The Fine-Art Virgin’s Guide to Collecting

An upcoming event at PAFA will help you cover your bare walls

I’m curled up in my chaise lounge as I write this, glancing around my living room. It’s got a nice mix of things, I suppose: a bit of modern, a healthy dose of antique, and a smattering of providential flea market scores. One thing that’s missing: artwork. And not because I don’t appreciate it, or because I think it’s an unworthy investment. It’s simply that I’m completely and utterly intimidated by it. The last time I bought art was in college, when I spent about $50 on a few Kandinsky and Miró prints and stuck them unceremoniously to my cinderblock dorm walls.

I guess I’m the perfect person, then, to attend PAFA’s New Collector’s Night, which takes place on Friday, September 23rd—an event geared to people who, like me, are staring down a bunch of white, unadorned walls. People who are ready for real, grownup art, the kind that deserves gorgeous frames and thoughtful hanging, the kind with a story behind it. The kind that you’ll look at one day, and say, “That was my first real piece of art.”

To help other fine-art virgins like myself, I got some helpful starter tips from Robert Cozzolino, the senior curator of modern art at PAFA, and the special guest of the New Collector’s Night (he’ll be discussing the basics of art collecting). This guy knows his stuff, but breaks it down in a wonderfully unintimidating way. Case in point: One of his recommendations for young collectors, which was, simply, “Follow [your] gut.”

That’s it? I thought. I can do that! I can follow my gut! I instantly had visions of turning my townhouse into a salon, like that of Gertrude Stein—a melting pot of art and culture and lively discussion. It’s not quite as easy as that, of course, but it’s certainly not anything scary enough to justify leaving your walls naked and artless. Read on for Cozzolino’s advice on how to become an art collector (see how lovely that sounds?), and stop by the event for even more invaluable tips.*

DO buy the best you can in your price range.
“The art market is its own parallel economic universe. Young curators often find learning its ropes to be among the most daunting aspects of their job. Your price point, whether $500,000 or $500, doesn’t matter; buy the very best you can at that point. Do not settle and, where possible, stretch yourself if the work warrants it. Do not buy six okay examples where you could have spent the money on one knockout piece.”

DON’T think you’ve got to go for Big Important Artists.
“Do not collect minor examples of work by famous names. When possible, buy the best possible example—print, drawing, painting, sculpture—in terms of skill and ambition by the artist who interests you. In some cases, this might mean buying the most accomplished drawing yet made by an emerging artist.”

DO get involved and ask questions.
“If you are involved with a museum, go to lots of public talks, tours, special events. See if the curators are leading gallery tours or studio visits. If you are contemplating a major purchase, do not be afraid to ask them about the work. If you’re not involved, get involved. You will learn a lot about the market and contemporary art that way.

DON’T buy online.
“There is no substitute for looking, looking, looking at art in person. Reproductions lie; you are not going to get a good sense of the quality or lack of it in something you’re toying with buying unless you spend time with it.”

*Oh, and did we mention there’s a chocolate and beer tasting, too? Purchase tickets here.