A Curator’s 3 Tips For Buying Art You Will Always Love

Ben Gocker

Ben Gocker

Have you ever bought artwork that you once loved and then got tired of it later?   Probably it felt like an old beau, one you originally gazed upon with starry eyes, but now are scratching you head screaming why Owning art that you no longer want is a drag similar to a broken romance.

So how do you buy art that will have lasting value and that you will adore for the long haul?  I toured the Armory Art show and Volta Art Fair  with independent art curator Jennifer Klos and she was kind enough to share 3 tips for buying art you will always love.

First some props about Jennifer and why you should listen to her.   Jennifer is an independent art consultant based in Dallas, but she works for clients everywhere and travels the world sourcing great art.  She was a curator at the Oklahoma Museum of Art for 9 years and is a board member of the UK’s Attingham Trust for the study of Country Houses and Collections.  If I could start my life over, I would seek her formal education.  Jennifer holds a  masters from Bard Graduate Center in Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Art History and French, and studied at Christies Art Market Business School and at London’s Inchbald School for Interior Design.  The girl knows her stuff.   You can imagine how thrilled I was to walk the aisles of the NYC’s  Armory Show and Volta Art Fair with her.

Jennifer Klos

Jennifer Klos

Now on to those tips.  Here is what I learned about buying art from Jennifer Klos.

1. Consider the Historical Context for Any Artwork You Buy

Keith Mayerson (detail)

Keith Mayerson (detail)

There should be a back story attached to a piece of art that you are considering purchasing and it’s up to you to ask questions and find out what it is.  Art dealers are there to serve you, and most artists love to discuss their work, so don’t be shy (really that should be another tip!).

All art is eventually evaluated in a historical context. Typically when you discover the background for the art you are considering buying, it will hold lasting appeal for you and you will be a more educated purchaser.  It’s always smart to consider the historical context for a work before buying art. 

Keith Mayerson

Keith Mayerson

For example. Jennifer introduced me to artist Keith Mayerson at the Armory Show.  Keith has recently created a beautiful series of landscapes that celebrate America’s National Parks in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.  He says he was inspired by the great landscape paintings in collection of the Denver Museum of Art  which includes works by Albert Bierstadt and Charles Partridge Adams.   When given that historical nod, it’s easy to understand Mayerson’s muse, but also further appreciate his fresh take on the genre.

2. Focus On the Materials Used to Create the Artwork

Adrian Esparza

Adrian Esparza

In today’s crowded contemporary art world, a creative use of materials can really make an artist and artwork stand out.   Again, it is smart to ask the dealer or artist questions before you buy. Knowing the special steps that an artist used to create a work will give you continued joy when you see it daily.  So buying artwork requires an evaluation of the artist’ s materials.

Adrian Esparza

Adrian Esparza

Jennifer showed me the beautiful artwork of  El Paso artist Adrian Esparza to illustrate a fantastic use of materials.  Adrian wanted to create something new from something old in his culture.  He chose to deconstruct traditional serapes to isolate their threads. Then he weaves the threads to create large scale geometric designs.  The works appeal for their clean lines, bright colors and geometric shapes but take on added meaning when you learn of the fabulous mix of tradition, culture and innovation that go into them.

3. Evaluate an Artist’s Entire Career

Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith

More questions–yup it’s all about research and knowledge.  Before you buy art consider the artist’s career as a whole and find out the answers to these types of queries:

What type of work is the artist known for?  Is this a typical subject matter or something unique? Is this artist starting a new series, or experimenting with new materials?  

 At a minimum, you should look at several of the artist’s other works (online is fine for this purpose) to be sure you enjoy their overall approach and style.  When a piece doesn’t fit in with the artist’s oeuvre, it can indicate a new series of works or experimentation by the artist (outside their normal practice).  You may want to be an early buyer of that work, or wait to do further research by tracking the artist’s next phase of their career. 

This tip came up as I paused to admire a large tapestry by Kiki Smith at the Armory Show. (I am a sucker for beautiful embroidery and textile art.)  But, even though she is a well-known artist,  I was not familiar with Kiki.  Jennifer studied that tapestry with me and pointed out that it stood apart from Kiki’s better known works.   Mmmm, maybe time to press pause for more thoughtful evaluation and also consider other contemporary artists creating large scale tapestries.

Andy Dixon

Andy Dixon

I have bought a lot of artwork in my day.  While I don’t have too many clunkers,  I do know firsthand about a love lost.  With these tips on buying art from Jennifer Klos, my future purchases will be a lot smarter.  I hope your art buying will be smarter too–and if you want help for yourself or one of your design clients, I know a really good art consultant!

Please tell me about your favorite artwork in your home.  I would love to know.

Except for the picture of Jennifer which is from okc.biz, all other photos by Lynn Byrne.

CultureJeremy Richardson