Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Building a Contemporary Art Collection: African American Art

Collecting art can be a most pleasurable pastime. It can be one of the most rewarding, relaxing, and engaging experiences that one can undertake, either as a leisure time pursuit or in a more committed, serious way. The rewards gained from collecting can lead to an increase in the number of social acquaintances and friends of a similar mindset; development of a skill set that broadens and enhances one’s appreciation of the fine arts; offer an opportunity to visit local, national, and international art galleries and museums, art festivals, and art fairs; and provide a form of entertainment.

Don Griffin, Round Midnight, 2015, mixed media collage on paper, 22"x 30". (Baltimore based artist)
Collecting art goes beyond the exercise of buying art and amassing pieces. Let it be particularly understood that my concept of collecting art is not to merely accumulate artworks as a commodity for investment purposes. I am not promoting the now popular trend of collecting art for investment gains. Art has such intrinsic value, and maybe over time, its monetary value may increase, but that is not the driving force to why I encourage collecting art. Nor, am I thinking of art as a purely decorative piece for one’s living or work environment. Art is timeless and can be with you over a lifetime, even as your color scheme and the decorative items in your home change. Art can be beautiful, thought-provoking, and generate conversation with guests. In setting the groundwork for this blog post, I would like to look at collecting in a more committed way, focusing on it as a purposeful, directed commitment to building an art collection. With that in mind and as my guiding principle, building an art collection is a slow process, as the collector defines the scope of his/her collection via some collection development plan, somewhat like curating his/her own personal collection.

I have been approached on numerous occasions, either through personal conversations, emails, or on social media, with questions about collecting art. Because of those questions, I am now taking the time to express some of my thoughts on collecting African American art. Because these thoughts are being expressed in a blog post, they are somewhat skeletal in scope; however, they provide an outline that can be expanded in the future, perhaps into a longer article or series of articles. These personal tips, to varying degrees, should prove useful to the beginning, as well as the seasoned collector.

Create a Budget
Contrary to popular belief, buying art is not a luxury relegated to the super-rich. It is doable at many price points. To avoid frustration and anxiety, create a budget for buying art, and you will certainly find pieces to fit within that budget. I cannot overemphasize the importance of creating a budget. You do not want to become frustrated from what should be a pleasurable pursuit. How much can you comfortably spend on art collecting a year? As a strategy, create a fund for collecting, and set aside an amount each month that might get you to your yearly goal. A good start is to set up a budget before you buy your first piece. You may even want to consider limiting the number of art pieces that you purchase a year until you become comfortable and knowledgeable about the art market. Yes, as a collector, you are a part of the art market, which is a part of the larger art world, inhabited by those who buy and sell, including dealers, collectors, and auction houses.

If you are starting on a limited budget, printmaking and photography are a wonderful way to collect original art because they are available in multiples and are often less expensive. Regardless of the media, when buying art, you are safe as long as you choose artworks that reflect your personal taste and that you love. When selecting and purchasing something that you love, the beauty rarely if ever fades, and you get to engage with and enjoy the work on a daily basis. I like to look at collecting art as a pleasurable pursuit, done with balance and moderation. Following this guideline, it remains a relaxing, enjoyable, and educationally enriching pastime.

Get to Know Your Local Artists 
Find an artist whose work attracts and grabs your attention in some way, then get to know this artist and his work. Engage the artist to understand what
he/she is doing, how he/she does it, and why. As you look for possible artists to collect,
Billy Colbert, Washington, D.C. based artist
be creative
in where you look for their  works, consider such places as art schools, college and university galleries, local galleries, alternative spaces such as public libraries, restaurants, coffee houses, and the like. Seek out local artists talks, attend art openings to talk with the artists, and visit artists’ studios. There is usually an arts section in the local and community newspapers; become familiar with the papers and reading the arts section. Seek the name of local artists through these communication sources. If there is an African American newspaper in you city or region, learn where you may be able to buy or read copies of these papers. If you do not have access to a paper copy of the newspaper, often it may be accessed online. The local or regional African American newspaper will often have reviews and schedules of current art exhibitions on view in the locale it covers. Discovering new artists and getting to know the depth and breadth of their work becomes a fascinating and rewarding experience as you mold the scope of your collection.

