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How to collect
Frieze is the biggest art fair in Britain, showcasing thousands of artists from all over the planet, from big hitters Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas to newcomers from Lahore to Berlin. For four days, this tent in Regent's Park is the place to see - and to buy - cutting-edge art. Collecting expert Louisa Buck gives her do's and don'ts for all budgets; while, below, buyers reveal how they got the bug

The Guardian, Thursday 12 October 2006

Love the work, not its value ... a visitor at the Frieze Art Fair. Photograph: Linda Nylind Contemporary art has never enjoyed such a high profile in the UK. Anyone who wants to think of themselves as remotely on the cultural radar now needs to be as informed about the art world as they are about books, films or music. Nor is it a matter of simply knowing about art; more and more people want to own a piece of it. Along with the good-looking sofa and the elegant side lamp, there needs to be something interesting on the walls - and a framed poster of Van Gogh's Sunflowers doesn't cut it. But while the art market enjoys a purple patch, for the majority of us, its workings remain a mystery. The art boom has, if anything, made things even more confusing. Which of the thousands of galleries do you go to? What kind of art do you go for? And how will you know if it's any good? Wherever you start, buying art seems indelibly associated with scary white spaces, snooty black-suited gallery assistants and obscure jargon. But it doesn't have to be that way. While the contemporary art business is one of the last unregulated markets, and as such has its pitfalls, if you follow a few basic rules, even those on a very small budget can embark upon collecting contemporary art and find the process highly enjoyable - even addictive. Look, look, look

Go to as many galleries as you can bear - and look, look, look. You wouldn't buy a car or designer suit without having narrowed down your choices, looked at what else was on offer, and checked all the available sources. Buying art is a specialist activity and it is important to do research. Look at new art, but don't shy away from the older stuff: while you don't need a degree in art history, knowing a bit won't hurt. It is not enough to declare: "I know what I like." Good collectors know why they know what they like, and the best can put this into words. Don't forget that most art dealers are in it for a love of the art itself. Even the most aloof will respond to a fellow art lover; many were once artists themselves. Find your inner squirrel Many of today's leading collectors were serial hoarders before they turned their attention to art. Charles Saatchi collected Superman comics and jukeboxes, while Manchester collector Frank Cohen, the "Saatchi of the North", had one of the biggest collections of cigarette packets in the country by the age of 11. If you already have what Miami-based collector Mera Rubell calls "the collecting gene", then you are on your way. Remember the Vogels One of America's most important art collections was built up in the 60s by Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, a postal clerk and a librarian, who filled their one-bedroom flat with 2,500 small works by some of the 20th century's biggest names: Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt. Now it's all in the Washington National Gallery of Art. The secret of the Vogels' success was knowing that, whatever your budget, you need to go after the very best. Art is a luxury, but it doesn't have to be punishingly expensive. A good collector is not necessarily a big collector. You can start small; it's the eye and the passion that count. Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and the Chapman brothers often produce "diffusion lines" of prints, or limited editions. A more adventurous strategy is to seek out younger or less well-known figures: you might find a future major work, and feel the warm glow of having given an artist crucial support before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Damien Hirst is very loyal to his early collectors. The shunned and the sought-after How do you know what's good and what's not? Although many contemporary artists still paint, sculpt and draw, the more traditional standards of beauty and skill no longer necessarily apply. For example, the Scottish painter Jack Vettriano, he of the dancing couples and greetings cards, might be Britain's "most popular" artist, but he is largely shunned by the art world. The canvases of Peter Doig, on the other hand, which also feature enigmatic figures in landscapes and command awesome prices, are frantically sought after by collectors and galleries. What makes Doig more desirable? The fact that he paints to explore what painting can be made to say and do, and because his works have no single easy reading. In my view, Vettriano goes

