Collecting Emerging Contemporary Art 101 (Pt. 3)

Superfine! NYC 2017-74.jpg

One of the most rewarding things about Superfine! fairs... the feeling we get when our words of encouragement hit home and turn art-curious fair visitors into first-time collectors.

Case in point: Superfine! NYC 2017 last May, where everyone from our bar manager to our wall contractors to our sound technician (and of course our publicists, too, who I'm sure are reading this!) took the plunge and made their first emerging contemporary art purchase at a Superfine! fair. Sure, we had the usual high-rollers as well (founding members of The Whitney Museum took home exhibitors' works, so did Soho House members) but there's something incredibly heartwarming and thrilling in watching someone make art part of their lives, especially for the first time. To younger would-be collectors, it can be tough to justify the initial cost. We get that, but as our own interest in emerging contemporary art has grown, we see such a huge benefit in surrounding oneself with art that we feel obliged to impart some wisdom unto the masses of would-be collectors.

Fancy building your own collection, but don't know where to start? We've got you covered! You'll find helpful tips below, gleaned from years of producing and curating art shows (and collecting emerging contemporary art!), to jump-start your new art life. Happy collecting!

Hi-Fructose IG Photo.jpg

Immerse Yourself

Art collecting is a visual pursuit, but you'll get more out of it if you learn about individual artists and what inspires them, along with overarching trends in the art world. Of course, trends are trends which means some are silly and vain but many are interesting and play off of current sociopolitical topics that may have deep meaning to you. Getting a sense of what's happening in art is a major step towards being comfortable taking the plunge and purchasing a piece from an artist whose visual language communicates your inner beliefs, yearnings, or hopes and dreams.

To achieve this, we suggest reading an art periodical (like Hi-Fructose Magazine) and subscribing to newsletters from Artsy, Artnet, and other sources of art world news. Beyond learning about the market (which may be a bit tedious to newcomers) you mostly want to expose yourself to the visual cornucopia of contemporary art in order to get a better sense of where your tastes fall. I like to flip through galleries and artists on Artsy and then strive to see the works in person, if I can.

Dad at Superfine! Miami 2017.jpg

Ask Yourself: Can I Live Without This?

You've walked around the fair. You keep being drawn back to the same work but want to make sure you can justify the $2,500 price tag. That's when your internal dialogue becomes very important. Ask yourself, how much do you want this piece? Do you love it, like really love it? Most importantly, can you live without it?

If you answered badly!, of course!, and no way! to these questions, it's time to make a move. Where there's a will there's a way and art collecting is all about finding that feeling of necessity and urgency around a work of art.

Take the plunge and remember that...

...Debt Isn't Always a Bad Thing.

Debt sometimes has a negative connotation, but it's also a wonderful tool that enables people to obtain things far outside of their immediate price range.

Think about houses: plenty of people who have never seen half a million dollars at once in their entire life are able to leverage their own trustworthiness (credit scores) to live in incredible homes valued in that range, thanks to mortgages. First-time art buyers may not realize that in many cases, the art market works the same way. While institutional level financing options for emerging contemporary art are still in their infancy (however, do check out Art Money for one option in that realm), most dealers and artists are willing to work with you and provide their own financing, usually with no interest.

How this works:

You love a piece that's marked at $5,000, but don't have exactly have five big ones handy. The dealer/gallery/artist's ultimate goal is to sell artwork. Knowing this, a lot of collectors like to use this impetus to sell as leverage to low ball the overall price - we actually see it as an opportunity for the artist and gallery to get full value for their work but also let you have it in a way that works with your cash flow. Instead of low balling, try offering the full price (or a small discount) but ask to spread the cost into four or more evenly spaced payments, at a rate that works easily with your monthly expenses and cash flow. Long after overpriced meals and cocktails are forgotten, and designer clothing turns to shreds, you and your family will continue to enjoy that artwork you fell madly in love with. Working with galleries and artists in this way helps them reach financial goals and stay focused on creating amazing work, while enabling you to see their work in your home without laying out more than you can up front.

Understand the Price

While we encourage all levels of collectors to be upfront about their budget and not be shy about making an offer on a work, we do feel that it's important to set some parameters and guide you in understanding how an exhibitor prices their work so you know whether your offer is fair and considerate or, at worst, insulting. Art has always been a difficult thing to value objectively, and that difficulty doubles for emerging contemporary art, which is far more of an aesthetic and emotional investment than a financial one. New collectors often wonder why a painting or photograph costs a certain amount.

