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How To Start Your Own Art Collection

When it comes to art, deciding how and what to buy can be daunting. With that in mind, we’ve picked some of the best art brains in the country, from gallerists and art consultants to curators, collectors and critics, to whittle down seven simple rules.


BUY WHAT YOU LIKE

It seems obvious, but “buy with your eyes, not with your ears” is an old art world mantra, and one that’s more relevant now than ever before, thanks to the saturation of social media in our lives. Hype is easily stirred up; sometimes it’s warranted, often it’s not.

The first thing to do when considering a work of art is simply to look. Art consultant Frances Ruane says, “My advice is  to be patient and hold out for a piece that makes you fall head-over-heels in love. The best art has a presence that stays with you long after you’ve first looked at it.”

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Avid collector Patrick Murphy bought this large oil, Nude with Night Painting, by Barrie Cooke in 1978, for £800, from the Hendriks Gallery.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Visit as many galleries as you can. Go to exhibitions, attend workshops, visit artists’ studios, read magazines and articles online. Challenge yourself to look at things you might not immediately understand. An appreciation of visual art tends to be a gradual process, building and developing as you go.

Art advisor and collector Patrick Murphy remembers how he honed his taste in the early days: “I made a determined effort to look around and read as much as I could to expand my horizons,” he recalls. “I made some mistakes, but learned from them. I only ever bought what I really liked, and that has stood to me.”

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GET PROPER ADVICE

“In the real world, the stereotype of the art dealer as a shark is the exception rather than the rule”, points out art critic Aidan Dunne. “Most gallerists love art, and they particularly love the art they show. If you like the gallery’s aesthetic and vision, talk to the owner and find out as much as you can about the work.”

And while the internet is a boon for research, Aidan says it is a disaster as a buying guide. “There are people who buy art sight unseen online, but it’s a big mistake to buy without being familiar with the physical reality of the object. Look before you buy – colour and texture don’t communicate online”.

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Works by two up-and-coming artists to watch: Eleanor McCaughey’s This Fella (at Eight Gallery) and Cecilia Danell The Mountain Changes (at The Talbot Gallery).

DON’T FORGET ABOUT PRINT

James O’Nolan, co-founder of one of Ireland’s leading print studios, Stoney Road Press, feels that people should not consider prints as lesser versions of an original artwork. “Fine art prints are conceived and made by the artist to be printed in limited edition form; they don’t exist in any other form and they are not reproductions of another work by the artist. An original signed limited edition print is an affordable alternative when your favourite artist’s work is financially out of reach.”

THINK OUTSIDE MONETARY VALUE

Avid collector Declan Moylan advises, “Don’t buy art thinking you’ll get rich when the artist becomes famous – you almost certainly won’t. The only good reason to buy is because you like the piece, and your enjoyment of it will give it great value. Your real reward is the pleasure of owning and seeing the piece at home every day.”

And it’s also vital to remember that with every piece you buy, you’re supporting an artist, and that support will allow them to continue to work.

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Mark St. John Ellis’ nag gallery provides a hanging service for private clients called nag offsite

PAY ATTENTION TO PROPER FRAMING AND HANGING

“A well placed piece of art, or indeed any object, plays a vital role in the overall impact and wellbeing of a room, and therefore to the people experiencing it,” affirms Mark St. John Ellis, art consultant and owner of Dublin’s nag gallery. “When hanging a piece in a domestic setting, you should approach the task, and the space, with the same reverence you would a gallery space,” he says.

Sean Kissane of IMMA adds a few more practical tips: “Don’t hang a watercolour beside a south-facing window or it will fade, and be careful of external walls in old houses, where condensation may build up behind a picture, causing mould that can badly damage it. Consider using museum glass for dark images – it’s more expensive, but non-reflective.”

CONNECT WITH THE ARTIST

“Exhibition openings are a great way to meet an artist you admire”, advises Rosa Abbott of Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery. “Not only will the artist normally be in attendance, you’ll generally find them at their most open and approachable. Book launches, artist talks and Q&As are other key events to look out for. And don’t forget about social media – Instagram is definitely the art world’s platform of choice.”

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Irish artist Gabhann Dunne reminds us that buyers play a vital role in supporting artists.

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