On Being an Aspiring Art Collector (on a Tight Budget)

I could never imagine making a car payment of $500/month, but I could easily imagine making art payments of that amount. This was my first thought when I learned about the Collectors Club at Albuquerque’s Tamarind Institute. Since I don’t have the disposable income at the moment, the point is moot. But someday, when the kids are educated and out of the house, I just might give Tamarind a call.

Not long after receiving my first paycheck, I plunked down the incredible sum (to my high school self) of $40 and purchased my first piece of art. It hangs in my laundry room to this day - a cheery acrylic painting on a wooden pallet of a cat sniffing potted red geraniums.

Over the years I have picked up a few more pieces – not for the investment value, but because I wanted to look at them on my walls every day. Sometimes it is an image that I just love; sometimes there is a story or a person behind the image that generates meaning for me.

I’m pretty old school in my sensibilities. Though I appreciate work like Jenny Holzer’s, I have no video works in my collection, just prints and paintings, plus a few ceramic and glass pieces that hang on walls. (Having everything on the walls makes life a bit more relaxed when there are pets and children in the home).

So where does an aspiring art collector with little money go to get art in Albuquerque? I’ve figured out a few strategies.

Bartering can work well if you have a skill that the artist needs. Words are my medium and more than once I’ve managed to trade words for part of the cost of a painting. So far, no one has taken me up on my other, less marketable, skill – teaching philosophy.

Develop a relationship with gallery owners. First Friday Artscrawls are a great way to do this. You'll soon figure out which galleries you like and whether their price range fits your pocketbook. Once you’ve purchased a few items from a gallery, you’ve established a track record. Gallery owners get a feel for your taste and will contact you if they have something that is up your alley and in your price range.

Payment plans! I usually make one major art purchase a year and set aside a small amount each month for this. Sometimes the art I decide to purchase doesn’t come around until autumn; sometimes it comes up earlier in the year. This is when those relationships with gallery owners come in handy. They might even flex a little on a payment plan – giving you five months instead of three, for example.

Go to shows that are not in professional galleries – places like the South Broadway Cultural Center often don’t have the standard mark-up that galleries do.

Get to know local artists. Sometimes they have signed exclusive agreements with galleries that prohibit direct sales to buyers, but sometimes they are able to sell directly to buyers. Some artists are willing to do commissioned work – so ask if you are interested!

Pay attention whenever you are in a physical space connected with art. I picked up an original piece of art by an internationally known artist for a very reasonable price at a local foundation. The artist had donated it to the foundation and it had been on the wall for a while. I just happened upon a little bitty lithograph in a nook and just happened to read the fine print, which included the words, “For Sale”.

An important caveat: there have been many attempts to pass off fake art said to be by famous artists. In most cases, people have been conned because they do not do their homework. I’m no expert, but I do know that at the absolute minimum, if you are buying for investment, you should always ask for the provenance of the art. Sometimes you can verify the provenance by talking to the artist or by doing a little research.

Get clear on your reasons for buying art. I buy art because I love the way it looks or the thoughts it inspires. I’m lucky enough to know a few people who really know fine art, and if I ever get to the point where I can afford to buy museum quality art as an investment, you better believe I’ll be talking to them.

Get to know the local arts calendar. If you like prints (and by prints I mean fine art lithography, not offset printed posters), you simply must check out the UNM Student Print Sale that occurs every December.

Local art auctions can be a great way to score some art. I’ve attended two kinds here in Albuquerque.

Minimum bid silent art auctions usually have an entrance fee and display donated art items with sign up sheets posted next to each item. Once you find something you like, you enter a bid on the sheet. Others can raise the bid, and you can counter their bids (if you can afford to do so). There is usually a set amount of time where people can enter their bids, so figure out a strategy if there are a few items you want to bid on. In some cases the works will be posted on a website so you can get a feel for what you like before the event takes place.

