Tips on Buying Contemporary Art

The contemporary art market boom has meant good fortune for many big name artists and for those dealers who sell their work. There are also many contemporary artists out there whose names are not so well-known and whose works are not bringing six figure sums at auctions. Many of those artists produce wonderful work, however, and there are many collectors out there snapping up their pieces. But how to know what to buy…

In general, art world people tend to say that if something is under $5,000 you should buy it if you love it and not worry about its future resale or what it might be worth down the road. It would be far too difficult to speculate that some unknown artist whose work sells for $1,500 would ever rise to prominence in the art world and that the investment in such a piece will be profitable in the long term. Of course that does happen in some instances, but it is almost impossible to know who will be the lucky ones. I firmly believe that no matter what the price point one should buy a work of art that speaks to him/her, that sticks in his/her mind long after he/she has seen it. The higher the prices get for an artist, however, the more one should be able to identify markers of quality (not just popularity).

If you are going to purchase contemporary art there are things you can look for in an artist or in a work of art that make for a good quality piece of art. Though you may or may not make a fortune on your portfolio of contemporary art you can’t go wrong by purchasing works that you really enjoy and which are good quality. Here are five basic things to look for in contemporary artists indicating quality:

  • The artist shows with a reputable gallery. Look for a gallery that has been around for a long time or if it is relatively new look for a gallery that is run by someone who has been in the art business for a long time. The good galleries and experienced dealers have looked at a lot of artwork and they are often very good judges of quality. The fact that such a dealer or gallery would be showing a young or mid-career artist’s work is a good indication that there is something to it.
  • The artist went to a reputable art school and/or has studied with masters in his or her field. While not always a litmus test of skill and merit art schools admit talented students and train them well. This type of degree tells you that professional educators or accomplished artists have both accepted and taught this younger artist out of a deep pool of ready applicants.
  • The artist has received awards, prizes or recognition in his or her field from things such as juried art shows, school exhibitions, magazines or newspapers. Check to see whether they have received grants from organizations or foundations. Each is an indicator that the artist has been singled out among his or her peers for having talent and promise.
  • The artist has a consistent style in his/her body of work. Look for an artist who has begun to pursue a personal style and is working to refine it rather than someone who is all over the map or simply imitating other artists. Painters can paint many different things, for example, but keep their style consistent. This often indicates maturity as an artist.
  • Other works by this artist have sold. You can often ask the gallery representative how successful the last show was for the artist in terms of sales or what the interest has been in the current exhibition. Look to see if anything else in the exhibition has been sold or if you are the first buyer. Ask the gallery representative where he/she sees the prices going for this particular artist in the coming months or years. This should tell you if the artist is off to a good start.
  • Though the artist and piece of art that you like may not meet all of these criteria these are good questions to ask to ascertain what the experts think of the artwork and how they perceive the artist’s reputation. You can then make a more fully educated decision as to whether this is the right piece for you to buy.