Everything you need to know about collecting art

When is the last time that you drove past a gallery and saw work that you were interested in but felt uncomfortable about popping in? Or that after building up the courage to wander in, that you had so many questions you felt that you couldn’t ask? 

Kholisa Thomas has come up with a very practical and entertaining solution. It’s been two years since she left a job in corporate to pursue her passion in art. She’s started The Art Talks in order to bridge that gap (where galleries feel intimidating for novices) by bringing the two important groups together in a social, relaxed way – the artist and the emerging collector or appreciator. 

These talks take place in the artist’s studio or in a space in Joburg and she gets food, drinks and music sponsors to create an inviting, approachable environment to talk about art.

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She’s become good friends with Liza Essers who’s been running Goodman Gallery for almost ten years and recently they held a very informative talk called ‘The Art of Collecting’ at the contemporary art space in Rosebank established in 1966. This is what they shared:

1. Why is art considered an investment?

‘The art world is a $45 billion dollar a year market that in the last year has gone up 1.7% from the previous year. 75% of that comes from the US, the UK and China.

Most reports confirm that it’s stable and resilient with very solid growth and 60% of sales (a fantastic shift) are coming from the primary market, which means through galleries as opposed to the secondary market, which is mainly from auction houses. 

Art actually outperformed the markets when you look at the Mei Moses Fine Art Index and the S & P 500, which shows it’s a really important alternative asset class.’ Basically you can invest in art like you would fine wines or vintage cars or stocks and bonds.

The more you spend time at exhibitions, the more you’ll be able to train your eye

2. Where should you start?

‘New collectors should go to galleries and not auction houses for their first purchases. There’s a perception that that’s where one is going to get a good deal.

Ultimately, you get better and more transparent prices from the primary market (galleries).’ 

Liza Essers outside Goodman Gallery

3. Who and what should you buy?

‘The more you spend time at exhibitions, the more you’ll be able to train your eye to know the difference between what’s a good work and what the essence of an artist is which makes particular works by an artist more valuable than their other work.

It’s easier though to tell with a blue chip artist than with emerging artists.’

JUNE/JULY By Isaac Zavale and Minenkulu Ngoyi open till 2 today. Come say hi #contemporaryart #braamfontein #kalashnikovvgallery

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4. What makes an artist or an artwork valuable?

‘What lands up underpinning the value of an artist and makes an artist become art history is that that artist has been collected by one or more major museums around the world is collected by prominent private collections - like the Rubell Family Collection. 

Ask whether they have been exhibited in important galleries and museums and shows. If they’ve been chosen for Documenta, (which happens every 5 years and where curators search for the important artists).

It’s where the whole art world goes to test the temperature of what the global discourse is. Have they participated in biennales? Those are good indicators.’

5. Why buy now?

‘Africa is the next market that is growing, where there’s a massive interest in contemporary art and buying art. African contemporary art is finally being recognised. For example the Tate recognised there was a huge gap in their collection and that art history has primarily been written from a Western perspective and collections need to be readdressed to include other perspectives.

They started an African acquisitions committee about five years ago to make a conscious dedicated effort to filling in the gaps. That’s happening more and more with all the big museums – the Guggenheim, MOMA – it’s a global trend and lots of auction houses are starting to have dedicated African sales.

This was never the case up until three years ago. Aspire Art auction house opened here last year, this year Sotheby’s London dedicated an entire sale to Africa.’  

6. What advantage do we have on the continent?

‘The real opportunity for SA and African collectors is that there’s a real arbitrage opportunity – we are able to buy the works cheaply here. That gap is going to start closing in the next two to three years.

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African art is hot right now – we have our first major museum of contemporary art on the continent, the Zeitz Mocca opening in September. There are independent collectors opening spaces as we speak.

Big names in the art world like Wendy Fisher opening A4 and Gordon Schachat opening up a space here in Johannesburg speak volumes. Demand is increasing with international museums wanting to expand their collections and being more inclusive of African perspectives.’

7. How are prices set?

‘Gallerists don’t change the price of their artists’ works base on auctions. These are factors

  • Supply and demand
  • Scarcity of work, provenance – where has the artist’s work been exhibited and has their work been catalogued in museums for a particular show
  • Condition of the work – must be framed by someone reputable and knowledgeable so they don’t mess up the paper and render the work worthless
  • An authenticity certificate
  • The longevity of the artist – a body of work that pushes boundaries and ongoing ability to produce, critics write about their work, representation by a top gallery.’
Don’t just buy solely for investment sake

8. What if I want to collect but can’t do it on my own?

‘Fractional ownerships and syndicates can be a solution but it’s important to find a small group of people that you share a passion with.

As soon as it’s gets too big, it doesn’t really work and art funds don’t work because of FSB regulations and because the art world is illiquid. Define the raison d’etre upfront – you don’t want people pulling in different directions.’

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9. Armed with all this knowledge, how do you make a final decision about a work?

‘You should like the work you’re purchasing and not to match the décor in your home. Buy for passion – you need to respond to it emotionally because it shifts your thinking. It’s a journey – your collection will reflect that. Don’t just buy solely for investment sake.’

Kholisa adds that our contemporary art is our history – it goes beyond being a beautiful work. Remember that you 'only become a serious collector when you buy a work and realise you have no more space left on your walls.’


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