How to build an art collection

Without breaking the bank.

There are few things more intimidating than starting an art collection. What do I know about art, we wail, sure that our taste doesn’t stretch much beyond that Bob Marley poster and the print our ex left behind a few years ago. Yep, it can be hard – not to mention expensive – to start collecting art, and so most of us never do, content to imagine a collection is the preserve of the one per cent.

Yet, collecting art is one of the great joys in life, and surprisingly inexpensive once you know what you are doing. Your collection will change as you do, and as you add new pieces over the years, each one will tell a story of where you were (both physically and emotionally) when you bought it.

So how to get started? Firstly, and crucially, you need to (1) Have a Plan. Yes, planning is important. There’s no point splashing out on a massive ceramic for the sideboard if you share a studio apartment with a party animal. According to Catherine O’Riordan, who runs SO Fine Art Editions in Powerscourt Townhouse, it’s important to trust your taste, and the gallery. “This is where a good gallery plays an integral role in choosing a piece of art. They will look at the space you wish to fill and your decor. Size is important and often clients show me the space via a photograph and specify wall size. Engage with the gallerist and tell them what you like, and a good gallery will present you with works that suit your style and budget. Establish a good relationship with a gallery as some galleries offer a service of bringing artworks to their client on trial.”

According to IMMA’s Head of Collections, Christina Kennedy, prospective collectors shouldn’t rush into anything. “Take a bit of time to figure out where you interests lie, and what gives you a buzz,” she says.


The Devlin Artwork on wall in bedroom

And while size and space is one way of determining what sort of art you should be buying, your taste is another. So it’s key to (2) Trust Your Taste. While you may be new to all this, your particular taste (what you like, what you don’t like) is unique to you, and something that has been built up over the years. Don’t chase trends, as trends pass, and you will end up stuck with a piece of art you don’t particularly like. Art should resonate with you – it should make you feel something, and that feeling is why you buy art in the first place.

“You need to spend time selecting the art you want,” Catherine says. “It is an enjoyable and fun experience. Take your time in building up your collection and I find it more interesting to mix up the mediums; paintings with prints and photographs.” However, if you want to fill your apartment with monochrome photography and nothing else, go right ahead and do it. Choosing what to hang in your own home is a very personal decision, and one you, and you alone, should make.

The Devlin hotel Artwork


Of course, much of what you will buy will be dictated by price, but (and here’s some good news), (3) Price Isn’t Everything. Yes, while we have all seen amazing art in galleries with equally amazing price tags, there is plenty of great art out there that doesn’t break the bank.

“Fine art prints can often be a very affordable way to start a collection,” says Shane O’ Driscoll, an artist based in Cork. “They are generally in a limited edition, so only a restricted number are made. Another option is to attend exhibitions in art colleges, as you can spot upcoming talent and buy work at really good prices – as well as being able to support young artists.”

Catherine also suggests starting off with fine art prints. “A client recently said that it’s an egalitarian process to buy an original limited edition – in other words a shared experience as 30 people own this original print, which goes against the elitist values of the past,” she says. “You can purchase an original limited edition print for as little as €100. A gallery may also offer a payment scheme on an installment basis. They will also advise you what to buy with your budget in mind. Look at galleries that showcase emerging artists like ourselves where you can buy works at an affordable price.”

She also recommends doing the research, which helps you understand if you are getting good value for money. “Buy pieces you love but make sure you are getting value for money,” she adds.

“A good buy often starts with a gallery as they can give you the background to an artist’s career and information on the exhibitions they have been in, along with a history of their career – are they part of collections by the State, such as the OPW or the National Gallery?

IMMA’s Christina Kennedy echoes this. “Most people start with less than €1,000 and many have gone on to become very serious collectors. In terms of what that sort of budget enables, limited edition prints are a great way of developing your knowledge base and are a direct introduction to an artist’s working process. They are also a means of acquiring works by established artists that are otherwise beyond budget.” “It is not about making a big return, but knowing your money is well spent and you can appreciate a good piece is a good place to start,” Catherine adds.

The Devlin Hotel Artwork on Stairwell


(4) Get Involved. While there are countless online galleries where you can order fine prints, it’s preferable to see the art in person before buying, as paper quality and size can vary. “Going to galleries is essential,” says Shane. “At openings you can meet the artists, which is always great as they appreciate meeting the people who buy their work. Seeing work in the flesh is always important,” he adds. This is echoed by David Archibold of Hang Tough Gallery in Portobello. “[In a gallery] you get a physical sense of the work, how it occupies space and how it looks in natural lighting as opposed to studio lighting. You also get a sense of scale and impact of the work. All of these are absent when viewing artworks online.”


Opening nights are a great time to visit galleries: the artists will be there, and will be happy to be approached. “It’s important to attend opening or preview nights,” says Catherine. “A lot of galleries have an option on their website to join their mailing list. You can of course bring a friend and it is an excellent way to introduce you to looking at art in a sociable and enjoyable environment.” And of course, there will be wine. Score.


(5) Find Your Purpose. Ask yourself why you want to start collecting art in the first place. If it’s to showoff to friends, or to make money further down the line,you may be barking up the wrong tree. “[Are you collecting art] to accumulate a collection of your favourite art or is it to acquire artworks which will appreciate in value over time?” asks David.

“People may purchase art purely based on their taste regardless of the future value of the work,” he adds.“Similarly, people may also buy artworks purely to resell them later at an increased value. The trick is to do both, collecting artworks based on taste and keeping an eye out for opportunities to acquire works which will appreciate over time.

”While your own taste is extremely subjective, it will change over time, which is half the fun of collecting. It’s also important to diversify. “Shrewd collecting plans should also consider video art, photography, textile,ceramics, artist’s books, design, architectural plans,the models and maquettes of same, and collections of archival material,” Christina says. “Some wily collectors specialise in oddities: a ceramic here, an etching there – it all makes for a highly original collection.”