Image of artist Gerwyn Davies in yellow with japanese lantern

Who gives the best advice when buying art?

When I exhibited at The Other Art Fair in Sydney and Melbourne, people would come up to me and say, “I just don’t know what to buy“. I’d always reply, “You have to live with it, so buy what you like, buy work that says something to you“.

Since then, I’ve changed my recommendation a little. Now I’d say buy what you like, but know what you’re buying. What I mean is get to know artists who live around you, go see as many exhibitions as you can. Follow artists on Instagram and see who they are interacting with, see who they’re surrounding themselves with.

Bust of guy Maestris head in multi colours
Guy MAESTRI, Xero IV, 2016, painted bronze, 57cm x 16cm x 16cm.

Why is it important to know who other artists admire?

Something funny happens in art. Artists attract artists. They’re like magnets which are inexorably drawn together, sometimes across vast distances. Van Gogh and Gaugin. Matisse and Picasso. De Kooning and Pollock. Manet and Degas. Freud and Bacon. Sebastian Smee compellingly talks about this in The Art of Rivalry. On the Australian art landscape, there’s the same magnetic force at work: Quilty and Maestri and Sciberras. Abdul Abdullah and Jason Phu – just a few of the vast spiderwebs of connections between artists.

Artists like art.

I know it seems like an obvious things to say, but artists like art. They understand the pains that artists go through. At exhibitions, artists are the ones with their faces pressed up against the artwork, seeing how the work is put together. So if you want to buy art, if you want to get a sense of what’s in an artwork, talk to the artist. Believe me, exhibition openings can be excruciatingly painful because they’re so personal and awkward. So just go up to the artist who’s got a show on and say “Hi I’m <insert your name here>, can you tell me more about about this piece?“. It will help you see beyond the subject matter and get insights into the content of the work. (Lesson 16 from Jerry Saltz).

Porcelain bust of ape with lipstick by Phil James
Phil JAMES; APE PLANET 350 x 200 x 500 Press-Molded JingDeZhen Porcelain, Glaze Hand finished by Master On-Glaze Painter Yu Mien.

Visit the Collectors’ Space, part of Art Month Sydney 2021.

When I came back from working in advertising on Madison Avenue in New York in 2006, I knew art had to be part of my life. I needed to create it, I needed to surround myself with it. So my husband and I bought an abandoned weatherboard cottage on the Shoalhaven River near Braidwood in 2007 and, whenever we could, we bought art. (In fact just last night at tinny time, I confessed to Chris that I had secretly bought a couple of little works by Freya Jobbins and Lea Durie without him knowing). You can see some of what we love at The Collectors’ Space during Art Month Sydney, 4-28 March 2021 at 17b Oxford Street, Paddington. You’ll see works by Guy Maestri, Phil James, Dan Kyle and Gerwyn Davies, plus a swag of other art from other collectors. Come visit, hopefully it’ll inspire you to jump in and support living artists.

You can also talk to Art Advisors and other art professionals.

Larger commercial art galleries like Michael Reid have dedicated Art Advisors to help you get a better sense of what you are drawn to. All gallerists have a cohort of artists they love, just walking into a gallery and talking to the owner will help you shape what kind of things you want to live with. Robyn Williams’ unwavering enthusiasm for her artists at Purple Noon Gallery means she has developed a dedicated following of avid collectors and works closely with them to build their collections.

Large public institutions like the National Gallery of Australia also run great initiatives like the Bequest Circle where you can get exclusive access to exhibitions, artists, long lunches and other collectors by leaving a portion of your estate in your will to them.

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