I attended a lottery art auction this weekend at the old Tamarind Institute building. It was my first cultural events outing standing on my partially mended broken ankle, and let me tell you, being on crutches in a jammed-packed space can be nerve-wracking! It also makes it challenging to hold a wine glass or a plate of hors d’ouevres – after an hour, I ducked out. I guess I’m just not ready for prime time yet. But that didn’t stop me from getting my art.

Art auction lotteries begin with a set number of tickets for entrance. The number of tickets matches the number of items that have been donated. Upon entering the event you draw a number, which tells you what order you will make your selection. For example, at this weekend’s auction there were 100 items available; I drew number 28, which meant that 27 people got to choose art before I did.

If you chose your art auctions wisely, you can’t go wrong. Since this was part of the 50th Anniversary celebration for Tamarind Institute, and since I love fine art lithography, I went in knowing that even if my number were 100, I would come out a winner. (Tamarind is well known for its quality.)

Still, I had a strategy. I figured I should have a list of what I would pick if I had a single digit number; and another list of what I would pick if I were in the middle of the pack. So I scoped out the prints online and made a list, then sent this off with two of the artists in the family and asked them to check it out at the preview viewing earlier in the day. (One of them used to curate fine art lithography for a living, so I knew they’d come back with some interesting and useful feedback).

I ended up with my first choice for my ‘middle of the pack’ rankings, and I am quite pleased!

Now I just have to figure out how to frame it and where it goes in my house.

Views: 34

Comment by Kelly Vickers on September 13, 2010 at 12:44pm
This post is awesome! Your list is so thorough I can only think of one other way to acquire art, and that is by hosting shows. Over the years my partner and I have held parties from time to time showcasing the work of an artist we like. If a few pieces sell, the artist usually blesses us with something. BTW, some of our best pieces came from bartering. Thanks!
Comment by Adelita on September 13, 2010 at 4:06pm
I'm lucky to have so many artists in my family and have acquired some amazing pieces from them. I'm also lucky to know some fabulous artists in town who either do payment plans or trade for my jewelry. I've also purchased some really wonderful pieces from non-profit or school silent auctions. It's a great way to get great art at a great price and it also benefits a worthy organization.

Thanks for this piece Barelas Babe. Now everyone - go and by some art!
Comment by Hermes_505 on September 13, 2010 at 4:27pm
Great post, great to bring attention to this subject. And we are truly blessed to have an institution like Tamarind here in town. The new facility is amazing as is the Gallery Director, Arif Khan. If you are ever interested in stopping buy or checking on a piece, give him a call directly. Most accomodating & professional.
Comment by Shelly Smith on September 14, 2010 at 8:35am
Just to clarify - the Tamarind Collectors Club (a great way to start a collection) is $550 for a yearly membership. You'll get an incredible print in November, and year-round get a 20% discount on almost all purchases. It's open to new members right now - but once it hits 100 members, it will be closed.
Comment by Barelas Babe on September 14, 2010 at 10:03am
Thanks for the clarification, Shelly! This is absolutely a great bargain.
Comment by Kevin Paul on September 14, 2010 at 11:34am
This is great, Barelas Babe. Thanks for posting it. While we're giving props to Tamarind, Director Marge Devon has been the guiding force there for a couple of decades.
Comment by Barelas Babe on September 14, 2010 at 12:08pm
Marge is A.W.E.S.O.M.E. Couldn't agree more, Kevin!
Comment by Chroma Studios on September 14, 2010 at 2:16pm
thanks for the GREAT post Barelas Babe! As an artist AND a gallery owner, much thanks and kudos!
Comment by Barelas Babe on September 15, 2010 at 12:58pm
@Polly Anna - one of my very favorite pieces of art in our home is a colored pencil sketch of a house with sunflowers that I purchased at the State Fair in the 1990s! The girl who drew it was 16 at the time, and had plans to go to art school. Hmm..I wonder if she did? I'll have to see if I can find her number. Her parents were so thrilled that someone had bought their daughter's drawing that they contacted the Fair and asked them to pass along a message to call them. We did, and had a lovely phone conversation with the parents, and with the daughter - it is so great when you can be encouraging of a young person's dreams!


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