Efficiently Sourcing Art
December 5, 2018

A couple weeks ago I was invited to co-host a roundtable discussion at High Point, North Carolina, the largest market week in America for furniture and home accessories. Although it sounds much more enticing to venture off to Milan or Paris for a furniture fair, I decided to make the trek back to High Point for the first time in 16 years. My favorite part of the trip was the opportunity to co-host a roundtable discussion with other designers and industry insiders about a topic that elicits equal parts excitement, joy, fear and exasperation for most clients – curating the perfect art collection for their home.

Simply put, a house is not complete until art is up on the walls, so let’s review the top 4 questions prospective art buyers are mulling over.

WHERE DO I EVEN START?

First, let’s get over the budget hurdle. Usually when art is mentioned, clients imagine that this element is going to break their budget. It’s a natural, but unnecessary, reaction. Quality art, just like furniture and fabrics can be had at a pricing level that is comfortable to you. Just as you can buy a coffee table anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 and beyond, and just as we prioritize areas of the home for furnishings, the same goes for art.

I like to approach everything with organization and encourage that you walk through your home and make a list for each potential art location, designating a budget for each one as you go through the entire house. When allocating your budget, keep in mind that a few items can quickly drive up the price for any particular piece: framing, glass, lighting, freight and installation. To make this easy, assign a per piece budget, assume the art will cost less, but that the rest will be made up by the aforementioned add-ons. Take it slow, work on one wall at a time, and you’ll feel much more organized in a short amount of time.

Once that’s done, prioritize the list in terms of primary, secondary and miscellaneous areas and add everything up. Check in with your comfort level and start adjusting if necessary. If it all added up quickly, breathe, furniture cost more than you thought, and it may just be that you need to get used to the number and reconsider assumptions. If it’s plainly over your comfort level, cut a little on the framing numbers before you cut the artwork numbers, but don’t cut so much that you’re being unreasonable – start with 5 or 10%. When looking for a statement piece, think of the value that the art will add to the room and spend as you deem worthy. Will something make you extraordinarily happy? Is it within your reach? No guilt, enjoy and buy- the pleasure you get from something is usually worth the price. 

WHAT DO I BUY?

Go look at art- and by art I think more than paintings. Include sculpture, photography, yes paintings, but also mixed media, ceramics and objects. The fastest and easiest way to start figuring out what you like is to make a fun afternoon of it and pick an area of town with a few galleries. Saturdays are a great time to go, or use a quieter weekday morning. Plan a nice brunch beforehand or coffee or drinks at the end to make it fun. Go at your own pace, and know you are welcome at absolutely any gallery.

DO ask questions. If you are curious about something but don’t know the questions to ask, just be honest. Say you really like the piece and ask for more information about it. You can also ask if the artist is still working, and what influences them. Ask if it’s a recent piece or where it was created. You should also feel comfortable inquiring about the availability and price, just like you would that coffee table. Gallerists really want to make the art world seem less daunting- I swear. And every gallerist appreciates the honesty of someone admitting when they can’t figure out why they like something; they’ll genuinely enjoy taking a moment to explain more about a piece to an interested audience.

WHERE ELSE CAN I FIND ART?

• Art fairs. Major metropolitan cities especially, (think New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Hong Kong, Dubai, etc.), luck out with annual fairs where galleries from around the world convene to show their best or newest works. Here you will have a wide variety of options to consider, and will inevitably find galleries that have more of what you like, at the price points that work best for you. You can easily find fairs local to where you live or where you’ll be traveling, using these two sources: Artforum.com and Artnet.com

• Emerging-artist/Smaller art fairs. These smaller, more local fairs feature some niche of the art world: newer, less-established artists, contemporary art, lower priced art, etc., and are a great way to find beautiful art usually at a very comfortable price point. These often coincide with dates of major market art or design fairs and may be best thought of as a good trip to schedule with a consultant, to guide and minimize overwhelm. A couple of good ones to look out for are: Affordable Art Fair, The Other Art Fair, and Frieze, all in multiple cities. I guarantee your hometown newspaper and media outlets announce others, and once its’ on your radar, you’ll finally notice the announcements.

• Auctions. Don’t rely solely on the numbers that hit the headlines and be frightened. Auction houses need to move goods- and while yes, there are head-spinning price tiers that are exciting and make you wonder, the majority of sales are far more down to earth. Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Swan Auction Galleries, Doyle, Phillips, for quick examples, all have goods priced accessibly and this source should not be overlooked.

• Design showrooms & shops: My Art Consultants will cringe when they see this on my list, and these are not typically a primary source, but they sometimes can work, especially at a showroom like Holly Hunt or a shop like Putnam & Mason. Be mindful of questionable pieces, and ask plenty of questions and do your research before making your purchase. I have found a few great pieces when I was least expecting it, and this category can be a source that works out well.

• Online- the “accessible art”: The most important tip when buying art online is to only buy the piece if you have the option to return it. Be sure to look for original pieces. Things to avoid include mass-market art, anything printed on canvas, art with large editions (an edition of 1000 means 1000 of you can have the same piece- I’ll encourage you to think beyond that category) and “furniture art”, as my friend Katherine Earnhardt of Mason Lane Art Advisory calls it, art so bland your eye just goes to the furniture. Some more reputable resources to check out include 1stdibs.com, auction houses online, saatchiart.com, minted.com, and artspace.com. If you’ve some savvy and know a few artists you really like, use Artsy.net to find pieces available by them, and to find out which galleries have it.

• Art Studios: Once buying art is on your radar, you’ll probably notice that there’s a studio district or building not too far from wherever you live. Often, the artists that work in these spaces will open up their studios to the public. I love finding artists this way- and again, don’t be shy. Make an afternoon of it, bring the kids (or don’t), and enjoy the conversations artists are open to having. If you don’t like what you see and feel awkward, you just say something nice if you feel compelled to, and move on to the next studio.

WHAT DO I DO ONCE I BUY IT?

You have three main things to consider after you’ve made the purchase. First, framing. If it needs to be reframed, you will want to send it to a framer, and the gallerist will have a list of reputable options for you. You may want to take your design or art consultant with you. Secondly, if it needs glass it’s important to note that glare free is absolutely necessary. And lastly, hanging the piece. Yes, we all love your contractor, but they are not the people to hang your art. A professional art hanger knows how to handle the piece safely, will have all the right tools, and can even work with your designer on proper placement. If you’re located in NYC, we almost always use I-Level. Outside of the city, check with your gallerist for a list of referrals.

CAN YOU DO IT FOR ME?

Of course, it can be both fun and daunting to go out and look for art. It may not be for everyone, so know that you can also opt to have your designer procure the art for you, or hire an art consultant. If you ask your designer, you will want to understand if the pricing method differs from the rest of your project.

I work with 2 consultants that have worked out well for various clients: Mason Lane Art and Elizabeth Sadoff Art Advisory. Both price using different models depending on whether I am an intermediary, or if I have fully handed off the project to them, (while still consulting when helpful for a third opinion, for placement and for framing). Do expect the consultant to ask for some level of first-hand info from you- give it! It’s the fastest way to understand your viewpoint.

Now it’s time to go find the perfect art for your home! Take your time, and have fun!