10 Questions . . . 10 answers . . .

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1. How do I start building my art collection?

First and foremost, collect what you LOVE! It is your aesthetic appreciation which must take precedence over any other consideration. Then, learn and dedicate time to research. Ask a lot of questions and study the artists you are interested in collecting. Go to art fairs, visit artist studios, talk to dealers, art advisors, curators, collectors, auction houses and art critics who offer invaluable perspectives on art. It is easy to become overwhelmed as you sort through the vast artscape both online and in person so commit to a few pieces and live with them before delving deeper. The art of collecting is a lifelong passion so take your time as the works you collect are an expression of who you are and may stay with you for your entire life.

2. How do I build a strong collection?

Curate your collection. There are many resources and people in the field available to assist you in curating the most cohesive collection with your goals in mind. Collections are often stronger when built around a theme, whether that be a certain genre, American Folk Art or Abstract Expressionism for example, building a collection around one or a few artist’s career, a collection based around a certain time period (19th Century photography) or medium. Get thinking outside the box. Pay attention to the artist’s market, their history, which museums and galleries represent and show their work, research auction results. Over time, you will see your style emerge and start to see trends which unite your collection. You may see a focus on color, genre, medium, style, finding examples across a range of different artists, or within a focused group. If you like the results you’re seeing, continue, if not, switch gears, seek guidance, and challenge yourself by collecting something outside your comfort zone.

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3. What type of art is available in the marketplace?

Original Artwork: paintings, sculptures, mixed media, calligraphy, ceramics, conceptual, drawing, etching, folk, graphic, illustration, video, tapestry, photography, stained glass...the list goes on. With originals, it is important to realize that the artist will only profit once from the sale which is often why they command higher prices. With photography, vintage and blue chip works will also be set at significantly higher prices than later, modern prints.

There are a few different types of prints: Master Prints, Vintage Prints & Limited Edition Prints: Master prints are works made by the master artist (and sometimes his assistant/s). Vintage prints are works made within a few years of the negative date (i.e.). With limited edition prints, the artist limits the run of prints usually with a number indicated on the print itself, i.e. 1/25. This shows the exclusivity of the piece. Some artists, Chuck Close for example, considers his master prints more important than his original paintings (he only creates 3 to 4 original paintings year). Artist Proofs (AP’s) are also usually included or added on to the edition number and is usually about 10% of the total print edition number and are often reserved for the artist to sell/donate at his or her discretion. Lastly, with editioned prints, some editions include all sizes, yet some are a multiple of sizes the artist prints. Photographers have a broad range of edition numbers, some works are unique prints and some going quite high into the hundreds, even thousands. Often, prices jump depending on the number sold within the edition. On the flip side, some do not increase as works sell and are open edition prints (Jerry Ueslmann, Ira Kahn). Edition number may or may not allude to the number of prints which have been sold - edition numbers really means nothing. There has been a myth in the art world that it does matter which I attribute to the early works of Rembrandt who used copper plates for his prints and, as he printed the later prints were not as strong and clear as the earlier ones as copper is a soft metal. Today, no one prints w/copper plates and the use of negatives and printed processes has eliminated this issue with print making. Some photographs will create one-of-a-kind pieces even though the same negative is used - Julie Cockburn, for example, embroiders photographs, rendering each one unique. Reproductions: unlimited run of the artwork, which allows artists to sell as many as they like. Price point is much lower than one off originals and often editioned prints. Other types of prints include engravings, lithographs, screen prints, aquatints, linocuts and woodblock prints. These are an ideal way to start collecting but don’t expect the value to increase compared to blue chip and master works.

