says Leigh Conner of ConnerSmith gallery.
be afraid to ask for a discount Galleries usually will take 10 to 15 percent off if you pay cash. But don’t lowball an offer: The price you pay can affect the long-term value of that artist.
Do . . .
think about where you’re going to put something “Most artworks shouldn’t be placed in locations where they get a lot of light,” says art consultant Jean Efron.
be open-minded “Viewing artworks in galleries and museums is the best way to reveal likes and dislikes,” Kraft says. “New collectors might be surprised to find themselves gravitating toward styles they never would have considered.”
pay attention to technique “When you take in more art and go to different openings and study it, you’ll develop an eye to discern what’s good technique versus what’s not,” says consultant and collector Schwanda Rountree.
be careful which framer you use One who is inexperienced can use the wrong types of materials and devalue an artwork. Ask galleries which framers they recommend.
know your budget Set an amount you want to spend. That said, if you fall in love with a piece and it’s close to your range, don’t rule it out if it’s a smart purchase.
Click and Ship?
You can find good art online—if you know where to look
The news this summer that Amazon is expanding into selling fine art has thrown the art world into something of a tizzy. Buying works over the internet has its pros (prices are easily available, and there are a huge number of pieces to browse through) as well as cons (you’re buying something you’ve never seen in person and whose origins you may know little about), but here are some sites worth scouting.
Billed as offering “insider access to the world’s best art,” this site sells work by big names such as Anish Kapoor, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, and Rachel Whiteread. Prices range from less than $200 to $1 million-plus.
Nadya Sagner of the local art consultancy Blue Locket recommends this online arts-and-crafts staple because you can buy one-of-a-kind but inexpensive works directly from artists.
A curated online gallery founded by business and art-history students at the University of Arizona, it sells works by new and established artists—and even has free shipping.
19 Favorite Places to see great original work, from paintings to prints to photography
Photography and Prints
A number of galleries specialize in photography, including Randall Scott Projects (1326 H St., NE, Suite 2; 202-396-0300), which moved to its new space on H Street last year after its Logan Circle site closed in 2009. Adamson Gallery (1515 14th St., NW, Suite 202; 202-232-0707) presents exhibits by well-known figures such as Gordon Parks, Lou Reed, and Chuck Close. Anacostia’s Gallery at Vivid Solutions (1241 Good Hope Rd., SE; 202-365-8392) showcases a range of established photographers and local artists. The Kathleen Ewing Gallery (3615 Ordway St., NW; 202-328-0955) exhibits contemporary photographers as well as collections from the early and mid-20th century.
For prints, the Washington Printmakers Gallery (8230 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-273-3660) is the place to go. It recently relocated to Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring after 25 years in DC and continues to exhibit hand-pulled prints by local and national artists.Photo courtesy Adamson Gallery
Washington has a diverse range of galleries showcasing emerging and midcareer artists. ConnerSmith (1358 Florida Ave., NE; 202-588-8750) may have the highest profile, representing artists such as Leo Villareal and Lincoln Schatz. Transformer (1404 P St., NW; 202-483-1102) supports avant-garde work and hosts a silent auction in November that allows collectors to mix with artists. Georgetown’s Heiner Contemporary (1675 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-338-0072) stages bold exhibits and offers advice to collectors. CulturalDC’s Flashpoint Gallery (916 G St., NW; 202-315-1305) presents cutting-edge work by emerging artists, as does Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U St., NW, Suite 101; 202-332-1116), which also has a fellowship program supporting new talent. Marsha Mateyka Gallery (2012 R St., NW; 202-328-0088) represents Washington Color School painters Sam Gilliam and the late Gene Davis. The Arlington Arts Center (3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-248-6800) has been promoting art in its galleries since 1976.Photo courtesy Arlington Arts Center
Local and International Art
Specializing in international art are G Fine Art (1350 Florida Ave., NE; 202-462-1601)—with a new space north of H Street, Northeast—and Hillyer Art Space (9 Hillyer Ct., NW; 202-338-0680), a branch of the nonprofit International Arts & Artists that regularly shows foreign artists alongside those from the Washington area. A number of galleries help promote local artists, including Hemphill Fine Arts (1515 14th St., NW, Suite 300; 202-234-5601) which turned 20 this year and celebrated with a community-oriented exhibit titled “Artist-Citizen, Washington DC.” Foundry Gallery (1314 18th St., NW; 202-463-0203) and Studio Gallery (2108 R St., NW; 202-232-8734) also specialize in Washington artists. Touchstone Gallery (901 New York Ave., NW; 202-347-2787) is an artist-owned space founded in 1976 and run by 50 local members. Honfleur Gallery (1241 Good Hope Rd., SE; 202-365-8392) presents national and international artists but has a particular interest in those who live and work east of the Anacostia River.Photo courtesy Hillyer Art Space