The first tip which we feel is of the utmost importance when considering any acquisition is, buy what you enjoy and which inspires you. No matter what your decorator, friend or art consultant says about a work of art and how it might fit in your home or collection, you are ultimately the one living with the work and seeing it on a daily basis. Make sure it is a piece that will bring you joy each time you view it.
Once you have identified what your tastes are and found the first piece you are considering; the next step is to get to know the market to understand what is a good purchase and a fair price.
Visit galleries and ask for price lists to get an idea of what things cost and why. Look through gallery websites to get an understanding of market trends. Read art collecting books to build your understanding. Visit art fairs to see a ton of work at the same time, and notice what other collectors are purchasing. Get to know the artists you like, what makes them special or what are they known for. This is also a great time to start establishing relationships with galleries. A good gallery should be there to help educate you.
Whether you are building a new art collection or a seasoned collector, take time out to look around and stay educated. It will help you make an informed decision when the time is right.
Building relationships is one of the best ways to fast-track your understanding of the art market. Galleries, curators, and designers have a finger on the pulse of the world and are tuned in to trends, breaking news, upcoming artists, etc. If something exciting is about to happen in the market, they are some of the first to know. If they are tuned into your preferences, they can help keep you informed.
Keep good records of your art.
Once you acquire a new piece of art, make sure to keep thorough documentation of it. There are several reasons for this: first for authentication and ownership purposes, but also in terms of long-term value.
Keeping documentation of when the piece was painted, purchase prices and dates, past owners, etc. is called a “provenance”. Provenance usually comes into play with older works being sold on the secondary market (ie. auctions, estate sales, etc.)
Imagine a scenario where two paintings by the same artist become available at the same time. The two works are the same size and depict a similar subject matter. With the first piece, all you know is the title and artist. But the second comes with a provenance that provides documentation on the title and artist name, what year the piece was painted, that it was shown at the National Museum of Wildlife art in 1977 and published in Southwest Art Magazine in 1990, and is recorded as originally purchased by Jane Doe for $500 in 1922, and then sold to John Smith for $1000 in 1955.
Considering both pieces are priced similarly and both are of interest to you, which piece would likely be the better investment? Most collectors, galleries, and museums would find the second one more appealing for its added value.
Keeping accurate and current provenance records for your art will add both intrinsic and monetary value to your collection.
Start with what you like, then refine your collection as you bring in new works.
At the beginning, it is important to start with purchasing what you like. However, over time start to refine your choices so that you develop a cohesive collection who’s sum is greater than its parts.
Ask yourself questions about why you like the kinds of art you are buying. What about it satisfies you? Is the subject matters, color palate, time period, techniques? Maybe it’s that it makes you feel something, or think about things in a way that you haven’t considered before? Or do you like it for the concepts, ideas, themes or philosophies it embodies, communicates or stands for?
Zeroing in on what is drawing you in will help you identify works that share those characteristics and build a collection that is cohesive.
Pay attention to condition.
As you are considering new works of art for your collection, make sure to pay close attention to what condition the piece is in. Older works may have had restorative work done to clean a piece and touch up cracks or chipping.
Inpainting, relining, and other physical aspects of a work can affect the value and pricing. For example, investing a bit of money into cleaning a piece that might not show as well due to dirt, grime or even nicotine can pay itself back in spades. Sometimes the best treasures need a little work. You are not only a good steward to the piece while it is in your possession but it can enhance the value substantially.
Keep an eye on your oil paintings as they age.
Over time, a handful of issues can arise with oils on canvas. Some of the most common problems include craquelure, alligatoring, and yellowed varnishes.
Craquelure is a network of fine cracks that appear in the oil paint as it dries over time. These cracks can be exacerbated by changes in climate and humidity levels. Similarly, they can be caused by something pushing against the canvas. In any case, craquelure can lead to chipping and flaking of the paint if not cared for properly.
