The Beginner’s Guide To Buying Art for more tips for more tips

The Galleries

GET A MAP New York is a city of multiplying art districts. Explore them. Bushwick and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and Long Island City in Queens, are well established as alternative art centers. So is the Lower East Side in Manhattan. But artists and galleries also cluster in Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Gowanus, Brooklyn. Gallery Guide, a free booklet with listings of current exhibitions and neighborhood maps, can be found in many galleries. Online, there’s the Chelsea Gallery Map, and for Brooklyn, the monthly guide Wagmag.

CHECK PAST SALES See if the artist you like has a track record. Artnet sells subscriptions to its price database, which has sales from 1,600 auction houses since 1985.

NEGOTIATE The contract between dealer and artist usually includes a clause permitting the dealer to lower the price of an artwork up to a certain percentage, somewhere between 5 and 20 percent. Remember that the artist gets only half of the listed price. The gallery takes the rest.

DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY Some of the higher-end galleries can be snooty, forcing you to ask for price information, which should be visible, and assuming you’re not a serious buyer. Leading dealers also like to place their holdings with established collectors to protect the works’ pedigree, so even if you can afford a major painting, a gallery may not want to sell it to you. Don’t sweat it. Just move on to more welcoming galleries.

WORK THE ANGLES For a higher-priced work, a dealer might agree to installment payments.

LOOK FOR THE RED DOT If an artwork on the wall or on the gallery’s price list (which, by law, must be prominently displayed, though often is not) has a red dot, that means it has been sold.

HAVE A PLAN B If the work you want is too expensive, consider smaller works by the same artist, a work on paper rather than an oil painting, an oil-pastel study, an older work or a photograph. And ask to look in the back room. Most dealers will have additional work by an artist they represent.

“Art doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s important to be out there and see what’s happening. It may take you six months or a year to find what you like.” Judith Selkowitz (art adviser)


The Auctions

HIRE AN ART ADVISER There are plenty of people whose job it is to help you buy art, whether it’s just a few decorative pieces or the beginnings of a serious collection. You can find them through online listings, but it’s better to ask your art-buying acquaintances for their advisers or search for names in news articles about collectors and the art market.

READ AND PREVIEW Do your homework. Study the auction catalog — including price estimates — and visit previews for a close-up look at the art on offer. Set a budget and stick to it.

SIT ON YOUR HANDS Auctions can be overwhelming. There is a show-business element to the proceedings, and big names in attendance. You can’t always tell what’s happening — or who’s bidding. That’s because some buyers prefer anonymity so they bid over the phone or from private boxes above the auction room. Also, the bidding can go fast, with auctioneers throwing out several figures in succession to jump-start the process. When in doubt, just watch.

CLICK, WITH CAUTION There are some great deals online and legitimate outfits getting into the act — Sotheby’s recently held its first auction in a new partnership with eBay, and Christie’s in 2012 sold some of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Art’s collection online. But buyers must beware; the online sphere leaves all sorts of room for specious claims about provenance, condition and value. Paddle8 and Auctionata are considered reputable sites. You need to exercise due diligence on sellers and their claims before you click the bidding button.

LOOK AT THE CLOCK Lisa Dennison, the chairwoman of Sotheby’s North and South America, advises bargain hunters to look at the day sales, where “you will find works by many of the same artists in the evening sale, at a fraction of the price.”

At Sotheby’s, an untitled 2009 polyurethanic rubber hand by Maurizio Cattelan is estimated at $15,000 to $20,000 in the day sale on Wednesday, whereas that artist’s piece featuring miniature working elevators (also untitled) from 2001 is estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million at the sale the previous evening.

“People get sentimental about the first few works of art they buy, or they find them laughable and use them as benchmarks of their early mistakes. But either way, it’s like first love, and one should totally revel in it.” — Amy Cappellazzo (art adviser)

For the complete Guide on Buying Art, read the full article on

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