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The art of the matter
Art experts offer tips for buying art you’ll cherish today ... and tomorrow


September 2008

Television ads touting starving artists’ sales of "sofa-sized" paintings notwithstanding, most art dealers don’t suggest purchasing works of art by the yard. "While some customers may come in looking for a large painting to go above their sofa, I usually tell them their first concern should be to buy a piece they love, something that reflects their personality, style and taste," says Lori Boldig, manager of The Oconomowoc Gallery. "If you love it, it will probably fit into your room because people gravitate to what they like in art as well as furnishings," she says.

A personal connection with a piece of art is vital, according to Tom Harris, owner of Gallery 505 in Whitefish Bay. "First, you want to make sure that you like the work. It should spark an emotional reaction," he says. "Some of my customers will want to bring in their designer to help them choose something, but it’s your art and you have to live with it."

Size and Color

Of course, the amount of wall space in your home is a consideration when you are purchasing art. "Big walls need bigger pieces of art," Boldig says. However, she points out that you can purchase smaller pieces and arrange them in groupings.

Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to cover every square inch of wall space. "You don’t have to hang paintings spaced evenly around a room, as if you were in an art gallery," Boldig says. "I suggest arranging art in what I call ‘vignettes.’ For example, if you have a reading area in one corner of your room, you can place a painting in that area. Or, if you have a table against a wall, you may want a painting hung there," she says. In other words, place the paintings where they will best be seen and appreciated.

"Size can be a factor when you choose a piece of art, but color does not have to be," Harris says. "If you really like the piece, it will fit into your home." However, if you are concerned about somehow tying the art back to your furnishings, you can pick out a color that appears in the painting and use it in your room as an accent color. "Say there are touches of blue or gold in the painting; you can select some pillows or pieces of pottery in those colors," Boldig says. "I have actually had a customer tell me they wanted a landscape with no green in it."

Originals vs. Prints

If you thought you could not afford to buy original artwork, think again. It is possible to own original artwork without breaking the bank. "I sell only original art in my gallery and the prices range widely from hundreds of dollars to thousands. It doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive," Harris says.

One of the best things about original art is that it is unique. You’ll never see your original painting or photograph staring back at you in your favorite restaurant or office building lobby. But it pays to get some advice before you buy.

Unless you are buying the work of an established, well-known artist, don’t count on your purchase gaining great value. "Finding an artist and style you like is what is important. There is never a guarantee that what you’re buying is going to be an investment piece of artwork," Boldig says.

If your budget will not allow you to buy the original work of an artist you admire, you may still be able to buy something by that artist. "You can buy limited edition prints, signed and numbered by the artist. You can also buy original photographs, etchings or serigraphs," Boldig says.

Mix It Up

Do you love French provincial furniture, but assume you can never have a contemporary painting? Not so. The style of your décor does not dictate the type of art you must purchase. "Every piece of your furniture probably does not match exactly, so why not mix up the art? Eclecticism is very popular — and can be very interesting," Boldig says.

Harris agrees. "In my own house, we have Victorian furniture, but we also have some very contemporary art," he says. "If you love a particular painting that is in the modern style, you can always use a more formal frame on it. You can mix diverse pieces and styles. Get out of the box and try something different.". M


This story ran in the September 2008 issue of: