If you’re a millennial, chances are that at some point you’ve proudly displayed a poster of a famous artwork, perhaps in a metal frame from Ikea or Bed Bath Beyond.
There’s no shame in that game. But if that same possession has followed you from your 20s crash pad into your adult domicile, it might be time for an upgrade.
Building a personal art collection once may have been considered the exclusive purview of the wealthy and well-connected. But thanks to the proliferation of online art sales platforms, it’s more within your reach than you might think. And the process of buying art has become not only more democratic but more pleasant.
“Going into a brick-and-mortar gallery can be difficult,” says Rebecca Wilson, chief curator of the online gallery Saatchi Art, based in Los Angeles, where works range from $50 to $50,000. The environment can feel elitist, and “you risk being not met with a very friendly response or they tell you it’s $10,000 and you feel like a complete fool because you can’t afford it.”
Going online to peruse and purchase, on the other hand, is “a breath of fresh air,” says Wilson.
But don’t pull out your laptop yet. Izabela Depczyk, managing director of the online art auction platform Paddle8, recommends potential buyers begin their search in the real world, to understand what they like and want to live with, presumably for a long while.
“Art collecting is very personal, so I advise anyone starting a collection to see as much as they can and observe what moves them,” she says. That might mean visiting a major museum. Or it might mean browsing art fairs, exhibitions featuring fine arts students at a nearby school, or even checking out what’s on the walls at your local coffee shop’s gallery show. The goal is to discover pieces that inspire an emotional response and determine what you like about them, even if it takes time.
After you have a better sense of your own tastes, you’ll be ready to get serious about buying. There are plenty of online options at a variety of price points. Platforms such as Paddle8 and Artsy might, on any given day, feature works from well-known artists such as Keith Haring or Jenny Holzer. The former follows a traditional auction format where bids might climb into the tens of thousands; the latter has both auctions and works you can buy immediately, which, like on Saatchi, range in price from $50 to $50,000. Uprise Art is specifically geared toward matching emerging talent with a “new generation of collectors,” as it says on the gallery‘s homepage, and maintains a body of available work for less than $800.
In addition to online galleries, there are “in real life” options, such as the Affordable Art Fair, which features hundr of pieces from dozens of galleries all over the globe. NYC fair director Vanessa Seis says the organization asks all exhibitors to be very upfront about prices, and the fair also highlights works less than $1,000 and $500. Other avenues to affordable art include looking at original works on Etsy or the “art and wall” section of the online decor site Chairish, cruising through Instagram to find works from artists without gallery representation, or signing up for mailing lists of artists who might do occasional limited-edition prints of their work.
Is all this imagery a lot to look through, especially for the untrained eye? Perhaps. But, Wilson says, “If you’re looking at a page of 10 works, there’s probably one that resonates or sticks out to you in some way.” Plus, the beauty of looking for art online is the ability to dive deeper into the biography of the person who made it.
“The idea of knowing more about the artists, and what their background is, is still a fairly novel thing in the traditional gallery world; the artist is usually kept behind closed doors as a sort of enigmatic genius,” she says.
Knowing where this work they’re about to buy came from appeals to millennials, who are known for valuing experiences over things.
“People want transparency, and they want value,” says Carter Cleveland, the chief executive and founder of Artsy.