The art purchase process contains a paradox – carefully thought out from a financial standpoint, it remains a spontaneous emotional decision based on a very personal preference. But how strongly a certain piece resonates with you as a buyer is not the only thing you should consider. To maintain aesthetic pleasure and a peaceful mind in the long term, here are a few simple recommendations to follow.
The first step is figuring out who produced the work of art – a face-to-face conversation is best, but sometimes a write-up on the internet will suffice. There is a trove of information online nowadays, with many artists setting up personal sites, taking part in published discussions, giving interviews, and maintaining an active presence on social networks. Just a few seconds spent typing keywords into a search field provides you with enough material for preliminary research. Pay close attention to the artist’s education, their past personal and group exhibitions, publications, participation in residency programmes and art fairs. Artists who intentionally keep personal information to themselves are often prized in the art world – an abstraction from authorship makes their art speak for itself. The Signet Bank Art Collection features just such an artist – Dmitry Kawarga, who does not disclose his education, and even a careful search fails to yield a single image of his portrait. A similar strategy is adopted by the Banksy, a prolific street artist who has remained unidentified for an entire generation and is by now a household name.
The Work Itself
Once the author has been researched, it is time for the subject of the transaction itself. Art may be generally grouped into two categories – works that bring aesthetic satisfaction and those that convey conceptual ideas. A study of the artist and their other works should not scare you away with its difficulty of interpretation, or outright incomprehensibility. What matters is that the artist, or a mediator (this would usually be a gallery curator or an art consultant), should be able to describe a work of art and explain the ideas it touches upon. The formal aspects of a piece – the media used, the technical solutions produced – also matter. Many people know that museum pieces are rotated regularly. This usually means that they are taken to the storage for periods of “rest”. Graphical works and drawings may not be exposed to direct sunlight for more than six months, for instance.
Budget is an essential aspect of any purchase decision. It is better if understand what sums are comfortable for you before scoping out an artwork, in order to stay within expected constraints. It may be difficult to predict the ultimate price of a work of art sold at auction – it will often exceed initial expectations. Art purchase transactions also have many “hidden costs” such as insurance, transportation, framing, and commission paid to intermediaries (art galleries and auction houses).
It is useful to know in advance where your purchase will be displayed, and in what way. Art needs to be seen – it may serve as unique interior decoration or a reflection of one’s taste and lifestyle interests. It is always great when the owner of a collection is able to place their assets with a museum or have them exhibited in some way.
Legal aspects are also of extreme importance. There are procedural differences between buying art on the primary and secondary markets. Documentation of authorship should be obtained along with a purchase – this will usually be a certificate issued by a gallery that represents the artist. An author’s rights are maintained for 70 years following death, so awareness of copyright law is paramount. The purchase of a piece of art has been regulated for centuries – copyright is not a modern phenomenon (although it has become more significant than ever with the advent of digitalisation). By way of example, a report from Copenhagen published in the 1936 Jaunākās ziņas newspaper: “The requirement of limiting the rights of purchasers of paintings and statues is particularly unusual and far-reaching. If a work of art is resold later at a higher price, the difference should accrue to the author and not the owner, or a random art trader, as used to be the case. If the artist themselves is deceased, the increase in value is bequeathed to their heirs, or, if no heirs are available, to a cultural foundation.”
The concept of collection is no less important. If a work is being purchased for a given collection, one must understand how, if at all, the new piece should fit with the overall concept. An excellent masterpiece may clash with the rest of your collection. Each piece must resonate with the others, giving a clear message to viewers. Nowadays, collections may be compiled around any sort of statement – be it relevance to the business of a commercial owner, or focus on a specific art form, region or historical period.
If buying artwork seems too complicated, and you are seeking a piece that will serve more as an investment object than a personal acquisition, it is best to consult with professionals in the field, who can research the transaction and develop an offer based on the preferences and capabilities of the prospective buyer.
 “..Māksla par preci” [Art as a Commodity], Jaunākās Ziņas – 1936 – Issue 245.