Times like these can turn art buying into something akin to stamp collecting. What do I mean by that? The unfortunate consequence of our new economic reality is conservative and often myopic collector demand. All those tired and stultifying guidelines like “paintings resell better than sculptures” or “only buy works that can fit into a Park Avenue co-op” are put into practice. Such clichés inhibit ambitious acquisitions, and inhibit some people from starting to collect at all.
Works today are too often examined by potential clients through the eyes of their advisers, consultants, decorators, lawyers and accountants before any deal can be struck. For a work to have a good chance of selling well it must be “iconic,” “classic,” “timeless”–and all too often just plain boring.
With that in mind, here are my collecting resolutions (and guidelines) for 2011.
1. Here’s a radical art-market concept: Buy and hold.
So much art buying of the past decade has been about anticipating the future sweet spot in the market. You can almost hear collectors say, “I bought this when it was only $75,000, and these were only blah blah, and now I’m selling it for $7 million!” Now that we are in a relatively fallow time for art investment, it’s time to buy and hold. On the one hand, there won’t be any amazing deals this year because prices have stabilized, but even beginning collectors won’t be risking much because the floor on many “name” artists appears to have proven pretty solid.
2. Forget the advisory team.
I’ve met with so many art consultants, included them in my books and even count some as friends. But there’s a problem developing in the market because of them. Just a handful of powerful consultants control many of the wealthiest clients. So people are ending up with more or less the same art collections. It’s uncanny; I can almost walk into someone’s home and name the art consultant by the mix of paintings on the wall.
It’s not that I don’t like the Arte Povera classics-meets-Gonzalez-Torres look, or the sophisticated air of the Wool-meets-Ruscha-meets-Guston-and-Kippenberger mix, or even the well-tread Hirst-cum-Prince-cum-Murakami hanging. I actually love all of those artists. ButI don’t like formulas. This year, check your adviser at the door and make an important purchase on your own. Good or bad, you’ll at least learn something.
3. New collector? Better late than never.
If you are just starting out, welcome! Go slow, take your time and talk to everyone: dealers, curators, academics, other collectors. Attend museum lectures, galleries, auctions and art fairs (though not necessarily to buy). Try to remember that tastes and opinions evolve over time, and yours will, too. Allow for taking risks and making some mistakes. If you are not in a position to spend a lot of money, then be prepared to spend a lot of time. These two things work in inverse proportion.
4. Buy something with plenty of sex in it.
I don’t mean an elegant silhouette of a woman’s derriere, I mean full-on sexual content, the kind that gets an NC-17 rating in movie theaters. There’s nothing to be afraid of anymore; it’s all over the Internet, and it’s part of life, a great part of life, so why shouldn’t it be part of art? The notions of “correctness” and what “is and isn’t done” in proper society are antiquated and obsolete concepts in art today.
5. Disregard size hang-ups.
The opportunity to buy good art is rare enough that you cannot afford to limit yourself to what will fit over the fireplace. It’s always more enjoyable to live with your art, but I enjoy what I own in my mind as well as in my eye. Every great collector I’ve ever met is the same.
6. Build an art-reference library.
It often surprises and sometimes depresses me how little people in the art world actually read. Of course, these are “visual” people, and they already know it all, so why pollute their pristine minds with other people’s worthless opinions? Well, I never buy anything without cracking books on the subject, asking questions–and satisfying myself the work is legit. Unless you do your homework, you’re a fool. For the price of a small work on paper, you can buy a reasonably comprehensive art library that lets you learn about most of 20th-century art.
7. Think differently about your budget.
There’s nothing worse than someone putting together a whole art collection “on an budget.” I respect someone more for buying one great thing in an entire lifetime than for snapping up bargains for decades and accumulating only chozzerai (yiddish for junk food).
8. If you don’t have a budget, save up.
There’s no point in walking around second- and third-rate art fairs with a small amount of money burning a hole in your pocket. Make a decision to save up and buy one work a year, and make it a good one. I’ve never understood the concept of buying a work on paper by an artist if you really want his painting, or buying a print. Try to get a prime example of whatever you are into, and if you can’t afford it, you have to move on to an artist or a field where you can.
9. Buck your own trend.
I have mainly focused on buying works of my contemporaries. But today I want to acquire classic works from earlier periods: Dali, Calder, Kline. Shake things up. And don’t shop with just one auction house or one dealer–and I don’t care who it is.
10. Include something unique to you.
When visiting a great private collection, I always keep my eyes peeled for something eccentric, something unknown and something totally personal. Every interesting collector must have some objects that are of exceptional quality, that represent personal research and expertise and that do not broadcast their commercial value; things you love that are not there just for show.
The rebound year we were all hoping for is now upon us. In 2011, don’t fall prey to conformist influences. Art isn’t merely an investment; you can also fall in love with it. So don’t wind up looking like just another guy hanging money on your walls.