Five Common Misconceptions About Art

BRIDGET JONES
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2013
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Courtesy of the artists and Suite, Wellington
BUY NOW: Art in next month's fair includes Party Shoes - Party Hat - Red Carpet by Ans Westra and Wayne Youle (1977-2013).

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To collect any art of note, one must be filthy rich, well versed in the masters, and a bit of a snob. Only pricey art is good art, but the gallery you are buying from is probably going to rip you off (it doesn't really matter though - you're really, really rich, remember?)

Obviously very few of us fit such strict criteria, so obviously very few of us are worthy of owning art. And obviously, all of that is rubbish. Collecting art isn't just for the well-to-do and the private school chums. And you don't necessarily need to know your Raphael from your Rembrandt to do it well. On the eve of the Auckland Art Fair - 36 galleries,180 or so artists and four days of fevered buying -the five big myths about collecting art are about to be busted. Just like the leg that snapped off your fake statue of David.

1. YOU MUST BE RICH TO COLLECT ART

It's true, if you have a lot of spare cash it's easier to whip out the plastic and bag a piece of art from the best of the best: the art world can be your oyster for the right price. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to stand by, walls naked and unloved. As budding collector Marlaina Key says, building an art collection on a budget just takes a bit of thought, and a lot of patience.

"Of course, having a significant disposable income doesn't hurt, but the truth is that art really is like anything else - you buy what you love, spend what you can afford and if it's more, then you either save up or lay-by it.

"Building an art collection takes time and does take a bit of money, but it doesn't always have to be a lot - with a bit of imagination and an open mind, you just have to get over the fear, jump in and not get too academic."

Key, who is a graduate of Auckland art school Whitecliffe and now works there as logistics co-ordinator, started her collection by swapping works with her fellow students. Since then she has exchanged, haggled for, and bought pieces, building a collection that includes everything from lithographs and prints by Fatu Feu'u to paintings by Garth Tapper and ceramics by Madeleine Child.

The most expensive piece the 34-year-old owns is a large acrylic work from Niki Hastings-McFall's Variance series, which she paid $7500 for earlier this year. But she is always on the lookout for bargains, the latest being a pencil drawing by sculptor Gregor Kregar she stumbled on while walking past Wellington's Bowen Gallery. She paid it off over a few months - she often makes payment arrangements with galleries to secure the pieces she can't live without.

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Key doesn't care about building a "trendy" collection; instead she wants something that will ultimately tell a story about her, her loves and her passions.

2. YOU NEED AN MA (HONS) IN ART HISTORY OR FINE ARTS

Is it okay to bluff your way through a big art buy? Savvy collector Key tries to avoid trends and fashions when she picks for her collection, although with an art degree, she knows what she is looking at a little more than most. But art literacy is different to art appreciation. You don't have to know every detail of the painting or painter to enjoy a piece of art. A new international study has suggested it's both what a collector has been taught and their natural tastes that helps them decide if they like a piece of art.

While previous research had measured brain activity suggesting a like or dislike of a piece of art, little was recorded of the person's understanding of it. But researchers from Norway's University of Bergen and Macquarie University in Australia have created a new model that combines a historical approach (knowing an artist's intentions, the history of the art, etcetera), and a psychological approach (where biological processes in the brain make a judgment) to help us better understand how we appreciate art.

Jenny Neligan from Wellington's Bowen Gallery says it's a general interest in art that pulls people into a gallery more than anything else.

"And then our role is to teach people how to buy art...they need to come into a gallery and have something catch their eye. We spend an enormous amount of time talking to them about the artists and giving them information- there is not a buyer in Wellington, I don't think, that won't buy without information, about the artist in particular."

Neligan is noticing more and more people are researching art on the internet, but says there are pitfalls to that, especially in the way art works look in real life - after all, there is a reason thousands of people every year flock to see the Mona Lisa in all her glory. But, she says, like anything, the moretime you spend with art, the more you will learn.

3. THE HIGHER THE PRICE,THE BETTER THE ART

"I'm not quite sure what a bargain looks like in the art world," says Auckland Art Fair director, Jennifer Buckley. She might not know what embodies a good deal, but she says she has seen a lot of bad ones in her time. Art, like everything else, is prone to fashion and rhetoric. But, like kitten-heeled jandals, not all trends deserve to have good money spent on them.