little further than the illustration of a scene and the evocation of a mood. One is intellectually challenging and unsettling, while the other is catchy and commercial. It is therefore important to park your preconceptions and prejudices. Focus on what each artist is trying to communicate. Eyes open, ears shut It's an art-world cliche that collectors should buy with their eyes, not their ears. The most fashionable art is not necessarily the best, so ignore the hype. Use your judgment. Worry about the art, not the noise surrounding it, which often just serves to inflate prices. Get web-wise Galleries represent many artists, and what's on their walls is only a fraction of what is for sale. Most good galleries and artists have websites that give a fuller picture. Art should not be bought by jpeg, but the internet is handy for research. The more research you do on a gallery or artist, the more fruitful the eventual encounter. So, any chance of a discount? The pricing of works can seem mysterious. Many dealers like to keep it this way, as it gives them room to manoeuvre. It's best to be straightforward when asking how much something costs. The issue of discounts is delicate: there is a fine line between negotiation and haggling. Many dealers believe a discount should be offered rather than requested, and then only when a relationship has been established. Love the work, not its value While a booming market means there are profits to be made, people who buy art to make money are frowned on. The art world has finely tuned antennae when it comes to those who put financial considerations before genuine enthusiasm. Even the most hard-nosed dealer resents seeing art appreciated only in terms of its value; and artists hate it when their works are sold on like commodities. Buy it because you love it. If its value grows, that's just a bonus. Explore all outlets Big fairs such as Frieze can seem daunting, and the art may not look its best crammed into booths - but it is a great opportunity to see what's on offer. It's also a chance to talk to dealers, who are normally hidden in back rooms. Don't do this in the frenzied first days of a fair when everyone is trying to snare the big collectors. Smaller fairs are also useful for scouting up-andcoming artists. Auction houses are more straightforward and unashamedly commercial than art dealers: the highest bidder gets the prize. This means it's also less personal than establishing a relationship

with a gallery, the quality of work can be mixed, and emerging artists are seldom sold. Be aware that there is a buyers' premium of around 20% of the hammer price on every lot. Art school degree shows are a good way to scout new talent. Prices are much lower, but it's a bigger gamble as there's no way of knowing that these artists will continue to be artists. Buying art off the web can be risky. Stories abound of woodcuts that turned out to be photocopies, or works that looked small turning out to be billboard-sized. Some websites produce specially commissioned projects; others function almost as art supermarkets. There is no substitute for seeing the real thing and meeting a dealer or auction house expert face to face. Bouncing balls and Perry pots David Teiger still winces when he recalls how his three-year-old daughter coloured in the Andy Warhol he bought from the artist's first exhibition. Another collector, Agnes Gund, found that her cats had used a Mary Frank sculpture as a litter tray. And writing a book about how to buy art doesn't exempt you from disaster: a Grayson Perry pot I kept on my mantelpiece recently fell victim to two bored teenagers bouncing a ball. (It's been stuck back together, but will always bear the scars of its ordeal.) So, once you've got your masterpiece home, it needs looking after. This doesn't mean turning your home into a museum, but there are a few basic, common-sense rules: don't hang photographs or works on paper in too much direct light; and keep pretty much all art except lumps of stone away from anything damp. And remember: the two greatest enemies of art in the home are animals and children. Frieze Art Fair, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, is at Regent's Park, London, October 12-15. The Guardian is media partner. Tickets 0870 890 0514 and More info at Louisa Buck is the author, with Judith Greer, of Owning Art: The Contemporary Art Collector's Handbook, published by Cultureshock Media, 14.95. Isabella Macpherson, 33, arts programmer I started buying because it was too difficult not to. When I was the publisher of ArtReview, almost every night was spent going to private views across town. It was quite daunting at first. Some stuff I bought in the beginning I couldn't look at now. I first saw Fiona Rae's work on the wall of Broadcasting House. It was one of a series of enormous temporary installations - it must have been 100ft high, and I had to walk past it every day. The psychedelic symbols, gashes of paint, the Vegas-style flaming letters in her work really caught my attention. These two sketches were bought at Frieze in 2003. I feel as if I could look at them over and over without getting bored. I could be looking at graffiti, or the stars, the end of a firework display or a mashed-up page in a comic book.

I buy infrequently but quickly, and I get the most tremendous rush out of it. I've got a Damien Hirst: I bought it years ago, at a really fuddy-duddy auction with much older people. It came up at the end, and no one seemed to be paying attention. I got it for less than 4,000. Immediately afterwards, I was offered a big price, but I turned it down. I suppose you'd call it a pill painting, incredibly simple and monochrome and cheeky. You should buy what you like - budget permitting - but ask questions, and educate your eye. Explore before you buy, and get to know the artist if you can. When you feel sick at the thought of not having something, that's when you go for it. The most I've spent in one go is 5,000. I suppose other girls would spend it on clothes, but I don't get that thrill with anything else. Perhaps boyfriends. I wonder if I could find a work of art to match my fiance? David Richardson, 61, retired railway personnel manager We've got two landscapes by Sue Lawson. They're views of Yorkshire, but very abstract. They have a brooding presence. We know the locations she paints, because we go walking in those areas. The size of the sky, the wildness and emptiness - she really brings them home. If I look out of my window now, the sky looks grey and listless, but Sue makes it compelling. If I had to describe her pictures in a single word, it would be "desolate". They don't raise your spirits, but they are as it is. It's difficult to describe just how hard they hit us. My wife Gill and I saw her pictures at an exhibition and we were immediately taken, but we couldn't afford to buy anything. They were quite expensive, and this was nine years ago. Because we liked them so much, we decided to get in touch with Sue, and we've become quite friendly. We ended up paying about 400 for each picture. They must be worth up to 2,000 in galleries by now. The paintings never have any figures in them. If they did, we probably wouldn't like them as much. We're loners - we both enjoy our own company, and I think Sue feels the same. She's a very intense sort of person and loves being out in the countryside. Getting to know her has made us appreciate the paintings; I don't think they would mean as much if we had just walked into a gallery and put down our money. They're part of the furniture now. If we took them away, a piece of our house would disappear. Duro Olowu, 41, fashion designer I tend to spent a lot on things I consider beautiful. I bought my first picture, by an American artist called James Brown, about 12 months ago. It was my first major purchase, and it cost something like 4,000. I couldn't bear the thought of not being able to look at it every morning. For a while, I was trying to collect contemporary work by black artists. Obviously, there are people like Chris Ofili and Steve McQueen, but the size of those works, and their price, put them out of my range. Then, at a Vogue party, I met a gallerist called Thomas Dane. He introduced me to the work of Hurvin Anderson, and now I have two of his small acrylic-on-paper paintings. One of them came from Hurvin's private collection, and they said it wasn't for sale. But I pleaded and pleaded with them to ask him, and he agreed.