4. How are art prices decided?

Pricing artwork is not a science. Many factors can influence how a piece of art is priced – one of the most important of which is demand. The size, medium and condition of the piece can also influence the price, as well as how well known the artist and their work is. Be an early bird, when it comes to art openings and an artist’s career. The sooner you select the best works for your collection, usually the better, as buying early you may not be able to afford works later in the artist’s career. When working with artists and galleries, pay on time. Some galleries may be open to payment plans after you’ve worked with them but keeping your account in good standing will keep you on their good side. Many art dealers will also be your proxy bidder at auction so if there is a piece you are unable to view, let the trusted advisor by your eyes, ears, and wallet. Some auctions offer a fantastic opportunity to acquire high quality works at good prices but beware of the house premiums which can be as high as 25%. It is better to buy one fantastic artwork than five or ten mediocre. Don’t be afraid to invest in the right piece at the right time.

Acquiring art is often emotionally driven. It is, simply put, worth what someone is willing to pay for it. While values may often be related to the marketplace, in the long run an intangible, sometimes emotional factor such as your taste or insight is most relevant. That said, quality and condition are important factors in determining valuation. For 19th and 20th Century work, condition in relation to age is of particular importance. Your objective as a collector is to find the finest example available of the image in which you are interested. Here, professional guidance and critical opinion in addition to a well-developed eye are essential to competent collecting. Looking at auction results can help however these account for only about 50% of the marketplace and often, do not take into account condition. Moreover, if you are to become an intelligent investor, you must learn the historical and aesthetic importance of the works you are considering for purchase.

 
 
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5. Should I buy art for investment purposes?

Collecting art with the intention of making a profit is one of the biggest mistake collectors can make. The true value of acquiring art should come from the love of having a great work in your home. After that, the investment potential becomes incidental, an added bonus to your acquisition. Buying a piece of art as a financial investment is like rolling the dice as there are varying degrees of risk. It is important to track new artists, learn about established markets, understand market trends, knowing what makes up a visually “winning” image, but there is no secret recipe for success. Art has been shown to increase in value and outpace many commodities however keep in mind, this is the exception, and not the rule, usually pertaining to master works and artists with this given track record.

6. What should I look for in authenticating a piece of art?

The artist’s signature is usually inherent in the work produced. A signature alone is no guarantee of authenticity or quality. When in doubt, consult an expert having specific familiarity with the work under consideration and works should always be accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity. There are many variables to take into account when authenticating works including but not limited to dating techniques like black lighting, handwriting analysis, artist labels and stamps used through his or her career, provenance, collection and institutions stamps (for exhibited works or ownership), original invoices and paperwork. In early photography, the tendency was for photographers to leave their work unsigned. Today, even though most photographers do sign their prints, it is the stature of the photographer and the quality of the print, rather than the signature, that establishes the value of a given work.

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7. How are art prices decided?

Pricing artwork is not a science. Many factors can influence how a piece of art is priced – one of the most important of which is demand. The size, medium and condition of the piece can also influence the price, as well as how well known the artist and their work is. Be an early bird, when it comes to art openings and an artist’s career. The sooner you select the best works for your collection, usually the better, as buying early you may not be able to afford works later in the artist’s career. When working with artists and galleries, pay on time. Some galleries may be open to payment plans after you’ve worked with them but keeping your account in good standing will keep you on their good side. Many art dealers will also be your proxy bidder at auction so if there is a piece you are unable to view, let the trusted advisor by your eyes, ears, and wallet. Some auctions offer a fantastic opportunity to acquire high quality works at good prices but beware of the house premiums which can be as high as 25%. It is better to buy one fantastic artwork than five or ten mediocre. Don’t be afraid to invest in the right piece at the right time.

Acquiring art is often emotionally driven. It is, simply put, worth what someone is willing to pay for it. While values may often be related to the marketplace, in the long run an intangible, sometimes emotional factor such as your taste or insight is most relevant. That said, quality and condition are important factors in determining valuation. For 19th and 20th Century work, condition in relation to age is of particular importance. Your objective as a collector is to find the finest example available of the image in which you are interested. Here, professional guidance and critical opinion in addition to a well-developed eye are essential to competent collecting. Looking at auction results can help however these account for only about 50% of the marketplace and often, do not take into account condition. Moreover, if you are to become an intelligent investor, you must learn the historical and aesthetic importance of the works you are considering for purchase.