Alligator ring is predominantly caused by being exposed to too much heat. This is most often found in paintings that hang over working fireplaces for long periods of time (think years, not months). In that circumstance, the paint dries so much that it separates and has the look and feel of alligator skin.
Lastly, over time a basic varnish can also yellow and discolor.
So what happens if you find any of these common problems on a piece of art you own? Depending upon the extent of the damage, each of these issues can often be remedied by a good conservator. If you live in the Vail Valley or the Charleston, SC area and have a painting on your hands that needs some TLC, give us a call and we would be happy to direct you to someone who can help.
In our next collector’s tip we’ll discuss what to look for before buying a painting and questions to ask.
Keep Your Collection in Great Condition.
In our last Collector’s Tip, we talked about some of the issues that can arise in oil paintings with age. In this tip, we’ll be talking about what to do to remedy some of these common problems.
One technique a conservator will use to remedy issues such as alligatoring, craquelure, and yellowing is by lining a painting (or sometimes referred to as relining). This is when they take the original canvas and adhere it to a new canvas.
This can be done using two primary techniques. One is via the Beva method, which is a reference to the Beva adhesive used to lay one canvas to the other. An older, yet still commonly used method is a wax lining. This is when wax is used as the adhesive between the two canvases. Both methods allow the adhesive to permeate the original canvas from behind thereby grabbing the backside of the paint itself and then when pressed or ironed the lifting or flaking paint then rests back down to create a stable and even paint surface. The conservator may then clean old varnish from the piece, touch up the remaining areas which are missing paint or which may be where a tear had occurred. Both of the aforementioned lining techniques are fully archival and reversible.
Works on paper have their own specific condition issues.
We want to touch on the primary condition problems that can be found with works on paper. This includes watercolors, pastels, etchings, and prints. The most common age-related issues are foxing, acid burn and fading (light struck).
Foxing is considered the reddish, brown spots which resemble mold spores found on paper. It is unclear what actually causes them but they do not affect the overall integrity of the paper itself and can generally be cleaned quite easily by a professional conservator. It is thought to be caused by the iron found in the paper or possibly organic material placed on it by an outside source (fingerprints for example).
Acid burn resembles a burned effect caused by acid found in the original paper or acidic paper physically exposed and touching the art. For example, a non-acidic etching can be burned by an acidic cardboard backing which may have been placed directly behind that etching when it was framed 40 years prior. This can often be seen along the mat edge (mat burn) when an older acidic mat was used in the framing.
Sun fading or UV damage is just that. It is the fading caused by natural sunlight or ultraviolet and infrared light from bulbs. It not only fades the colors in watercolors and etchings, but can also change the chemical composition of the paper itself. Extreme exposure can make the paper brittle, causing it to crack easily. Typically the first colors to be affected by light are red and orange. Framing works behind conservation or museum glass and not exposing them to direct light for extended periods are the best preventative measures you can take.
For additional questions please feel free to contact the gallery and we are happy to put you in touch with a professional in the art conservation field.
Works on paper: How to remedy condition issues.
Anytime we have issues with these types of works we use a conservator who specializes in works on paper.
Sadly, if a watercolor has faded due to extended exposure to sunlight there is not much that can be done to remedy the problem. Some conservators can brighten up a piece with in-painting, however in extreme examples the conservator will have to basically paint over the entire piece. If you have a severely faded watercolor, our suggestion is to leave it in the current state so the piece is still by “the hand” of the original artist.
For works that have brown foxing spots or acid burn, a good conservator can often easily remove these problems with special treatment and restore the vibrancy of the paper and preserve them for years to come. The same goes for pieces that were painted on acidic paper. A conservator will actually slowly dip the work of art into an acid-neutralizing solution and then place the piece on a flatbed dryer so it does not curl up after treatment. It is scary to think about this being done to works worth five and six figures, but ultimately preserves the piece for generations to come.
Please contact the gallery for a reference if you need a good conservator or reach out to The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.