I've caught the collecting bug now. I look on the work I've bought as an aesthetic investment. I can't afford to buy fast cars or Rolex watches, and in any case those things don't appeal to me. What I look for is something that makes me weak at the knees. I like art that is strong, not just sensationalist, but something that is familiar for no apparent reason. I have to look at it every day. The little time I have to myself, I sit in my living room and look at my pictures. You know when you're a kid, you put up posters in your room? Well, these are my posters. My collecting tip would be to seek out the small but high-end galleries, because you don't see everything at the exhibitions. You need to make it more personal. Also, don't buy immediately. Go home and work it out. If you feel you can walk away from it, then it's not for you. Matthew Swynnerton, 32, solicitor I used to live in a big house, and I started collecting because I needed something to put on the walls. I went to student shows, buying and commissioning bits and pieces. My next step was buying editions, which is an affordable way of owning work by more recognisable artists. I've got a few editions by well-known names like Sam Taylor-Wood, the Chapman brothers, Patrick Caulfield, Bridget Riley, Helen Chadwick and Gillian Wearing. I've got two Tracey Emin editions and a Gary Hume. Some extremely accessible and unpretentious companies sell editions online, like Counter Editions in Shoreditch. Editions can be quite cheap. They will normally start at around 300, and as they run out they become more and more expensive. So if you get in early, you can own something reasonably unique for not much money. Edition-buying is the gateway, but buying originals is trickier and I'm really just starting out. Fairs like Artfutures run by the Contemporary Art Society are good for originals if you find galleries intimidating. It can be expensive, but it's also very addictive. I got lucky with my Stella Vine; I got it at about the time she was bought by Saatchi. It's a picture of Jackie Onassis riding a horse. I did a little research before I bought it; the internet has made this a lot easier, but my starting point is always loving the piece. I've no idea how much it's worth now. I should probably have it valued, just for insurance purposes. I go through phases of buying art, and then it falls away and something else will take over. I'm not out every weekend buying art in the way that some people would go clothes shopping, and I don't think there's any theme to what I buy. A few of them are pretty unsettling, I suppose. I've a couple of paintings by a new artist called Michael Ajerman in this vein and the Chapman etching is typically grotesque. It's in my office now, scaring colleagues. James Lindon, 26, gallery sales director I should 'fess up and say I'm not a genuine collector. I'm a gallerist, but I have a private, amateurish, very, very modest collection. I've got two flatmates and they're often shocked by the things I bring home to inflict upon them.

These pictures were painted by Lali Chetwynd as part of an ongoing series called Bat Opera. They are redolent of 18th-century portraiture, but featuring giant bats and bat swarms. They're supertheatrical, kind of Wagner meets Meat Loaf. I've known Lali for a number of years, but her paintings are almost impossible to get hold of, because she only makes about eight canvases a year. I had to literally beg her dealer in Germany for five days running before she surrendered these to me. I spend all my spare money on art. My funds are limited, so I need to get in early. I bought my first piece, a William Kentridge print, when I was 17. He didn't have the international profile that he has now. It was a piggy-bank-raiding affair. At the moment, I'm saving up for an Ian Hamilton Finlay - I want one of his neon pieces from the 1970s. They're still just about affordable. It would probably cost me about 20,000. I think I've made a profit overall. There are obviously artists you can speculate on, but my collection isn't about that. It's a private thing for me. They're pieces I live with that feed my life. Interviews by Paul Arendt

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