Not a billionaire? You can still be an art collector

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The following message is written by Bettina Korekfounder of ForYourArta guide to viewing, collecting and learning art.

The auction season got off to an uneven start last week, but proved that high-end art remains a hot investment. While Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sales “soared”, bringing in $200 million, Christie’s took in an “anemic” $141 million. An anonymous private collector has snapped up a single Gustav Klimt landscape painting for $40.4 million. This week, the art hunt continues as works from the Peter Norton collection go up for auction at Christie’s. Starting Tuesday, important pieces by Los Angeles artists, including Barbara Kruger, Paul McCarthy and Charles Ray, will be offered for sale.

Most of us don’t have the resources – or the influence – of billionaire collectors Edye and Eli Broad, Norman and Irma Braman or Doris Fisher. But starting an art collection is more affordable than you might think, and you can take inspiration from it and become a patron of the arts at the same time. Collector and MOCA Board Chairman Jeffrey Soros advises, “Without supporting a museum or art organization, the collector is merely a tourist in the art world collecting memorabilia. With support comes citizenship.

  • Above all, you have to like the art you buy, because the market is unstable. With a little time and the right guidance, you can learn about art and collect based on the art’s historical significance. Traveling to art fairs and exhibitions gives you the opportunity to see what other collectors are buying, and mass buying affects value. The most important thing is to take an informed approach.
  • The art world is a complex and fascinating social network. Your influence and your prestige as a collector will come down to your purchasing power and your relationships with galleries, artists and institutions. You can hone your intuitions about a young artist, or a work that may increase in value, into a real skill by educating yourself through constant research and reading. Some resources to get started are,, and Be sure to keep track of the things you like.
  • Familiarize yourself with the market. Browse Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips de Pury auction catalogs or the new Blacklots daily online site. It’s a great way to become familiar with market values. Keep in mind that auction prices are public records.
  • Look in the right places. The chances of finding a good artist increase when you look at a good gallery. Check out gallery websites – it’s easy to kill time at your desk browsing the websites of galleries that attend top fairs like Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, Frieze or the online-only VIP Art Fair. Pay attention to younger galleries that often exhibit at fairs like NADA and List – where you’ll find more work by emerging artists – or at younger platforms associated with larger fairs: Art Basel Statements, for example.
  • Becoming a collector is a process, and one of the best ways to speed up the process is to become a patron at the same time. You want the privilege of knowing the curators and what work they are reviewing. It is important to be generous and to support art for art’s sake; it will give you information and access. Join an innovative nonprofit space or museum at a higher level ($1,000 and up). Be as generous as you can afford. It’s not hard to identify these locations – ForYourArt maintains a listing for Los Angeles and New York. The Art Basel Miami Beach art fair also maintains a list of nonprofit arts organizations. Do a little research on these groups to see what piques your interest.
  • The higher your ability to give, the more opportunities there are to interact with curators and other patrons. Members of LACMA’s Annual Collectors’ Committee Weekend bring together millions and vote on acquisitions proposed by museum curators. The ticket price ($15,000 and up) includes a private Friday night dinner at a collector’s house with specially curated menus and wine pairings. LACMA Director Michael Govan once called the Collectors’ Committee “the ‘American Idol’ of the museum world” and curatorial presentations are an invaluable way to understand how experts make their decisions.
  • International Committees are another great way to educate yourself and travel with insider status. Guggenheim Museum Deputy Director Ari Wiseman, who is leading their Council of International Directors trip to Los Angeles this week, said the group is an “important way to bring together an international group of collectors and patrons, to connect with the museum and with each other”. , while sharing personal ideas and specific knowledge.
  • Independent nonprofit spaces often have the opportunity to support artists’ projects or exhibitions with donations ranging from $1,000 to $15,000. LAXART, a Culver City nonprofit art space that works with the Hammer Museum and the Getty Research Institute on major projects with emerging artists, hosts intimate encounters with artists in collectors’ homes for its Board of Curators, in order to “bring together artists and patrons in meaningful and committed fashion”, according to director Lauri Firstenberg.
  • Other annual “weekend” events include the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Gala and Auction Weekend, which jointly benefits AMFAR and Dallas Museum of Art acquisitions, and the ‘ArtCrush Benefit from the Aspen Art Museum.
  • Watching graduate art school exhibits is a great way to buy early, but keep in mind that you’re taking a calculated risk.
  • Develop a relationship with an independent artistic advisor. Advisor Lisa Schiff suggests asking galleries who they recommend, who they trust and believe in, and who really knows what they’re doing. Sima Familiant says it’s important to ask a potential advisor how they’ll help you engage in the art conversation by getting more involved philanthropically. Nancy Chaikin recommends consulting the Association of Professional Art Advisors and cautions to fully understand the fee structure before you begin. Some advisors take a commission on purchases, others work on a deposit, and some require both.
  • Build a library. Art books are a fantastic way to start your collection. Artbook | DAP provides fantastically organized listings. Books themselves can be works of art.
  • Get advice from other collectors you admire. I visited Michael Ovitz’s collection with the MOCA patrons group, and he talked about starting to collect at Gemini GEL. Edits are a great way to get your feet wet and can be a great area to focus on. New sites like are also a great place to look.

Over time, developing an interest in art can connect you to an incredible social and intellectual community. Collecting art is best approached as a rewarding adventure and one that can be a new asset to your future along the way.

Bettina Korek, the author of this article, can be contacted at [email protected].

Norma D. Ross