Success Strategies for a Valuable Art Collection

Success strategies for a valuable art collection

Art is power and culture is power: soft power and it should not be the preserve of the wealthy. At Liz Xi our clarion call is “art for all”: anyone can collect art. Nonetheless, the reason for collecting art is various and irrational, a bit like falling in love.

Is it necessary to be wealthy to build a valuable collection?

Absolutely not! Some would argue that too much money can be an obstacle to success. To quote Anton Herbert of Ghent: “It’s very bad for a collector to be rich, because he can buy badly. The challenge is to achieve high results with little spending.The Anton and Herbert Collection 

One observation worth noting is that fund managers – the alchemists of money, those privy to the secrets of the international markets – are keen art collectors investing millions of dollars of their own private wealth. Diagram: “The alchemists of money: the backgrounds of some of the world’s leading collectors”

This is understandable in today’s highly distorted and turbulent financial market. With interest rates at their lowest since the Napoleonic era and the highest levels of global indebtedness, specialists are of the sound opinion that real assets are, in these uncertain times, about to experience an exciting and strategic resurgence.

In the obverse, there are many cases where those on a limited income have succeeded to build valuable collections, some worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The golden thread that runs through these cases is that the collector has combined intellect with a passion for art. The art world cannot resist the charms of such “passionate collectors” and magically all doors are open to them. Whereas the mercenary, those looking to flip art for short term gain, are rarely favoured.

I really think that art has to be about long distance running and not about the sprint” : Hans Ulrich Obrist Art curator and critic

“The proletarian art collectors”

”No discussion on collecting would suffice without reference to Dorothy and Herbert Vogel: the “proletarian art collectors”. The legendary duo, one a postal worker and the other a librarian, could not have been considered wealthy (their combined income never exceeded more than $23,000 annually). Yet they created one of the world’s most significant collections of modern art, which they ultimately bequeathed to the National Gallery. Over a span of some 50 years Dorothy and Herbert amassed more than 5,000 works of art by artists such as Sol LeWitt, pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, photographer Cindy Sherman, minimalist Robert Mangold, Richard Prince and post-minimalist Richard Tuttle. A collection worth millions and described by J Carter Brown as: “literally priceless” and up there alongside the Rothschilds, Gettys and Rockefellers: “a work of art in itself” “They passionately collected some artists, and they collected them from the beginning, before gallery or critical interest”: Christo.

To become a collector, just collect

The best way to become a successful collector is to collect and not be fearful of making one or two mistakes; there is no magic blue print for collecting. Our best advice is not to be rushed by the dynamism of the market and articles reporting on the fortunes being made in art. Rather, set aside time to acquire knowledge, and if you can combine passion with intellect, then the results will be compounded. The art market has great respect for such an approach. So the starting point for any collection is knowledge: knowledge about art, training your artistic eye and learning about your likes and dislikes. When you collect you evaluate, you weigh and you question: What is the purpose behind this piece? Why this art? Why this medium?

We would suggest the following three golden rules to put you on a successful path:

  1. Engage with art because collecting art is both enjoyable and enlightening: “stand in front of art and ask; what is going on? What was the artist thinking of? What do I feel? Andrew Renton Cranford Collection.
  2. Collecting ought not to be a mercenary pursuit. Tales abound of the fortunes being made in the art market, but a collection based on cultural ambition will yield an infinitely more enjoyable variety of dividends than a mere monetary posture.
  3. The oracle was right to advise: ‘know thyself’. By taking the time to understand your responses to a particular work or genre: “your likes or dislikes” will help to construct a conceptual framework for your collection. The more defined the criteria, the more successful the collection.

There exist two primary strategies for collecting:

  1. A broad encyclopaedic approach: involves buying in breadth and is also known as horizontal collecting. The inherent risk of a lack of focus is that it can end up resembling the crop of a disorganised shopping trip.
  2. To be favoured is the vertical, in-depth approach, which focuses on a select few artists. This strategy provides a deeper insight into the development of an artist thus yielding greater satisfaction. To quote Sadie Coles: “the type of collector who buys deeply and specifically concentrates on the work of an artist, building up a collection of breadth that can be displayed by or loaned to institutions has an important impact on the artists career.” The vertical approach has been adopted successfully by Ivan and Rema Conti and those involved with The Cranford Collection.

Successful collections have, historically, been built with:

A common theme: for example, conceptually or politically tough work as sought by Anton and Annick Herbert, or around female artists, as cherished by Valeria and Gregoria Napoleone.

Specific art movements: for instance, the Surrealist collection of Dominique and Jean de Menil, or the Arte Povera nucleus of the Ingvild Goetz collection.

A focus around a core of artists belonging to the same school: for example, the collection of Anton Herbert.


Understanding the significance of the Valuation filter for contemporary art

In a recent article, Allison Schrager cites the case of a gallerist and economist visiting an art gallery: the economist was troubled on seeing paintings on display that featured the violation of dismembered corpses. But the gallerist said he favoured the works of art and the artist had, in his learned opinion, a favourable career. The artist is now the bee’s knees, or hot to have, whose works sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Ever since the selection of the Duchampion ready made, artistic skill is no longer sacrosanct and artworks are measured by their conceptual meaning. But in such a world, how do works by artists accrue value? If beauty and skill are immaterial then how can contemporary artists and their oeuvres be evaluated.

For collectors it is important to understand that, to those within the art world, there exists a very rigorous and complex, tried and tested, filter of validation, where popularity and monetary success are not legitimate criteria. (How to develop an eye for art: with practical exercises).

There exist benchmarks to distinguish between the stimulating and not so taxing: instead of asking ‘is a work of art good?’ or ‘is it aesthetically pleasing?’, consider is the art ‘challenging’ or is it ‘interesting’. It is vital for the collector to gain an understanding of this validation filter and its workings.“

The gauging of artistic value is carried out in the cultural network by specialists: museum curators, exhibition curators, historians of contemporary art, critics, professors and experts of all sorts”: Raymond Moulin, Paris.

A starting point is to look at an artist’s biography which can, signifying his standing in the art world, give a preliminary judgement. Have they attended the right school and established a peer group. Check the nature of their first art shows. Have they been written about? Have they won any prizes, have they been spotted by important curators? Have they shown in museums?

Great art stands the test of time. In the art world’s valuation procedure, a disparate group all play a part in the rigorous system of approval and endorsement. If there is integrity and truth in an artist’s work then the work will stand the test of time and here exists a strong correlation between quality and price. Diagram: Stages to recognition; exhibit in the right place.

A high price can result from two people feeling emotional about an object in a way that defies the natural market. However, the best work is worth more, by a large margin, than just a nice example”, Amy Cappellazzo, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s.

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