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Art acquisition


October 2004

Art acquisition begins not with your dollars, but with your eyes and mind. Looking at art is the most important thing you can do when you decide to acquire a new piece.

During your search process, you will find that certain factors will influence your decision. Some people approach art acquisition from a decorative standpoint. They are looking for something that will look good in a specific part of their home.

Other people take a more serendipitous approach: They will know they have found the right piece when they find it. Other people are more interested in a specific artist or style of work. A fortunate few buy art as a way to support a cause or artist and are not concerned with the return on their investment.

Many art collectors do treat art as an investment to some degree. During my time as a gallery owner and art collector, I have used three general guidelines in helping me decide whether to purchase or represent an artist.

First of all, I look to see how an artist is different. Does the artist have something unique to say? Does the artist have his or her own style? I also look to see if the artist is fairly prolific. Finally, I do try to judge the artistís overall body of work to see if it is consistently good. Some artists are prolific, but there is no evolution of their talent, skill or creativity.

Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. But over time, I have found that these three elements often create an excellent framework for viewing a potential art acquisition.

Most people have an idea in their minds of what they would like to spend on a work of art. You should not be embarrassed to mention this. The perception that a gallery will not work with you if you are not a "big spender" is not true. The experience and results will be more fun and rewarding if the art dealer can focus on art in your price range.

When I started collecting art at 15, my first acquisitions were usually my art teachersí works. Picassoís etchings sold for around $50 in the 1950s. We all start somewhere.

Sometimes I work with people who have a set price range and find that their chosen artistís best work is not affordable. If that is the case, I will recommend that the client look for a different artist working in their range. This means the client can still buy the best quality by that artist. From an investment standpoint, it is far better to acquire an artistís best work than to purchase a lesser, more affordable piece of art by the same artist.

David Barnett is an artist, art dealer and the owner of the oldest Wisconsin art gallery, the David Barnett Gallery in Milwaukee. He resides in Chenequa.