Find Out What You Like

Finding out what you like may take time, but be patient in the process. What catches your eye? What moves you? Are there pieces or mediums that attract you? You want to view as much as you can to find out what you like. Before
Claudia Gibson-Hunter, Washington, D.C. based artist in her studio
making even the first purchase, visit a number of galleries; look at the modern and contemporary art exhibitions at local museums; visit galleries and museums when traveling to other cities. One of your richest resources to draw on in the future will be the experience gained from learning about and seeing the work of as many local and contemporary artists first hand.
When visiting an artist’s studio, ask the artist if you can take pictures of the works that you like so you might view them at your convenience. Look at these images and study why you like them. Get to know your local galleries; visit their websites or social media pages to read about the artists they represent; get on their mailing list to be invited to art exhibition openings, artists talks, and other gallery programs. Visit and join your local art museum(s), and if there are local nonprofit art centers, get to know them as well. As you explore and discover the riches in museums, also look into becoming familiar with the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) and identify those member institutions that are focused on the visual arts. All of these previously mentioned venues usually present programs by curators or experienced art collectors on some aspect of collecting. They also afford you an opportunity to engage with other collectors.

As a collector, if your interest expands beyond local artists, the Internet affords you an opportunity to expand and broaden your scope of collecting by visiting galleries across the country. Be patient; keep looking, then look some more, and notice how you react to the work by a specific artist or even a specific piece. Eventually, you will trust your judgment and instinct. 
Claudia Gibson-Hunter, France Admonished, 2014, mixed collage, 30¾" x 29¼" 

Educate Yourself by Accessing Information about Art and Artists 
Read contemporary art books and exhibition catalogues that feature the work of African American artists. Your local book store(s), public library, the local college/university library, or a museum library will have or will be able to get books on African American art/artists for you to read. You may want to seek out and look at books and magazines at these institutions before making a purchase. As time passes, you will find yourself wanting to begin to invest in a small selection of books and magazines that support your area of collecting.

To identify African American artists, seek information from a number of online sources such as: 

These sources are an asset for identifying artists, as well as offering links to the latest articles and books relating to African American artists. Journal and magazine articles provide a wealth of information on art. In addition to the well-known, popular titles, such as ARTnews, Artforum, Art in America, Art Papers, especially become familiar with magazines with a focus on Black artists:   

  • Callaloo: Art and Culture in the African Diaspora (Callaloo Art)

  • Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Ar

  • There are a number of African American culturally centered magazines that may feature the work of an artist in select issues. Become familiar with these titles. 

The following are a few books that you might consider reading:  

  • The Art of Buying Art by Alan Bamberger 

  • The Art of Buying Art: An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art by Paige West 

  • The Value of Art by Michael Findlay 

  • Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas by Halima Taha  

As you become familiar with the literature, you will want to venture into reading art reviews and press releases.

Auction houses are another excellent source for identifying artists, as well as making purchases. Become familiar with the local auction house(s) in your community or region to see if they are having any auctions that may include the works of Black artists. In addition, get on the mailing list or follow Swann
John Kennebrew, Atlanta collector, viewing art at Swann Galleries
(New York). They have an average of two major
African-American Fine Art auctions a year for which they publish catalogues as well as provide online access to the auctions. Another rich source is Invaluable, an online bidding platform that includes fine art auctions, which is the leading provider of data services to auction houses in the US and across Europe. In addition to this service, they have a partnership with premier galleries and dealers, whereby, they process and offer fixed price items. Auction houses, galleries and dealers use Invaluable to deepen relationships with millions of clients around the world, connecting people with the things they love. When visiting these auction sources online, they provide you the capability to execute a keyword search by using African American artists or African American art as a search term.

  Connect with Other Collectors 
I encourage the idea of social networking with other collectors either on a casual basis or more formalized as an organized group. Regardless of the arrangement, the benefits are endless when creating a social camaraderie with another collector or other collectors. Sharing your thoughts and your collection with others, and hearing what other collectors are doing can only strengthen and enhance your experience as a collector. Many friends groups at museums have a specialized group focused on African American art. Seek out examples of such active groups across the country. The Black Art Project has devoted a couple of posts entirely focused on such groups; you may want to look at those groups as a starting point. SEE: Friends Groups; Friends Groups addendum

If not a group, you may simply want to interact with just a small number of individuals on a more personal level. As you visit art programs related to exhibitions, and those specifically geared towards the collector at museums and galleries, you will get to meet individuals with a common interest or who may be interested in works by similar artists.  

Terry Dixon, Will I See You Again, 2010, mixed media, 36"x 48". (Chicago based artist)

 Seek Advice
Buying art is not the first step in the process of collecting. Be informed because you want to feel comfortable as you venture into the art world. When you feel comfortable, then dive into making that first purchase. Periodically reassess your taste and don’t be afraid to experiment. The Internet can be your friend through your growth process; feel comfortable using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media platforms. Continually train the eye. 

Even after making the first purchase or those first few purchases, you will want to seek advice on the following: housing the art (frame, mat, glass, etc.), insurance, estate plans, documentation, etc. This section of the process of collecting, "seeking advice", should be seriously considered after the art has been purchased, and probably warrants a blog post dedicated to what needs to be done after securing your first few pieces of art.    

Enjoy the journey of collecting art by African American artists.  

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