Collecting Art

For Christmas this year, I got my first ever original work by an artist. It’s a signed lithograph by the artist Sarah Sze, called “Funny Feeling” from 2004, and it looks like this:

sze

Actually that’s not quite true. It’s not my first work. About two years ago, my brother-in-law got hold of a piece of work by Bill Drummond for me (for free) and at the Greenbelt Festival 2009, I managed to get a limited edition lithograph by Billy Childish.

However, the Christmas present feels like the first “proper” attempt at getting someone else’s work, as it was bought and paid for (although not by me) rather than a freebie. And it was a first conscious effort to get start “A Collection”. Does 3 works count as “A Collection”? I’m not really sure.

I really like this piece. A lot. I like lithographs very much – there’s something about the resulting image that only lithography can deliver. I like the mark-making. Sarah Sze’s work often displays a deftness and a delicacy which is exquisite. It also has a precision which is quite mechanical in a way that I can’t put my finger on.

It’s hard to know where to start when buying original work. Clearly it has to be something you like first and foremost. If you take nothing else away from what I write here, at least take that to heart. It doesn’t matter why you love it – that’s up to you. You may like the marks the artist makes, the over all look of the piece, you may like the ideas behind it – you may just like it because it goes with the wallpaper in your living room. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t buy to speculate. Speculating is a murky water that is tantamount to betting on horses. If you’re good at betting on horses, and you would like to branch out into art – good luck. I can offer you no advice in that direction.

In terms of where to start looking, I noticed that a lot of big name galleries were selling limited edition works by reasonably well known artists. I got my Sarah Sze lithography from The Serpentine Gallery, who have a number of works for sale, but from there I noticed that the Whitechapel Gallery were also doing some and, to a lesser extent even the TATE were getting in on the act.

BUT.

Before you part with your hard-earned cash, there’s something I think you should know. I’m sorry to spoil this conversation with talk of Mammon, but most galleries take a cut from the sale of any work, and it’s a pretty big one: 50% of the sale goes to the gallery. No that is not a typo error. You heard me correctly. In some cases it can be as much as 60-70%. There are all sorts of reasons and justifications as to why that is, and the best summary/justiciation of that that I’ve read can be found over at Ed Winkleman’s blog. I don’t actually believe that that level of commission is justified for various reasons but I will save that for another blog post. Feel free to agree or disagree.

Back to Sarah Sze, though – I got her work not to speculate on the art market or anything like that, but there is something that feels a little more “valid” about getting the works from such august institutions. You can go to something like the Affordable Art Fair, or the upcoming London Art Fair and find a rather than being bewildered by the array on offer there, but clearly there is an “aura of the art world”, and what is considered to be culturally significant. It raises all sorts of questions about who says what’s valid, and why. All I know is that I feel that “pull” as someone who is immersed in the culture as a practitioner.

There are, however, plenty of artists that I know and respect as friends who do some outstanding work, and I would love to own a piece of theirs – I’ll endeavour to do so as soon as funds allow. I would recommend this approach, especially if you don’t want to support the gallery system. It puts money straight into the artists hands, and you’ll also have the satisfaction of being philanthropic and picking up a bargain before the value of the work goes up. There are some great people out there, and most if not all would appreciate a studio visit, if you want to look at the work in the flesh.

So there you have it. Now I just have to save some pennies to frame the one I’ve bought, and we’re away.

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