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The Great Wall: How to Buy Art Like a Grown-Up

Published Mar 17 2018 by Elle Canada

Follow your instincts. Turns out you were onto something when you hung that The Starry Night poster in your dorm room first year. Replicas of famous works are a great starting point — they’re familiar and pleasing to the eye. (Duh, that’s why they’re classics.) And even though some art snobs might shudder, there’s nothing wrong with buying a poster of your favourite work, framing it and hanging it in your apartment. “If it pleases you, you should have it,” says Deborah Carver, director of Studio 21 Fine Art gallery in Halifax. “You know what it is, and you know that it’s a reproduction. But really think about moving toward the idea of buying art that is made from the hand of the artist—that they touched and actually made.”

Get thee to an exhibition. “To know what movies you like, you go to the movies. To know what literature you’re interested in, you have to read a lot,” says Gaëtane Verna, director of the Power Plant gallery in Toronto. “It’s the same with art — you need to get out there.” Beyond the roster of museums you visited on grade-school field trips (which are a great way to determine whether your tastes lean toward abstract or landscape or illus­tration or photography — not so much to determine what you can afford), there are tons of options, from studio tours to art fairs to rotating exhib­itions. Commercial galleries offer plenty of inspir­ation because all the art has been vetted, so you don’t need to decide whether or not it’s good, only if you like it. And if you can’t afford a Basquiat, you can always try to discover the next Basquiat at art-school student exhibitions, which usually take place at the end of a semester or school year. Shortcut: The e-commerce site Tappan scouts up-and-coming artists and sells their works online. Think of it as Net-a-Porter for your walls.

Ask questions like you’re speed-dating. “Too often people think that they’re going to understand a work just by seeing it, and that’s the biggest barrier,” says Verna, who stresses that you should ask gallerists about everything from the artist’s bio to their painting techniques to the cultural context of the piece. And try not to get sucked in by the hype of a buzzy artist — if your vibe is culottes and Supergas, you wouldn’t buy the Saint Laurent yeti boots from spring 2018, even if they do look fab on Rihanna. “When you look at art, there are things that talk to you…there [has to be] something about that artwork that clicks with you,” says Carver. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be something that makes you feel good. I really like art that is a bit unsettling.”

Payment Plan. If an artist is represented by a gallery, purchase the piece through it. Our experts were split on whether or not you should try to negotiate the price. Our conclusion: yea if you are a steady client or buying more than one piece; nay if you’re just hoping for a deal. Also, if you like a work that’s beyond your budget, most galleries and artists will accept instalment payments. If only Gucci did the same.

Mix and match. If your home is full of contemporary art and you throw in a Monet (goals), or you love illustrations but just bought a quirky photograph, or even if the vibe of your pad is Marie Kondo minimalist but you’re obsessed with baroque art, it all works. Remember: “All these things can live side by side, and the reason they can is you chose them, so it’s all being filtered through your brain and your aesthetic,” says Carver. How you frame and hang your collection is also up to you. A gallery rule of thumb is to hang works slightly below eye level—it feels super-low but ensures that you can take in every detail of the painting. And if you’re placing several works of art in a row, line them up in the middle.

This article was first published in the February 2018 issue of ELLE Canada. 


Studio 21