The Art of Collecting

By Elizabeth Bond :: Photography courtesy of Texas Treasures Fine Art Gallery & Sculpture Garden

San Antonio art consultant Karen Calvert has an old T-shirt with a Cubist, Picasso-style head over a plaid sofa and the words “Good art won’t match your sofa.” A friend bought it for her years ago from the Austin Museum of Art, knowing that it expressed Calvert’s artistic principle perfectly. “I don’t like using the word ‘decorate’ when I do this,” she said of her decades of experience sourcing art and acting as an advisor for art collectors. “I’m aware of the colors and spaces and I don’t want it to look bad over the sofa — but matching is not the idea.”

She and Johny Rosa of Texas Treasures Fine Art Gallery & Sculpture Garden spoke with Cordillera Living magazine to share their advice for would-be collectors who want to fill their homes with art. To reiterate that much-loved T-shirt: Don’t worry too much about coordinating with every single color in your home. Just find pieces that speak to you to amass a personally prized art collection.

Calvert says it all starts with discerning your own taste by taking a look around. “Go to galleries and museums,” she advised. “Don’t get intimidated or feel pressured that you have to go buy anything. It’s really a self-education. Get on mailing lists for galleries’ exhibitions.”

Texas Treasures Fine Art Gallery & Sculpture Garden is one such spot in Boerne to put on your list. There, owner Rosa shows original paintings and sculptures in an eclectic array of genres, and he shares a wealth of knowledge about purchasing art. “Always buy what you love. That’s as simple as it is,” he said. “Good art is what you think is good art. Bad art is what you don’t like. And if you want to buy art as an investment, you want to buy from an accredited gallery.”

That type of original art should come with a letter of authenticity from the artist and the gallery, Rosa said. The paperwork is provided for insurance purposes and because, in the art world, “all art is considered fake until proven real,” Rosa said. “It’s the opposite of a courtroom, where you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

“Original artwork is just that — it’s special,” he said, adding that no one can say whether it’s good or bad. “It’s special to you and you make the connection. When you’re looking at things in your home, art is something that can’t be replaced. Art is meant to be talked about and shared. There is no better place for a piece of art than in a client’s home. Everyone should have a connection to some piece of art. If not, check your heartbeat.”

Buying art as an investment is smart because it will likely go up in value thanks to its nature as a unique piece. Rosa advises looking at artist bios to determine whether they have created a large body of work, as well as noting whether they have won awards, are mentioned in notable magazines and have work shown in multiple galleries. This is how an artist’s stock, if you will, is measured, but it all goes back to your own preferences.

On the other hand, commissioned art can hold a different purpose. Rosa says that from an investment standpoint, commissioned art should never be personalized, and he equates it to collecting autographs. A personal portrait is like a personalized autograph. The same applies to art. He states that if you know the artist and you really collect the artist, then you will be happy with what the artist creates from his heart and mind. However, there are parameters that should be stated up front. For instance, most payments are made in three or four installments with a completion date, sometimes up to a year, agreed upon in advance.

In her work, Calvert aims to help clients identify their own style rather than influence them by promoting a single artist or genre. “Every collection is totally different. I don’t have any kind of inventory and I specialize in whatever you need me to specialize in,” Calvert said. “I approach it the way some interior designers and architects do, by getting to know the client. I ask, ‘Do you have a budget or a theme in mind?’ Based on that, I spend time thinking about what might work, thinking about artists and calling dealers. It’s constant resourcing.”

She’s found that in ensuing consultations with clients who are new to collecting art, showing is more effective than telling. That’s because it can be difficult for some clients to accurately put into words the genre and feeling they have in mind. So she brings images of her suggested pieces. “Most do not have the language or vocabulary to describe what they’re thinking, so it almost becomes an art history lesson,” she said.

At that point, determining an aesthetic happens pretty quickly. Some people are surprised to find where their personal tastes land and are happy to be exposed and introduced to art that’s new to them, such as art labeled as ‘contemporary.’ “That doesn’t mean ‘weird and crazy’ or ‘my kid could do that,’” Calvert is quick to point out. “’Contemporary’ first and foremost means the artists are alive. They work in a variety of styles, some traditional and some abstract or conceptual.”

While more serious collectors have a focus, such as a period or style or a particular artist or media, most people buying art for their homes simply buy what they like. Maybe you like abstract collages or handcolored photographs. Whatever it is, embrace the visual work that most catches your eye.

“You gotta love it,” Calvert said. “If you’re a new collector and you’re on the fence about a piece you find and it’s going in a special spot in your home, buy what you love and you’ll be happy with it. It’s a gut check, so give it some thought. You can always ask if a gallery will hold it for a certain amount of time. Ask for the right of first refusal.”

Find a piece that speaks to you but it’s a bit pricey? You can sometimes arrange payment terms with a gallery. Rosa explains, “If you love it, find a way. Most galleries will allow noninterest payments — you just have to ask. If you love the painting but can’t afford it, let them know.”

Remember also that as you develop as a collector, there may be pieces of which you grow tired. And that’s OK. You can always put something away for a while and see how you feel about it later on.

When searching for art, ask yourself:

• Is this something that you want to look at every day?

• Does it bring back a memory or make you feel good even if you don’t know why?

• Or maybe it’s very provocative or compelling — it doesn’t have to be joy, but is it an emotional response you could live with every day?

Rosa recommends the same line of questioning, and to leave yourself open to being surprised. He recalls a surprising farewell gift he received when he moved to Texas.

“When I moved from Santa Fe, I was given a bronze sculpted spider as a gift from an artist,” he recalls. “He said, ‘I know you hate spiders but I’m giving this to you because I wanted to show you to face your fears.’ I teared up. Art is emotional. I still have that spider and it’s a constant reminder for me to face my fears.”

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