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How to Buy Art

A woman in Virginia went to a flea market and was drawn to a napkin-sized painting depicting a landscape. She later learned her Paysage Bords du Seine was a one-of-a-kind Renoir dating back to 1879 …

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A woman in Virginia went to a flea market and was drawn to a napkin-sized painting depicting a landscape. She later learned her Paysage Bords du Seine was a one-of-a-kind Renoir dating back to 1879 worth upwards of $75,000. Buying art, whether at a flea market or gallery, can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be, say local artists and gallery owners. Everyone we spoke to agrees that the most important thing to do when buying art is to purchase something you love. Here’s some more advice to get you started:

Hello, Gallery Night 
“Go to as many exhibition openings as possible and talk freely with gallerists and the artists, and be curious about how the work was created: what materials were used and what processes were followed,” says Dedee Shattuck, owner of her eponymously named gallery in Westport, MA. “Textiles, printmaking, painting, metal sculpture, collage, woodwork and ceramics have beautiful stories to tell, beyond the finished piece. The more you understand the process, the more you appreciate the intrinsic value of the work.”

Don’t Buy Art To Make a Quick Buck
“Most people who buy art for investment are buying for the sole purpose of making money, or at least that is their main purpose. Therefore the emotional connection to the art for this kind of buyer is not the main reason why they purchase the piece, and if I may add, most investment art is profoundly expensive,” says Rhode Island-based artist Anthony Tomaselli. “Having said that, please allow me to speak about the art market that I am involved in with my paintings. This contemporary realism and non-representational market, the galleries and dealers, are selling art of living artists valued between $500 and $20,000. The clients are thinking less about investment and more about what the painting means to them: how the artwork moves them and how it actually fits into their home or business.”

Try and try again
“If you get a piece home and it’s not right in the space, rotate your collection around, try different lighting or find a different spot for the work than where you originally envisioned it hanging,” says Michele Aucoin, co-owner of ArtProv gallery. “Or in our case, if your husband brings home a painting you hate, relegate it to the man cave!” 

Spend Money
“If you see a piece of work that speaks to you, or sticks with you, and the price is even somewhat within your means, you should buy it. I hear people all the time say that they regret not acting on their instincts and buying a piece when they had the chance, I never hear people regretting purchases,” says Isabel Mattia, lead curator at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery. “I bought my first painting in college at an art show for $200. At the time it seemed like a crazy amount of money. That particular artist’s work is now selling in the thousands. This is validating, but I also don’t care about that. Every time I look at that painting, I love it more than when I bought it.”

Surprise Yourself
“If you find yourself drawn to a piece that’s different from what you normally purchase – for instance, a figure if you prefer landscapes – open your mind to new experiences and buy it,” advises Nick Paciorek, who co-owns ArtProv gallery with wife Michele Aucoin. “By feeling connections with new works, you may uncover something about yourself that gets revealed on the wall and starts a dialog with your guests.”

It’s Just Art
“Don’t be afraid or intimidated, it’s just art,” says artist Dave “Gilly” Gilstein of Charlestown Gallery. “If you look at quantity and varieties of art, you will develop a ‘good eye.’ With time you will be able to recognize different qualities and caliber of art. You will also develop likes and dislikes, but be open to having your mind changed and challenged. When you find an artist you like, try to look at various examples of their work.”

Reinvent by Reframing
“By changing matting and framing, you can completely change the look of a piece. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, people were buying metal poster frames and putting them on fine art,” says Dave O’Brien of Picture This Framing Center & Gallery. “It also gives you a chance to protect it – older pieces don’t usually have UV protected glass, and now there’s museum glass with conservation grade UV protection. Now we put in acid free products. Years ago they weren’t doing acid free and over time, it damages the product. We use 100% cotton rag – it’s 100% spun fiber cotton that’s totally acid free and museum grade.”

Start Small
“Find an artist whose work you love and buy a small, less expensive piece. Then follow the artist through his or her career, adding to your collection as your needs and budget allow,” says ArtProv’s Michele.