"I think a lot of people go along to auctions, thinking they are going to find [a bargain], but it can be soul destroying sitting there, watching absolutely beautiful works getting passed in because they aren't currently in favour. And then you see people pay ridiculous prices for something that is very ordinary."

It's clearly illustrated by two American guys, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, who in 2009 bought a heap of junk from op shops, before selling it on eBay with accompanying, completely made up, stories 'explaining' the origin. The trinkets were originally bought for a total ofUS$128.74 and sold for US$3,612.51 - a 2700 percent mark-up. People literally bought into an idea of what they were buying.

Closer to home, in 2011 a Dunedin city councillor resigned from the council's Art in Public Places subcommittee when the board supported spending $150,000 on installing and marketing a 3-D video-artwork called Haka Peepshow. The work, which tied into the Rugby World Cup, was shaped like a giant black deodorant can that also had phallic references. Buckley's advice is simple: buy what you like, but don't be afraid to invest in something that will challenge you.

"The last art work I bought was in an exhibition and there was one beautiful painting that I kept going back to, so finally I bought the one beside it because it was really annoying me - it was disturbing me in some way. It's kind of like hearing a pop song, you get the tune right away but you might get tired of it. Meanwhile, you might not love Nick Cave the first time you hear him, but with each play you'll get something a little bit deeper from it."

4. WORK SOLD AT DEALER GALLERIES IS MORE EXPENSIVE

While dealers will routinely collect a commission of 40 percent, according to Jennifer Buckley, the prices you find in galleries all come down to the life cycle of the artist. "Art works by young artists start at a certain price, at an entry level if you like, and gradually [the price of] their work goes up according to how their career trajectory is going - what exhibitions they've had, the reviews, invitations to participate in internationa land public galleries."

Buckley believes galleries have a responsibility to create sustainable relationships with both artists and customers, so "they can't just whack some ridiculous price on something and expect people to come back". And often, she says, rather than hike them up, galleries actually have to talk down the price tags artists want to put on some pieces.

"An artist might say 'this is my very favourite work, I spent so long working on it, and I don't really want to sell it, so I want to put a really high price on it'. And that happens if you go along to an artist's gallery, but we are a little bit tougher and will tell them that if you ove it that much, maybe you should take it out of the show. They often change their minds then."

Buckley often tells artists if they are going to sell works themselves, out of their studio, it should be for the same price as in the gallery - otherwise the art is being devalued in the market. But galleries are about more than just setting a price tag.

"The role galleries play is so multifaceted, and only a small part of that is hanging the work up on the walls, putting the little numbers underneath them and opening the wine. That's only the tip that the public sees. It's a long-term relationship that caninclude everything from marriage counselling tobanking advice. You are the person between an artist who has created something unique and...someone who is going to love it and cherish it."
 
5. THE ART WORLD IS SNOBBY AND INTIMIDATING

Is there anything more daunting than a room full of people ooh-ing and ahh-ing over things you have no idea about? A sea of black-clad folk, attempting to out-critique those around them, while the pricey pinot gris flows and the canapés wind their way around the room. I know nothing of art. I can bluff my way through almost anything else - theatre, contemporary dance, a science lecture - but art is my downfall. Normally I can tell what I like and what I don't, but most of the time I can't really articulate why. I don'tknow what the proper terms are, what to say about the brush strokes, or how long to stare at something before it's okay to move along.

But with the experts' advice ringing in my ears, I bit the bullet and dipped my toes into the murky waters. Albeit on a lunch break, rather than at an exhibition opening. I walk past this particular Auckland gallery almost every day, yet I hadn't found the courage to step inside. I was - perhaps not surprisingly - alone in admiring the work on this sunny Thursday; no one to hide behind or steal opinions from.

But pushing past that awkwardness,it was also quite peaceful - kind of like wandering aimlessly around the public art gallery (which I do surprisingly often) just without the screaming kids and slow walkers. I could look at the paintings - oil against "stickywater" - for as long as I wanted. Largely left alone,there was no feeling of being rushed or rushing. It was quite a relaxed way to spend a lunch break, and it was something of a revelation.

Of course the accompanying literature was slightly over the top: "It is formless. It operates on the horizontal. The bath form of the human body that lingers in the works is a vacant human echo, not the subject", is just an example, but if I'm honest, I would have been disappointed if at least one of my expectations didn't ring true.

‚óŹMore on the Auckland Art Fair: artfair.co.nz

- Sunday Magazine

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