From Iceland — How (And Why) To Start Collecting Art

How (And Why) To Start Collecting Art

Published December 7, 2023

How (And Why) To Start Collecting Art
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Art without a splurge: a myth or reality

If you’re currently navigating a rental market crisis, while trying to keep whatever job you still have (with a big global employment crisis looming on the horizon), but want to start an art collection – we’ve got you covered. We asked an industry insider, Dorothea Olesen Halldórsdóttir, Associate Director at i8 Gallery, to dispel our stereotypes about expensive art. Turned out art was, is and will always be expensive, but she offers some helpful tips for starting your collection. 

GV: Do you agree with the statement that art used to be more affordable than it is now? 

Art has always been expensive. It’s just obviously inflating with everything else. I remember a story from when my mom was graduating – she went to an exhibition and saw this beautiful painting by an Icelandic female artist. The work cost around one month’s salary. She was considering buying it but decided not to do it. Today, that artwork is a part of the collection of the Icelandic National Gallery. 

GV: What advice would you give to someone completely new to art collecting and wanting to start building their collection?

My recommendation would be to find what you love and save up to buy what you love. Art is something that is not necessary. We all want to buy a house because we feel like that’s maybe necessary, but art is more a way to present your inner thoughts or present yourself or your surroundings, making you feel happy in your environment. I think it’s worth trying to buy something that you love.

If you think about it, the work of mid-career artists will be more expensive than that of art students. You can follow emerging artists and buy more reasonably priced pieces from younger artists. One thing that has always happened is that people get older and prices usually rise. You can look at it this way – art will never lose its value. It rarely does, except if something horrible happens, like a big scandal.

Because I’m passionate about art, I don’t recommend buying art solely as an investment. It may feel disrespectful to the artist. Most artists would rather have their works go into good collections or to someone who genuinely appreciates their pieces.

If you’ve never collected and want to start, visit shows, museums, art fairs, artist exhibitions, or spaces. Talk with your friends about art, and ask yourself, “What do I like? Why do I like it? Why don’t I like it?” When you have that conversation with yourself, if that’s an artist of mid- or late-career and they don’t have any smaller works, maybe you could look into whether they’ve made an edition work – these are limited numbers of the same work, which means they’re often not as pricey as a unique piece. But if you’re drawn to the emerging and the avant-garde, then maybe it’s worth saving a bit more to get a bigger, unique piece.

“Find what you love and save up to buy what you love.”

Sometimes, people are afraid to ask for more information when they visit galleries or even independent artists’ shows, but I think everyone would be happy to help. That’s why we’re here. So, ask questions, request to see more works by the same artists, follow the artists and gather information. You can take a long time to decide before you buy anything. You can sometimes even negotiate, but be mindful of that. At the end of the day, these are the artists’ and the gallerists’ salaries. It’s not like you can decide whatever you want to pay, but if you have a friend who is an artist and you have a skill set they desperately need, they might be open to a discussion about a work exchange.

GV: How important is it for beginners to have a clear focus or theme for their art collection?

Anything is fine. It comes down to you and what you’re drawn to. Sometimes, it’s also fun to own works you don’t understand. You should try to avoid trends and stay true to your own vision and thoughts. If somebody else doesn’t like the artwork, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like it. I think it’s interesting when people collect diverse art, but you can also have a focus – for example, focusing on just female artists or artists younger than 30. It doesn’t really matter to the collection, but what matters is being diverse, open, critical and challenging yourself. 

You may only want to collect living artists, young artists and contemporary artists, but there’s also plenty of art by non-living artists that may have been underrepresented. Sometimes, an artist who is long gone pops up but has never really been represented, especially with minority cultures.

GV: Is there an optimal season to buy art? Are there sales or “Black Fridays” of the art world?

No. There’s a difference between selling a product and selling art because, first of all, art is subjective. Art is worth whatever somebody’s willing to pay for it. 

Summer is usually quieter, but that doesn’t affect the prices. It just means that there are maybe fewer sales because people are thinking about the summer holidays. The art market is one of the few unregulated markets in the world, which means that it doesn’t really go by the same laws as, for example, traditional stores that sell products for a specific price. In the art world, the prices mostly stay the same and gradually become more expensive or worth more. That can also happen in connection with the artist’s career. For example, if a young artist’s career takes off rapidly, their artwork prices will increase just as quickly. But the problem there is that your client base is those who can afford buying your work, which means if you raise it really high, you will have fewer clients who can buy your work.

Photo by Art Bicnick

GV: How can beginners educate themselves about different art styles, genres, and artists to make informed decisions when purchasing art?

I don’t think you need to know everything about art history, or educate yourself. It’s more about acquiring a sense because it can be overwhelming. There are so many artists and so much art – why is that more exciting than this? Or why does this cost more than this? You can get a sense by looking around and inquiring about a work. It doesn’t mean you have to buy anything. It just means that you’re showing interest in it and want to learn the price of the work. Then you maybe get a little bit of a sense of the whole art world here, but also internationally. Today, you can also buy anything on the internet – you can check out pages like Artsy, gallery pages and artists pages.

Dorothea’s book recommendation: A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art by Erling Kagge.

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