The art of collecting art; on a budget


According to Donald Martiny of Art, “There’s a big difference between buying art and collecting art.” He distinguishes the two stating, “…buying art is a random activity based on likes, preferences or attractions at any given moment, while collecting art is more of a purposeful directed long-term commitment. In both cases, you buy what you like, but if your goal is to collect art and do it right, you have to master two additional skills. The first is being able to effectively research, evaluate and decide whether or not to buy whatever works of art attracts you. The second is being able to choose each individual work in such a way as to form a meaningful grouping aka a collection.”
Before sharing ten great tips on collecting art, I want to further discern between buyers and collectors. In Ethiopia, most buyers acquire art for décor, gifts, and out of sheer love. Art purchased for décor is driven by locale; venue; budget; use of space; furniture type; wall colors; architectural details in space and the list goes on. In this case an Interior Designer or a commercial curator is best to do the purchasing as they know where to source unique and appropriate pieces. Similarly, gifting art should be specific to the taste of your gift-ee; that is if you don’t want your gift to end up tucked away in a closet. Consulting with a curator or gallerist can help guide your purchase to ensure the size, media and subject etc. are suitable. Finally, buying based on impulse or love of a piece has no rules, go for it. But try to make sure the work is signed, and ask the artist for their biography and as much information on the art work possible to keep on file.
For aspiring collectors, I found the following ten tips helpful, extracted by Henri Neuendorf for ArtNet News from Erling Kagge’s book, “A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great”. Fun fact: Kagge is a Norwegian art collector best known as the first person to walk to the South Pole alone and for climbing Mt. Everest.
1  Be Obsessed
To get the best value on a budget, you must have an obsessive drive to research, source, and capture the object of your desire.
2  Accept That There Are No Rules, Only Deals
The art market is very different from conventional markets because there is little regulation. In the case of Ethiopia, absence of regulations may lead to price manipulation and irregularities.
3  Cultivate the Perfect Eyes, Ears and Nose
As differentiating between bad and great art is difficult, train your eyes, but also your nose, and ears, meaning listen to what people who know art around you are saying. Whenever you hear an artist’s name mentioned by two or more people whose opinion he respected, go see the artist.
4  Hang out with People in the Art World
Develop relationships with leaders in the art world. Friendships with artists, curators, collectors, dealers, and gallerists offer invaluable perspectives on contemporary art, and insider information that others may not have access to.
5  Gallerists Holds the Key
Galleries have a critical role in introducing artists to collectors. With Ethiopia having only a fistful of galleries, get to know the gallerists representing the artists you are trying to collect. They should repay your loyalty by giving you their best works or offering discounts.
6  Don’t Expect to Make Money
Collecting art with the intention of making a profit is the biggest mistake a collector can make as art was not made to be an object of speculation. The real value of collecting art comes from the enjoyment of having a great piece in your space.
7  Be an Early Bird
Be the first person the see the art, before the opening, to access the best works. The same goes for buying works from artists early in their careers. Today, an artist’s career and price trajectory can be steep, buy an artist early because you may not be able to afford the works later.
8  The Best Price Might Not be the Lowest Price
It’s better to buy one fantastic artwork than to buy five or ten mediocre ones. Don’t be afraid to invest in the right piece.
9  Buy Opportunistically at Auction
Auctions offer opportunities to buy high quality works from less known mid-career artists.
10  Be Nice About Money
Don’t be discouraged from pursuing unaffordable artwork. Many galleries will negotiate the terms of a sale, and payment installments are common practice. If they don’t offer, ask.
So as you embark on your adventure as budding collectors with big eyes for art but small cash in hand to buy, be confident and diligent as you create your collection of Ethiopian fine art.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.