If you’re a millennial, chances are at some point you’ve proudly displayed a poster of a famous work of art, perhaps in a metal frame from IKEA or Bed Bath & Beyond. . There’s no shame in this game (and yes, Gustav Klimt’s game The kiss was probably the most mundane setting in your entire dorm). But if that same possession has followed you from your ’20s crash pad to your adult home, it might be time to step up a gear.
Building a personal art collection may have been considered the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and well-connected. But thanks to the proliferation of online art sales platforms, it’s more within your reach than you think. And the art buying process has become not only more democratic but more enjoyable.
“Getting into a physical gallery can be tricky,” says Rebecca Wilson, chief curator of Los Angeles-based online gallery Saatchi Art, where works range from $50,000 to $50,000. The environment can seem elitist, and “you might not get a very friendly response…or they tell you it’s $10,000 and you feel completely dumb because you can’t afford it.”
Going online to browse and buy, on the other hand, is “a breath of fresh air,” says Wilson, because not only does it eliminate self-consciousness, it also makes it easier to find art you can afford.
But don’t get your laptop out yet. Izabela Depczyk, managing director of online art auction platform Paddle8, recommends potential buyers start their search in the real world, to figure out what they like and what they want to live with, probably for a long time.
“Collecting art is very personal, so I advise anyone starting a collection to see as much as they can and observe what moves them,” she says. This may mean visiting a major museum like the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, or the Art Institute of Chicago. Or it might mean perusing art fairs, exhibits featuring fine art students at a nearby school, or even checking out what’s on the walls at your local cafe’s gallery exhibit. . The goal is to discover pieces that inspire an emotional response and figure out what you like about them, even if it takes time.
Once you have a better idea of your own tastes, you’ll be ready to get serious about buying. There are many options online at different prices. Platforms such as Paddle8 and Artsy may, on any given day, feature works by well-known artists such as Keith Haring or Jenny Holzer. The first follows a traditional auction format where bids can reach tens of thousands; the latter has both auctions and works you can buy right away, which, like on Saatchi, range from $50 to $50,000.
Uprise Art specifically aims to match emerging talent with a “new generation of collectors,” as noted on the gallery’s homepage, and maintains a body of work available for under $800. The accessible price range led me to buy my first piece when I was in my mid-twenties; soon after, I returned to the site and purchased a second work. Likewise, Tappan Collective hosts a growing number of works by emerging artists from around the world, including a selection of pieces priced at $300 or less.
Not sure about making an investment? Saatchi Art offers a free art consulting service no matter your budget, as does New York-based Uprise Art, which also offers interest-free payment plans.
The ability to spread out payments helped collector Justin Reis, 26, take the leap. Still, it took him a while to get on board. “I loved the idea of being able to buy art on a monthly payment plan, but I was a little doubtful that it was strong art,” he says. Then he found a piece by artist Jen Wink Hays that he couldn’t get out of his head.
In addition to online galleries, there are “real life” options, such as the Affordable Art Fair, which showcases hundreds of pieces from dozens of galleries around the world. New York fair director Vanessa Seis said the organization asks all exhibitors to be upfront about pricing, and the fair also highlights works under $1,000 and $500. Other avenues to affordable art include searching for original works on Etsy or the “art and wall” section of the online decorating site Chairish, browsing Instagram to find works by artists without gallery representation, or signing up for mailing lists of artists who might make occasional limited-edition prints of their work.
Is all this imagery long to go through, especially for the untrained eye? Perhaps. But, says Wilson, “If you look at a page of 10 works, there’s probably one that resonates or sticks with you in some way.” Plus, the beauty of researching art online is the ability to dive deeper into the biography of the person who made it.
“The idea of knowing more about artists and their journey is still a fairly new thing in the traditional world of galleries; the artist is usually kept behind closed doors as some sort of enigmatic genius,” says Wilson. “While online, all of this information is available, so people can make a connection. People want more layers to their discovery.
Knowing where that job they’re about to buy stems from the appeal of millennials, who are known to value experiences over things, and the ability to draw a direct line between the items they consume and the source of these items.
Reis, the Uprise customer, agrees. He loves that the piece he purchased introduced him to a group of artists, collectors and gallery owners. “It feels like what art should be: accessible, moving and community-driven,” he says. It is also a gateway. Since purchasing that first piece, he has visited fairs where Uprise has shown, in New York and Miami, and added to his collection.
“People want transparency and value,” says Carter Cleveland, CEO and Founder of Artsy. They also want to know: “’Am I buying something that’s going to end up in a landfill?’ ”
Adam Green, 33, is a New York collector who purchased a work through Artsy several years ago. He is ultimately less concerned with how he buys a new work than with the work itself.
“If a great work of art is available, it doesn’t matter how it’s available, whether it’s at a gallery, a fair, an auction, on Artsy, or even on Instagram,” says Green. Several years ago, he was unable to attend a fair in Dallas that featured the work of an artist he was interested in, but Artsy allowed viewers to “tour” the event interactively online, this is how Green discovered a work by Diana Al-Hadid which now resides in his home.
Green says it’s been exciting since then to watch Al-Hadid’s career blossom. He and his wife enjoy living with the artwork, and by owning one of its pieces, “we feel invested in its career”. Recently, Al-Hadid held an outdoor show in Madison Square Park, a few blocks from Green’s apartment. “We attended the opening and had the chance to finally meet Diana and talk to her about the show and the room we own.” This ability to connect with the creator is another way that art gives back.
Speaking of returns: the experts quoted in this story point out that the point of buying art isn’t to bet that it will ultimately be worth more than you paid for. Although some art does go up in value over time, Cleveland says, if you’re spending less than $10,000, that’s statistically unlikely, especially for less established artists. You have to buy it because you love it, and you have to love it even if it never appreciates a dime.
“You can’t ignore the financial aspect,” adds Cleveland. “But the art does pay a spiritual dividend.”