8. What do I do with all the paperwork?

Keep all the documentation that authenticates the artwork in a safe place. Also, keep any accompanying paperwork included during the time of the sale (past invoices, letters from the previous collector or artist, museum exhibition information, etc.). This cannot be stressed enough! Provenance is a key element when authenticating and dating a piece, and, should you ever choose to resell a work, of paramount importance. 

 
 
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9. Where will they hang?

You must think about the effect the piece will have on the room/space. Every artwork has a huge effect on its surroundings. Make kraft paper cut-outs or take print outs of the work and hang them temporarily where they would hang on your wall. Give it a few days and see if you still feel the same way about the work in that given spot. There are many ways to frame (contact us for reputable framers in your area), and wall treatments (asymmetrical or symmetrical group hanging, art shelves, dramatic backdrop, grid format, group like-images, mix different mediums/objects, over a bookcase, in a bookcase, salon style, vertical line). We prefer to hang at gallery height which is about 58 inches on center (average eye level) but feel free to play with this height and go with what feels right for you. Once your collection grows, and have works which are not featured on your walls, you may need to think about climate controlled storage environments so please contact us for recommendations as well as recommendations for professional art installers and handlers in your area.

10. Why should I buy photographs?

As with any field that is new to you, your best source of information should be the best informed source you can find. Find a knowledgeable and-above all else-reputable gallery, dealing in the finest and highest quality work available. Art fairs (listed below) can be a great resource as you can view many different galleries and their artist’s works and enhance your education while viewing a wide range of works in a relatively short period of time. Another great resource can be auction houses (listed below), benefit auctions and some private dealers. I found one of our artist’s, Sparky Campanella, through an SF Camerawork benefit auction. Look at art websites and magazines offering grants and prizes for emerging artists. Another artist I represent, Danielle Nelson-Mourning, had won the Deutsche Bank award for her work in Mississippi which is how I discovered her. The important thing for you, the collector, is to find a dealer in whom you can place your trust and confidence and with whom you feel you can establish a good working relationship. Ask the dealer(s) you are thinking of working with “What will happen if I don’t want the piece in a few years.” He or she should either offer to take the work back on consignment, offer to purchase back the piece at the price you acquired it for, or assist in finding a market for the piece. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

 
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What does the Weston Gallery offer the collector?

Since opening our doors in 1975, the Weston Gallery has emphasized and presented the finest masterworks of 19th and 20th century and contemporary photographers. The gallery is a world leader in the field and over the years has attained an unparalleled position of respect among its clientele. Our position of leadership is the result of many ingredients. We feel it is primarily due to our deep dedication to the medium of photography. We are fortunate to have an extensive inventory and a wealth of knowledge to assist any collector and over the years, we have served as a source of information for many scholars, auction houses and researchers. We represent living photographers as well as prominent estates and present many avant-garde exhibitions each year. We look forward to assisting you with acquisitions of the highest quality and depth.  

How far has photography really come?

Photography as we know it today has been in existence since 1826-1827. Yet many of the earliest examples of the medium seem remote and almost unrecognizable to us as photographs. The tremendous technological advancements of the past century together with the growing accessibility of the medium itself have given modern photography a slickness akin to absolute realism that, more often than not, was lacking in the earliest examples of photographic works.

Despite the rapid technological growth, we have found that the artistic potential of the medium itself has been successfully explored by only a relatively small number of artists over the years. Photography is an art form still very much in its infancy, yet its power as a major medium of the arts remains undisputed. It is the most eclectic and far reaching of all the arts and to the 21th Century audiences, photography must be viewed as the commanding medium of influence of our age.

For the collector, many fine examples of this art form are still available. Indeed, some of the greatest 19th and 20th Century art executed in photography is still accessible and affordable today. There is now a great appreciation of fine photography among private, institutional and corporate collectors alike, an appreciation based on good financial as well as aesthetic sense. Those who have studied the market know it is just the beginning. In attempting to expand or round out their established collections, these institutional, corporate and private collectors are driving market values upward. But the buyer of fine photography must beware. For while the rewards are many, so too are the pitfalls. The experts are few and far between. It is the wise buyer who invests study in the market as well as dollars.

