How to collect art on a budget

Affordable art fairs offer collectors the opportunity to invest in pieces that won't break the bank. But how to spot a gem amidst those more general works that are unlikely to rise in value?

Here's how to get ahead of the game, and the crowds, and find something first rate that you'll enjoy owning (and possibly selling for a profit).

Art is a fantastic investment area and an increasingly global market, with India, China, Russia and the Middle East growing in prominence. The leading investment grade artists, such as Andy Warhol, command substantial prices, placing them out of the reach of the majority of collectors. However, there are numerous prize opportunities for collectors with £50 ($75) to £5,000 ($7,556) at their disposal to pick up pieces that have the potential to increase in value over time.

However, emphasis needs to be placed on the word "potential" here. It is the rarest, most sought-after pieces - those that inhabit the top end of the art sector - that have the most suitors, and are most likely to appreciate significantly in value.

Further down the ladder, appreciation is generally less impressive, unless you are fortunate, or knowledgeable enough to buy an artist who suddenly becomes "hot".

Firstly, and as with almost any purchase, it is necessary to clarify what you are looking for and what you are willing to spend. An art for art's sake attitude is likely to lead to impractical purchases and overspending. Do you want a landscape? A sculpture? An abstract work or a pen and ink sketch? What is your budget? Once you have the basics in place, you will be in a much better position to make a purchase.  

Benefit auctions are a great place to begin your hunt for an affordable art investment. Amy Goldrich, a New York attorney who specialises in art law, and the author of the Luxist guide to collecting art on a budget, argues: "Benefits, where artists have typically donated their work, tend to show art you wouldn't see, because they're not so heavily curated."

Such contexts also provide excellent opportunities to meet and develop relationships with up and coming artists, who are likely to tell you what they are working on and where they are planning to next show their work. Buying direct from an artist whose work you enjoy, and with whom you have a relationship, often allows for greater wriggle-room in terms of price. You may also wish to commission a piece, ensuring that your investment is personal to you.

Works by emerging artists are naturally cheaper than works by more established artists. However, affordable works by highly regarded artists can be found if you know where to look.

Signed, limited edition prints by British pop artist Peter Blake, for example, are within reach of the general collector, despite his canvases regularly selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Authenticity is a key concern and investments should only ever be made through a reputable dealer.

Slightly adjacent to investing in art is investing in items associated with a particular artist's career. Picasso's Golden Muse sold for $44.7m at Sotheby's in February, yet a postcard written by the artist, complete with a fetching doodle of a bull sold for just £1,800 ($2,700) at Sotheby's in December 2003. These items are likely to retain their value as they are associated with such eminent names; while a large collector base guarantees swift resale should you chose to part with your collection.

But perhaps the best advice I can give any aspiring art investor is to buy art because you love it. Art possesses a priceless beauty - so get out there and enjoy it.

Paul Fraser. 

PS. Click here to take a look at all my art memorabilia for sale.

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