The price of a work is a function of both the cost of materials (paint, canvases, and high-quality photo paper are not cheap!), the artist's time in creating it (think about what you spend 40-60 hours on, and think about how much you'd want to be compensated for that), and the additional costs of marketing/displaying it. Superfine! has a very fair and balanced model where exhibitors - both artists and galleries - pay for their spaces and in turn receive our curatorial assistance, marketing expertise, and most importantly: you, their future collector! All of these costs factor into how an artist or gallery values their work, and it's important to consider not only those factors but also how long a piece will serve you. When you consider that you'll likely keep a work of art for almost your entire life, it becomes a relative bargain. When looking at a photograph in the $500-$1,200 range, or a painting from $900-$5,000, try not to compare it to a mass-produced poster or piece of decor of the same size.

Consider that you're actually buying a completely unique piece of a person's perspective, and you're covering their costs and helping them earn a living and continue to create artwork indefinitely, while simultaneously adding depth and emotion to your own home.

Sounds like a win-win situation, if you ask us!

At Home with the Superfine! Directors-31.jpg

Does This Fit My Theme(s)?

We've spoken in the past about collecting art along a theme, or multiple themes. This doesn't necessarily need to be a hard and fast rule that you follow, and you're always free and welcome to let your areas of interest evolve as you yourself evolve. However, when considering a piece it's always nice to factor in how that work will play together with past purchases, or your home's overall personality. It goes beyond asking "Will this match the curtains?" (though we don't want you to feel guilty if you do ask that, it is a consideration!) and asking yourself if this contributes to the visual language you're creating within your space, feels a bit tangential to it, or at worst - takes away from it.

Taking a moment to think through this and make sure that the new work you love is going to have a meaningful home within your home does wonders to mitigate the chance of buyer's remorse, and will ensure that you develop an incredible, cohesive collection that reflects who you are as an individual.

Start Small (...or with prints!)

We always, always encourage our exhibitors to feature smaller works at very approachable price points, as well as limited edition prints.

There's no shame in recognizing your budget limitations and starting out this way. You're still supporting artists either directly or indirectly, and you're still adding to that same visual language that reflects your individuality. Most importantly, it gives you a tangible investment into that artist's career.

Once you've bought that print or smaller work, don't let the connection end there: keep up with the artist's social media and newsletters to follow the evolution of their career. As they evolve, your interest and budget are likely to evolve as well, and you'll discover fantastic opportunities to add larger originals to your collection. Playing back into our earlier point about debt as a means of buying art, the trust factor will also increase and you might be able to get better terms (i.e. a longer payment period) on a work you love but can't afford outright.


Take Notes

We make this one easy for you.

When you attend Superfine! NYC or Superfine! DC later this year, you'll receive a two-page booklet with plenty of blank space. Each exhibitor will have stickers available representing themselves and their work which you can take and place in your own Collectors' Notebook alongside your own thoughts, notes, feelings, and favorite pieces. The stickers also contain the exhibitors' contact information, so once you go home and think about it, you can contact them directly when you decide on your favorite piece (or pieces).

If you're at other fairs or exhibitions that don't offer an easy way to organize your favorites, we suggest using your smart phone's notepad feature (or bringing an old-school analog notebook with you!) and writing down the names of your top works, exhibitor contact info, and your notes/thoughts. Another winning tactic is to take a photo of the work you love, and then take a photo of the exhibitor's name and/or business card so you remember who's who. This way, you can take a moment to organize your thoughts, narrowing your favorites down to a top 2 or 3 that fit all of the above criteria (you can't live without it, it's a fit with your home, and you can see a way to make it financially possible) and then take the plunge. You're under no obligation to buy every work you see, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't take the time to consider your favorites and how you can make them your own. Note-taking is a great way to wrap your head around all of that!

Go to Fairs!

We can't say this enough: go to art fairs! While we love gallery exhibitions, group shows, and online media, art fairs are one of the few places where you can see and compare thousands of works all at once, in person. Even if literally nothing is your cup of tea (we suspect this won't be the case), you'll gain invaluable perspective on what emerging contemporary art looks like today, and you'll be one step closer to building the collection that speaks to you.

More specifically, we highly encourage new collectors to attend art fairs that are aligned to their tastes and budgets. Nothing can quash dreams of an inspired, personalized art collection more than being surrounded by works far, far out of your range, or ugly ones. This is where we have to put in a shameless plug: at Superfine! we hit both sides of the equation by enforcing both the highest curatorial standards in the industry (read: the work is good!) and a price spread that places the vast majority of artwork within easy reach of newer collectors. In a given fair, at least a quarter of the work on display ranges from $100 to $1000, with a full 70% under $5,000. This strategic pricing is designed to help you consider, and ultimately collect, the work you fall in love with and is the lifeblood of why we do what we do.


Have a great collection that you want to share? Post pictures in the comments and tell us what emerging contemporary artists you love right now, and stay tuned for Part 4 of our Conquering The Art Market series: Art Fairs.


Alex Mitow
Director of Superfine! - The Fair