Buying an unknown artist's work for under $100 and realizing a fortune after the artist is recognized is an exciting fantasy. The realities, though, may be quite different.
Buying art solely as an investment is riskier, in many cases, than the stock market. Most art decreases in value. Over 95 % of the first one-person shows in New York (or any major city) in any given season are from artists never heard from again.
With those cautions in mind, here are some ways to enter the art market.
Buy art only because you "experience" the work, have a strong reaction to it, and want to live with it. That way, if it goes up in value, you have everything to gain. If the value doesn't increase, you have the pleasure of living with it.
Educate your eye. Go to museums, galleries, take courses, get subscriptions to art or antiques publications. Since art is a new status symbol, there's a lot of visual pollution-hack work that can attract naive buyers. See fine art for more information.
Don't buy a painting because it matches the sofa.
Don't buy a painting because your neighbors are collecting "names" like Picasso or Miro.
Don't blindly follow the critics. Time is the only test of art. A critic's tastes may veer in different directions at different periods. Just because experts endorse an artist now doesn't mean they'll favor him in 10 or 20 years.
Don't be afraid to sail against the wind.
Some of the biggest fortunes in art or antiques have been made by people who weren't afraid to buck the trend. (Tastes change: Paintings by the big names of the 1880s, such as Meissonier and Bourguereau, went for $65,000 back then. In the 1960s, they were down to $4,000.)
Look for periods and artists that please your own eye,
but are not popular at present. Reputations change with time. Some dealers believe early Spanish painting (up to the Baroque era) is being neglected and may eventually be reevaluated.
Find reputable galleries. Get the names through a dealers' association or by recommendations from respected acquaintances who are collectors. There are first-rate galleries in many cities.
Don't be intimidated by the mistaken idea that good galleries carry only "superstars." Galleries must develop fresh talent. Some galleries specialize in new artists. If it's an artist's first one-man show, it's possible to buy a work for under $1,000.
Learn to identify that elusive characteristic called quality:
The painting is in good condition. It has not been heavily restored or retouched.'
It has a history that adds to its lustre. (It was in a museum or important collection.)
It gives you a wonderful feeling. Bargaining is not uncommon. Sometimes you are wasting your time-the price is nonnegotiable.
Best time to make a gallery deal: Mayor June. Dealers are more receptive because they want to unload their inventories and make buying trips to Europe and elsewhere to purchase more art and antiques.
Develop a relationship with your art or antiques dealer. Once he knows your taste and pocketbook, he may give you first pick of new works. Many dealers enjoy helping to build an outstanding collection.
Getting a better buy at auctions: Study the catalog and check presale estimates. Determine the works you intend to bid on and the maximum price you intend to pay for each purchase in which you are interested. Don't deviate from these plans.
Collecting Classic Perfume Bottles: A 1930s Guerlain bottle and a two-ounce l' Air du Temps bottle have sold for $300 each. What to look for: Was the bottle produced by Baccarat or Lalique? Check the bottom for their names. Is the stopper ground glass or plastic? Is the particular perfume still being manufactured? If not, the bottle will be worth more. Is the bottle unusual, beautiful, or amusing? Does the bottle still have the label? Do you have the box it was packed in, and perhaps a bit of the original fragrance?
Collecting Political Americana: Political Americana is a rapidly growing hobby. Presidential campaign artifacts include buttons, posters, and related mementos.
Commemoratives or historical political materials from before the 1820s when presidential aspirants didn't campaign. Examples:
Inaugural souvenirs, patriotic textiles, coins, ete.
Highly prized items: Those dealing with the most popular political figures, and the rare leftovers of obscure candidates.
The most popular memorabilia: The early presidential candidates such as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, WilliamJennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, and Al Smith. Also, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy.
Candidates with the least available material:
John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Martin Van Buren, Horace Greeley, Levi Cass, John Davis, Franklin Pierce.
How to begin collecting: Gather indiscriminately at first. This teaches you about American political-campaign history. Aid:
Keep a comprehensive scrapbook during the current campaign season while publications are full of anecdotal accounts of past politics. Save only genuine materials. Resist fakes, no matter how showy.
Auction catalogs detail price trends for different items. To buy catalogs, write: The Americana Mail Auction, 4015 Kilmer Ave., Allentown, PA 18104.
Collectors' club: American Political Items Club, clo Robert Fratkin, 2322 20th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009.
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