If you have thought about investing in art, stop thinking and do it. While you may not see an immediate return on your money, art can be a great long-term investment.
“The key to success in art is the same as in any investment and that is you must buy the art at a reasonable price. The better you do on the buy side, the more likely you will make money when you sell,” says creative director Beverly Solomon, who runs an international art and design firm near Austin.
According to Jonathan Steele of Jonathan Steele Artwork Galley, there are basic rules when considering investing in art. “The most obvious rule of the art of investing in art is only invest what you can afford to. This is a basic rule of all investments except traditionally the expression is only invest what you can afford to lose,” he says. “With art there is no loss if you follow a second rule. If you start art collecting, your art investment will always have a personal value to you. You will always provide enjoyment for yourself.
Before you invest, do your research and consider seeking profession help from an art expert. “I would hire a recognized art historian that specializes in African American art to work with me. You need someone who understands your vision and your desire for the collection. The collector who acquires art as an investment differs from the collector who is focused on a certain period, style or specific artists,” says Carson-Smith. “You need to work with someone who can first help you decide the parameters of the collection before you start purchasing,” suggests Windy Carson-Smith, Esq., and her husband, Dr. Frank Smith, a former City Council member and founding member of SNCCC, are active art collectors and have collected African-American art for more than 50 years.
Be creative in where you hunt for art treasures. “It is amazing how much really good art is found in yard sales, junk store, resale shops, etc. However, you must train yourself to recognize a valuable print from a cheap print–not always easy as now computer copies can be done in thick inks and even paints,” says Solomon.
Figure out what you want to buy–prints, sculpture and look into certain artists you may want to search for. “In art, name recognition of the artist trumps everything. A really bad signed Picasso drawn on a grocery bag will bring more money than a wonderful oil painting from a local unknown artist,” says Solomon.
Also, consider the style of art you want to collect; you can choose a mixture or focus on one, say modern art or African-American art for example. Again, do your research.
“With African-American art, I have seen prices rise after major exhibitions and after the death of the artist. Even with these increases in value, unless the artist breaks into the mainstream, African-American art tends to increase in value slower than mainstream art,” notes Carson-Smith.
Look for unique pieces. “Try to find original, one-of-a-kind work. The next best thing is a limited edition print–a lithograph, silk screen or print from a copper plate signed in pencil by the artist. Open edition prints, giclees, posters, etc. are really worth Mall prices. No matter how much they may be hyped up, unless personally signed by the artist they are just glorified posters,” says Solomon.
What to skip. “Do not fall for editions of 2,500 and other enormous numbers being anything other than glorified prints–even if the artist put one little splash of paint and autographed it — often until his/her hand becomes numb. The exception is when you can get the artist proof and it has written notes, color touches, etc. These can be worth collecting,” says Solomon.
Buy art that you like. This is the second basic rule, says Steele. “Only buy what you like and would want to own. When you see something that speaks to you, when you understand the piece, when you basically like it and when it looks good whereever you hang it or place it, you have made a good investment,” says Steele.
Solomon agrees. “The beauty of collecting art is living with it. Making money on it as time goes by is just the icing on the cake,” she says Solomon.
Consider your lifestyle when investing in art; it can affect the type of pieces you should invest in. “If you live in a very humid location, let’s say near the ocean or you like to move a lot or have rowdy kids, then more durable works might be better suited to your lifestyle,” explains Steele. “Avoid glass and paper prints. Prints, while highly collectible, are at great risk because of their fragility.”
There will be extra costs to consider. Commission fees, for one. “Understand that galleries and auction houses make a big commission on art so try to buy directly from an artist, a distressed collector, a junk store, a yard sale, etc.,” says Solomon.
You may also need to pay for storage. “The biggest concern is with prints. Only get a professional company to mat and frame it (which can run the price up considerably). I have seen some great prints that are worthless because the mat had acid that discolored the print,” says Steele. “The biggest risk is mold and mildew.”
Art is an investment that can pay you back in other ways than money, just by admiring your finds every day.