Your guide to buying art

Getting familiar with the art scene and deciding who and what to buy can be challenging for a newcomer, but there’s plenty of information and hand-holding available, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

Your guide to buying art

Buy because you love it might seem like a tired cant when deciding to buy art.

But if you’re buying for investment and the value drops, then having splashed out because you loved it means there’s something hanging on your wall to enjoy, instead of looking at it with resentment over a decision which yielded an unexpectedly negative outcome.

If you’re dipping into art-buying for the first time, commercial galleries and auction houses are the main sources, and their staff is happy to dispense free advice, yet, for some reason, it can seem a tad intimidating to ask.

According to Arabella Bishop, senior director at Sotheby’s Ireland, it’s a good idea to gen up on what’s out there to develop a sense of your own taste before considering making a purchase. “Visit lots of auction houses and start to get an eye in,” she says.

“Visit galleries like IMMA, the Crawford, Hugh Lane, the Hunt, and look at their collections.

"Something like the RHA Summer Exhibition shows new and established artists. This will help you get a feel for what you like.”

Like everything nowadays, online resources are another go-to for information.

Big Brid by Andrew Luddick, ceramic, €380
Big Brid by Andrew Luddick, ceramic, €380

“Look at sites like for prices artists have achieved since the 1990s, and speak to the specialists for the provenance of the work, condition and history,” she adds.

When it comes to buying at auction, caveat emptor please or, as a novice, you might fall foul of unexpected charges associated with the buying and selling process.

“There can be additional charges on the hammer price,” Arabella explains. “Look out for the buyer’s premium, and import duty if the work has come from outside Europe.

"There’s sometimes artist resale rights which gives the artist a percentage of the resale price.

“In some places the vendor pays the resale rights, other places it’s the buyer, so always read the auction catalogue so you know what you can afford.

"Set a limit and don’t get carried away.”

Before even getting to the excitement of participating in an auction, Arabella also stresses the need to inform yourself about what’s for sale.

Full Sail Flask by Eileen Singleton in ceramic, €150
Full Sail Flask by Eileen Singleton in ceramic, €150

“Most auctions have viewings for three or four days before, so go back and forth. You have to fall in love with a piece. You have to hang it on your wall and live with it.”

Aoife O’Connell, gallery director at Lavit Gallery Wandsford Quay, also emphasises the importance of educating your eye and asking for advice.

“It’s what we’re here for,” she says. “Come in to look, you don’t have to buy anything. Come back to look again and you still don’t have to buy anything.

"Take your time. A painting may be beautiful when you first see it but will you get bored with it if you’ve bought on impulse?

"People always say to buy what you love but take your time to decide what you love.”

The Lavit, like many commercial galleries, sells new works so extra costs like artist resale rights don’t apply, but Aoife is mindful of budget considerations for buyers new to the art scene.

“Don’t be afraid of some of the prices, but be considered about your budget. We do instalment payments so you can spread it out.

River Source by Angela Fewer, acrylic on board, €1800
River Source by Angela Fewer, acrylic on board, €1800

"Print is a good start, there are all sorts. Think about sculpture rather than painting. Sometimes people try to fill walls and ignore 3-D.

"We’re seeing lots of new builds and house extensions which don’t have much wall space as everything is about windows and light. Side tables with sculpture really work.

"Some lovely ceramic art pieces are an option as well as traditional materials.”

To encourage the public to walk in and browse, Aoife has come up with a programme at The Lavit to make art appreciation and buying more accessible.

“We’re building casual events around our exhibitions. We run coffee mornings for the public to meet our artists to find out about them and their work.”

She adds: “Younger people tend to be more confident to say, ‘I know nothing about this, can you tell me about it?’

"But it’s really important for everyone to be able to have conversations about art the same way we do about other things we buy.

“We all look at different art forms like books and the cinema and say what we think, but why don’t we do it when it comes to art?”

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