Art prices is a funny thing: you've visited a few art fairs, you've spent the last half-dozen Saturdays wandering the streets of Chelsea and the Lower East Side, and you've written down the names of artists and works you adore.

You're ready to co-habitate with one of these works.


art collecting tips

With Such A wide Range Of Art Prices Experts say it all starts with education  

While there are no hard-and-fast rules, said Rebekah Bowling, specialist and head of the New Now 20th century and contemporary art auction at Phillips, unique objects (such as a painting or sculpture created by hand) tend to cost more than editioned works, such as, say, a series of ten prints, of which you might buy just one.

For the same artist, a work on paper will typically cost less than a painting of the same scale.

Artists at the very beginning of their careers will typically have lower price points than mid-career artists, who typically have been showing their work for around a decade and have garnered some media attention and shown at a regional or national level.

Younger galleries in frontier neighborhoods should have more entry-level works than ones with ground-floor spaces in more established art hubs like New York's Chelsea or London's Mayfair.


There are lots of factors that may go into determining art prices, including straightforward and visible things like size or labor intensity and less immediately apparent things like an artist's reputation and demand from collectors.

One factor that's harder to discern is "value," according to Todd Levin, a New York-based art advisor and founder of Levin Art Group.

He distinguishes between price and value, emphasizing that the latter informs the former, but not the other way around.​

He recommends assuming the price for a work by a new artist will go to zero after, say, five years, much as a dining set would lose most of its value over a similar time frame.

If that work cost $5,000, or $1,000 a year, it works out to a cost of roughly $3 a day. And that, he said, is the point of buying art.

Nicholas Campbell, founder and managing director of London-based Narcissus Arts, a consultancy specializing in works priced under ₤10,000, advises his clients to consider originality when they're evaluating a work's price.

"Every now and then there is something that jumps out," he said, and that's the quality that will likely contribute to an artist's longevity and value in the broader cultural landscape, which in turn tends to increase art prices.​

Campbell advises looking more closely at the work - the process, the artist's intention, what ideas and techniques animate it.

Those works, Campbell felt safe in saying, do not justify their price tag.


Another facet of his work is trying to introduce his clients to artists, "to give them a sense of what's going through the artist's head."

Campbell also looks at tangible data points within an artist's CV to better understand where they have been and where they might be going.

Galleries price works according to the size of the work, the success of the most recent show, and any other relevant career-related variables, such as a recent institutional show or a nomination for an award, said Bowling, who spent seven years at Andrea Rosen Gallery before joining Phillips.

Artists at the very beginning of their careers will typically have lower price points than mid-career artists, who typically have been showing their work for around a decade and have garnered some media attention and shown at a regional or national level. 

He'll look at schools the artist has attended, any prizes she or he has won or been nominated for, whether the artist has had a solo show or been featured in group shows at prominent institutions, which curators follow his or her work, and whether the work has traveled nationally or internationally.

While Bowling describes herself as "the biggest proponent of the gallery system," she said the straightforward nature of auction pricing can be a great entry point for new collectors.

That's how the art prices are achieved.

Bowling, Campbell, and Levin all stressed one thing: Collectors shouldn't treat art like a financial investment.

Since most artworks do not increase in value, Bowling suggests finding a risk threshold, and buying within those limits.


art collectors and art prices

ART COLLECTORS FREQUENTLY VISIT GALLERIES and studios to learn about price

To gain confidence in your ability to determine whether, for you, a work's price and value are aligned, Levin suggests developing relationships with ten to fifteen young galleries - and make a point of visiting each of them once a month.

"Much new art looks exciting in the context of the gallery opening or art fair," he said.​

When artists do something truly original, they tend to get noticed by critics, curators, and fellow artists.

That could range from bringing a fresh perspective to representation (Kerry James Marshall's large-scale portraits of black life, highlighted in last year's retrospective at The Met Breuer, come to mind) to innovating with a new medium or technique (such as artists working with virtual reality or mixed reality.)

Art advisers like Campbell and Levin use a background in art history to try to spot those artists before they're widely known.​

Price, Levin said, is a quantity; it's a number that, in a few (or sometimes many) digits, encapsulates any number of qualitative judgments at a given moment, as determined by a gallerist or the highest bidder at an auction.

Value, on the other hand, takes a longer view as to a work's aesthetic or conceptual worth, and determining it requires some investment in learning about art and art history.

Levin encourages his clients to first pursue education before pursuing objects because, he said, they "tend to have more hits than misses" when they do buy.

"If you want to buy stocks," Levin said, "you can just hang bags of money on the wall."

Bowling recommends checking an artist's CV for consistent output and recognition.

Levin suggests waiting and watching an artist mature for a few years before buying something, to see if the work continues to evolve.

"It's better to spend the $25,000 when you are a little more comfortable with the market variables than taking the chance at $10,000".

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