Breaking Down the Art of Buying Art With Pennylane Shen

Pennylane at the Rajni Perera exhibition at Patel Division Projects.

The Curve is dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.

Looking to open the doors of your home to a new piece of art? This week we turn to worldly curator, educator and artist consultant, Pennylane Shen, to give us her tips on hunting down the next piece of art for your collection, from fun and local open studio events to high-stakes international art fairs.

Beginner: Open Studio Events

Art by Claudine Gevry, in her studio at the Eastside Culture Crawl. Photo by Jodie Ponto.

A fantastic entry point for those interested in owning original art is an open studio event that offers a lot of options not only in terms of sizes and price points but also in terms of a range of aesthetics. Not that everyone looking to buy art won’t have a good idea of what they want, but that uncertainty can be a barrier.

‘I’ll like it when I see it’ is a common phrase I hear.

You know you want something by a local artist, but you just haven’t had enough exposure to be able to know or verbalize what you like. ‘I’ll like it when I see it’ is a common phrase I hear.

Events like the Eastside Culture Crawl (November 19-22, 2020), the North Shore Art Crawl (March 7 & 8, 2020), or West of Main (Exhibition May 21, Art Walk May 30 & 31, 2020) give you a chance to see a bunch of different genres, mediums and techniques in one go. The down side to this is it can also be a bit visually overwhelming (and physically, too, depending on how crowded it is) but the plus side and best part is getting a chance to meet and speak with the artists themselves.

These open studio events usually feature smaller works, limited edition prints, experimental studies—that can be affordable. Think $50 – $500. Also, there’s no pressure, it’s fun to see a little behind the scenes in a welcoming environment where there is a lot to choose from, which again can be important for a first-time buyer.

In terms of mindset, my advice is to approach this kind of event — though it’s lots of fun — with a degree of seriousness. Be respectful of the artists and their work spaces, because unfortunately it can often feel a bit like a zoo, with the artist on display and onlookers trolling for a sweet deal.

Intermediate: Commercial Galleries

Jen Mann exhibition at Gallery Jones.

Galleries most often show and represent established artists whose work can command prices in the thousands. For those relatively new to buying art, this may seem extreme, but given how much time and devotion artists put into honing their craft, it’s generally truly fair.

Just like any retail context galleries offer a healthy variety of genres and subjects, though from gallery to gallery it’s likely you’ll see a preference for certain kinds of work, whether abstract or figurative, photographic or painting, for example. If you know what kind of piece you’re after, you can begin to narrow your search given some familiarity with gallery identity.

The benefits of buying from a gallery are many. You’re dealing with a local and established industry expert aware of art history and contemporary trends. Galleriests have an eye for design and can advise on how best to feature work in your home. More than that, they’ll allow what’s called an on approval service, where you can essentially try out a piece, to see if it works in your space. That magnificent nude might be stunning in the gallery, but out of place hanging in your boudoir.

Expert: Art Fairs

The Bau-Xi Gallery booth at the Toronto International Art Fair.

Art fairs feature gallery-represented artists whose reputation, growth, and thus value is such that they have garnered international attention. Some of the major fairs include Toronto International Art Fair (October 29 – November 1, 2020), Canada’s only such major art event of its kind.

How it works is galleries globally apply to attend in what is a highly competitive and expensive process. Their goal is to garner more attention and thus attract new buyers. As a result, if accepted and because booth wall space is limited, they usually choose to feature their top artists.

The benefit of attending such a high-profile event is that by meeting and discussing your preferences and goals directly with gallery curators, you will be in a much better position to acquire not only world-class art, but world-class art truly meant for you. There are also smaller, more niche fairs like Papier, held in Montreal, which features work on paper and paper-based pieces. As noted earlier, generally at art fairs you’re dealing with artists well beyond the emerging stage, and thus the reason to attend as you become more serious about owning art. But at something like The Other Art Fair in major cities such as LA, Brooklyn, Chicago and Toronto, you’ll find emerging artists participating. Like buying at galleries, then, it’s best to go in with some sense of what you might like to find.

Extra Credit: Private Studio Visit

Studio visit with artist Crissy Arseneau at #204-1000 Parker St.

If there’s an artist whose work or process you’re interested in, a studio visit is well worth arranging. Reach out to the artist directly and let them know you’re keen to discuss their work and to learn more about their process as well as their inspiration or story, with hopefully the intention to purchase a work. Perhaps bring along a friend or two who is also interested in beginning a collection.

In this situation, the privacy, casual atmosphere and personal attention can make the buying experience very enjoyable, so that there’s a more profound connection made between the collector, artist and the work they buy.

There are 3 comments

  1. Pennylane,
    Loved your explanation of various art venues for collectors to find art suitable for their budget and reasons for purchasing art. I love when collectors pay a visit to my studio. That way I can give them my total attention, and show them my process.

  2. Nice summary! The Seattle Art Fair is also a good target for folks in Vancouver

  3. Great read , thanks Penny I love participating in the art crawls and love when clients visit my studio, it’s personal and you can really zero in on the clients vision.

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