The art of collecting

Some people collect art for fun, some as an investment, but there are some ground rules that you should be aware of, most importantly, love the art, says Susan Mumford, author, former gallery owner, and all round art expert. Here she writes her insider’s guide to becoming a collector.

Have you ever found it tricky to decide if a work of art is right for you? Or are you curious to know how to go about building a collection? Here are my three tips for starting and building a collection, applicable for works of any value and collections of all sizes, big or small.

1 Work out why you’re buying. Is it to decorate the house or office, to support artists or small local businesses and to invest?

If you, like most individuals in West London, are looking for art for your home, there are a few key activities to do: visit local galleries, attend your local artists’ open house/studio event each year (local events include Open Art Spaces, Kensington & Fulham, and West Chelsea Artists Open Studios), and go to the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea (March and October each year). You can also browse and shop via online galleries and marketplaces (increasingly, galleries are based online and ‘pop-up’ at shows and fairs).

Should you be buying for investment, this is an entirely different proposition from the above. You’ll want to seek the advice of an art consultant who will look after your best interests.

Most art buyers today collect art because they love it and want to support artists and small gallery owners. If an acquisition so happens to increase in value, all the better!

2 Acquire what you like.

Lack of confidence is the number one hindrance to buying art. The key is that it’s essential you really love a piece. Something special happens that can’t be explained rationally when you truly fall for a piece. I observed this many times during my days as a gallerist. A visitor would pop-in, expecting to have a quick look before heading on to the rest of their day. And oh my! A moment of magic would happen with a work on display, and they would keep returning to it as if an unseen force was pulling them. Before they knew it, they were committing to buy it, whether that was in one payment or perhaps in a number of instalments over the next few months.

Still concerned that you’re building a hodge-podge assortment? It’s okay. Your ‘collection’, however big or small, represents the varied and unique person that you are. It all comes together in the special blend that is your individual sensibility.

And for a final sneaky pointer: keep the first work of art you purchased, no matter how you feel about it today. It’s a reminder of how it all began.

3 View a lot of art!

Nothing better enables you to confidently collect than looking, looking and looking more. Over time, you’ll find that you’re able to take in increasing amounts of viewing in one go (fairs in particular can be overwhelming) and you’ll also discover that you know much more readily if a work of art will continue to captivate your attention or if it’s what Paris-based artist Marcus McAllister calls a ‘one-liner’ – that is, a piece that has immediate impact, but not much more.

Remember after visiting shows and fairs to browse artist and gallery websites. If you discovered an artist at a gallery show, make enquiries with the gallery (take note that professional artists and galleries work to ensure that prices are consistent across the board, which is essential to establish market value with potential to provide a return to yourself as collector).

Final note

Have fun browsing, buying and displaying art. Nothing changes a setting more than a new work of art, and to know that you’re supporting the livelihood of someone who is pursuing a career doing what they love feels fantastic. If you are ready to get out and see some art we have an exclusive special offer for Palace Gate Readers. Take advantage of this special discount for the March 2016 Spring Edition of the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea. Use the discount code BESMART when booking your tickets here or at the door to receive money off the cover price. Find out more about the Affordable Art Fair.

Affordable Art Fair opening times: Thursday March 10, 11am-5pm, Friday March 11, 11am-6pm, Saturday March 12 and 13, 12-6pm.

About the Author: Susan Mumford is a game-changer in the 21st Century art world. Dividing her time between London and New York, she’s an entrepreneur, mentor, speaker and author. While running a gallery in Soho, London, she founded the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD), a non-profit trade network with London, New York and virtual chapters, and members dotted around the globe. AWAD’s mission is to facilitate business and collaborations between and for women art dealers. She is also founder of social enterprise Be Smart About Art, which helps art world professionals thrive in a changing industry. In late 2015, her first book was published: Art is your life. Make it your living. The book can be purchased online at

Susan’s on Twitter and Periscope at @susanjmumford. | @besmartaboutart | @womenartdealers.

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