If you're going to invest in fine photography, you should be familiar with the terms.

Photography may share some common ground with many other fine arts, but the field has a language all its own. As a potential collector of fine photography, you should become familiar with some of the terminology particular to the medium.

Methods of Printing: In 1839, Frenchman, L. J. M. Daguerre announced the invention of the first widely used photographic process. The daguerreotype was made without the use of a negative. It was a direct-positive process resulting in a unique image on a silver metal surface that could not be easily reproduced. Almost simultaneously to Daguerre's announcement, William Henry Fox Talbot, an Englishman, announced the invention of a negative positive process which quickly gained precedence. As a result, reproducibility become on of photography's major assets. With the exception of the daguerreotype, most collectable photographs area made from negatives. In the earliest days, negatives were made on light-sensitive paper which was then waxed to make it transparent. By 1851, a method was found to produce a light-sensitive photographic emulsion on glass. This was the famous wet-plate process, in use until the 1880s when a newly discovered dry-plate process became prominent. Various sophisticated modifications of the dry-plate process culminated in the negative processes we are familiar with today. Collectors, however are more often concerned with printing rather than negative processes, for it is the print, itself, which is the collectable object of photography. The most common types of prints the collector is likely to encounter are salt prints, 1840s and 1850s (mostly made from paper negatives); albumen prints, 1850s to early 1900s (mostly made from wet-plate negatives); photogravures, 1880s to 1920s (mechanically made ink prints derived directly from original negatives) and silver gelatin prints, late 1880s to present. Another significant printing process is the platinum/palladium print. In use from about 1885 through 1936, it has been reintroduced by artists today as a highly expressive and emotive printing process. Digital pigment prints (aka archival digital prints), the use of cameras containing arrays of electronic photodetectors which captures imagery focused by a lens opposed to exposing the image on film and first built by Steven Sasson of Eastman Kodak in 1975.

Vintage and Modern Prints: The term “vintage print” usually refers to a print made by the photographer within a few years of the production of the negative. For the purposes of the collector, a vintage print will most often be of greater value than a non-vintage or modern print (a more recent print, perhaps even produced by someone other than the photographer). But the collector should bear in mind that many non-vintage prints are valuable, too, and should not be disregarded solely on the basis of the date of printing.

The photographer’s opinion of a print’s merit is obviously very important, but so too is informed, critical opinion. One should be carefully guided by both, seeking work which is the fullest realization of a particular image.

Limited and Unlimited Editions: Many would-be collector of fine photography often express concern with the issue of unlimited editions of a photograph decreasing the value of their investment. While it is true that photographers have rarely printed what we now call “limited editions,” it is equally true that most photographers (especially early ones) produced the fewest number of prints necessary to meet specific requirements-fewer in most cases than limited editions would have yielded. Many examples of fine 19th and 20th Century photography are therefore rare by definition, limited by the nature of demand, excluding numbered portfolio prints. Some collectable photographs that exist today are unique. In most other cases, images were produced only in numbers of 10 or perhaps 20. Even those images which were produced in numbers approaching 100 examples have suffered the ravages of time, have been lost by deterioration or neglect, or were discarded as unimportant ephemera. Indeed, historians are often astounded that within the estates of many past masters, so few examples of original prints exist as to make the question of limited editions a moot point. Some contemporary photographers have taken note of the concern about edition sizes and met this problem by strictly limiting the number of prints made of a given image, by announcing cut-off dates for printing certain images, or by refusing to print older negatives.

Portfolios: In the past 20 years there has been a tendency for photographers to publish their work in the form of portfolios. These often include those prints which, in the photographer’s eyes, are representative examples of an idea or work spanning a given period of time. For the prospective collector these portfolios can present an attractive proposition in two ways. First, a portfolio allows the collector to obtain a body of a given photographer’s work all at one time; and secondly, a portfolio often offers the added advantage of a lower retail price than would be the case should the collector attempt to purchase the same or similar prints on an individual basis.