Tuesday Tips: Buying Art

I have a long set of 14 stairs in my house that would be so much more exciting if there was something interesting to look at as I make my way from bedrooms down to living and dining rooms. A little artwork would do the trick. But what a pinch to the pocketbook! So I asked some local galleries, "How do you buy art?" I even got them to offer some advice for those of us on a budget. Here are their tips:

Tip #1: Look for something you love rather than just something to decorate your home or office. Once you've fallen in love, then you can think about how it will fit in your home -- wall space, furniture, decor. Think about if it's going in a high-traffic area with lots of sunlight. If so, get it framed with glass that has a UV coating.

Tip #2: Consider starting a collection of a certain type of art such as landscapes or animal scenes. Pick a room in your home to showcase the collection, much like a museum exhibit. "Sometimes people collect in a thematic way," says Kathleen Ewing, owner of Kathleen Ewing Gallery, a Washington gallery that specializes in photography. "It really has to do with where your passion takes you."

Tip #3: Learn about art, local artists and your personal taste for art by visiting galleries and local museums in the Washington area. You can also explore the Internet for what galleries have around the world. Artnet and Artline are sites that let you see galleries' inventories. Once you figure out what you want, some local galleries will help you track down a specific type of art if they don't have it.

Tip #4: If you're on a budget (and who isn't these days), consider going for prints. They can be a significant reduction in price from the original and they look nearly as good. Photographs are also more economical than paintings and other types of art. "We have photos here by well-established artists but they keep their prices down because they like to get their work out there," Ewing says. "Things start at $500 to $600, which is still affordable for the young buyer." And consider going to some of the local art schools at the end of the school year. They often have exhibits of their students' artwork and the students are anxious to sell it for cheap.

Tip #5: Make sure you really love what you're buying. Most galleries don't have established return policies but they'll work with you if it's truly something you can't live with. You may end up having to exchange it rather than getting a refund.

Tip #6: Don't buy art as an investment. The art world is too unpredictable and certain art doesn't necessarily guarantee a return later down the road if you try to re-sell it. "What's trendy and hot now could be dead five years from now," Ewing says.

Tip #7: Always ask a gallery if they have anything else to sell aside from what they have exhibited. Many will have additional pieces tucked away that don't fit with what's on display. "We always have things in our inventory that aren't related to what's in the exhibit," says Jessica Naresh, director of visual communications at Hemphill, a Washington gallery.

Tip #8: When buying a photograph or a print, ask what number it is in the edition. It'll be an important fact if you ever want to re-sell the art, Naresh adds. Plus it's kinda cool to know if you have the first or last one in the edition.

What have you learned from buying art? Where are the best places to buy art? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  March 4, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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If you find something you think you like, don't wait on it too long. . .I still think about two paintings that I waited on for too long - and it wasn't price. Oh - I wish I had those paintings!

I try to buy a piece of original work from every place I have lived - it is sort of a tribute to those places and a reminder, I guess, of where I have been. It doesn't have to be expensive - just original.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 4, 2008 7:40 AM

I have an extensive collection and have one rule. I buy what I can't live without. If I keep thinking about something, if it doesn't leave my consciousness, then I buy it. It doesn't matter whether it will "fit" in the house, I change the house to fit the art.

Posted by: Chalco | March 4, 2008 8:37 AM

For whatever reason, I've always had luck finding affordable art on the West Coast - the East Coast is just ridiculously overpriced.

Usually I've found great pieces in Artist Co-ops in places like Seattle and Monterrey - places where the artists rent wall space to show their work and the commission to the gallery is minimal. The paintings in these places are unique (not like the things you could buy as a print in a store) and relatively inexpensive (I found two 24x30" paintings for $400 - $200 each - and another big painting for $300 in a different place). Does anyone know if there are any Co-ops in the DC area?

Another place to look for art is at Flea Markets - there are lots of hidden gems there that simply need an updated frame or a little cleaning to be a great addition.

Finally, don't overlook friends and family with talent. The painting that gets the most attention in my house is one that my brother did in high school that I framed and put in the foyer. Plus, it's a great way to give a compliment!

Posted by: SEF | March 4, 2008 9:57 AM

Are there any Art Schools in the DC (or Baltimore) area where students sell their work? When I lived in Portland this was the source of all my original art - some of which was quite good!

Posted by: Erica | March 4, 2008 10:51 AM

How about buying art directly from the artist? Galleries usually mark up the artist's work 100%. Art websites such as myartspace.com are great. There are zillions of these websites out there.

Posted by: george | March 4, 2008 11:37 AM

Many galleries do not require you to purchase art in a single payment. That is one way to avoid the frustration of commenter number 1 without distorting your budget.

Posted by: Mike Licht | March 4, 2008 3:10 PM

Try eBay for art. I've had some good luck there. You have to wade through a lot of ick before you get to the gold, but the gold is worth it.

Posted by: Tara | March 4, 2008 3:36 PM

One of my favorite places is the Torpedo Factory in Old Towne Alexandria. They have a beautiful gallery with a new exhibit every other week. They also have bins full of beautiful paintings done by the students at great prices.

Posted by: Abuela | March 4, 2008 4:03 PM

SEF -- Artomatic is a local artist's group that does a big multimedia arts event. Use to be every two years, but I think they're trying to do it every year now. It's non-juried so you get a broader spectrum of artists than just those who have made it into galleries.

Posted by: Amy | March 4, 2008 5:28 PM

One option is World Stock, which has tons of silk paintings, glass sculptures, 3 dimensional wall art etc. and it's based on the fair trade principles: http://gateauxfab.blogspot.com/2008/02/globetrekker.html

Posted by: Slightly cheaper source | March 4, 2008 8:26 PM


Posted by: LINEN TABLE CLOTH | March 5, 2008 2:08 PM

A great place to buy art is at The Art League in Old Town Alexandria, VA. It is in the Torpedo Factory on the first floor (near the real torpedo in the hallway) They are a non-profit association of member artists, with a large gallery space. They have new, juried shows (jurists are from area museums and universities) every month and have solo artist show going on simultaneously in adjacent gallery space. The style and media of artwork varies from painting to collage to photography to sculpture and the prices are varied as well. (but are very reasonable for original artwork) There is also an area where you can purchase prints which are less expensive. Check out their website at theartleague.org and click on "gallery" , "awards images" to get examples from past shows. Keep in mind that the colors on the website images are not necessarily the same or as good as the originals. Happy hunting!

Posted by: Nancy | March 6, 2008 4:14 PM

linen table cloth has the lowest prices on the web...


Posted by: linentablecloth | March 11, 2008 3:17 AM

Yes, there are several coop galleries in DC. I like the Studio Gallery in Dupont Circle, R Street. They have a great show up there this month. The prices are good because the gallery takes a smaller cut; and the work is very professional.

Posted by: Carol | March 13, 2008 10:46 PM

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