By Cynthia Corbett, Director of The Cynthia Corbett Gallery.
In my work as an international gallerist I spend a big proportion of my time travelling the world to seek out new talent and present artists’ work to discerning crowds of collectors, curators and art lovers. I particularly enjoy the process of identifying trends and supporting and nurturing artists; I like to say that in my career I went from working in emerging markets to supporting emerging artists. I meet so many people on my travels who want to build up their own art collections and invest in art but who simply don’t know where to start.
Before starting an art collection, you might ask questions like where do I find the right art? Whose work should I buy? Should I only invest in work by big names? How much should I spend? Is art really worth investing in? Should I buy work by living artists? Is it better to buy painting or sculpture? To an outsider, the art world can seem like a daunting world to navigate, reserved for those already in the know.
When I started my gallery in 2004, after completing a postgraduate in art history at Christie’s in London, I realised that I could only represent artists whose work I genuinely loved and believed in, an ethos that is still central to the success of my business.
I am sharing this because I think it is also true when buying art: first and foremost you need to love what you buy. A piece of art should move you in some way and give you joy. Buy something that you like and can afford and be prepared to keep it just for your own pleasure. If the artist then becomes really famous and successful – that is fantastic for you from an investment point of view. However, if the artist does not become famous you will still love the work.
So how do you seek out art that you like and that’s also worth investing in? Galleries, auctions and art fairs are good places to get a feel for art and the type of art work you might want to buy, so I would encourage any budding art collector to get out there and see as much as they can before they do anything else. Fairs like London Art Fair, Frieze and COLLECT, the international art fair for contemporary objects at the Saatchi Gallery, are good starting points.
Rather than fixating on work by famous artists, I recommend focusing attention on artists at the early stages of their careers who are already getting critical recognition; this will make the collecting process all the more interesting and rewarding. How do you do this? Work with reputable galleries who represent artists whose work you like. Given how busy people’s lives are, internet browsing of gallery websites can provide a short cut.
Prizes and initiatives like New Contemporaries, the Young Masters Art Prize and Jerwood Painting Fellowships celebrate new and emerging talent and give a platform to artists at a pivotal stage in their creative development. Artists selected for these sorts of prizes – as opposed to something like the Turner Prize which rewards artists at the height of their careers – will be worth paying attention to as they will have been chosen by a panel of art world experts who are on the look-out for the art stars of the future.
To provide an example, I launched the Young Masters Art Prize in 2009. It’s a not-for-profit initiative of The Cynthia Corbett Gallery that gives a platform and recognition to artists who pay homage to the skill and innovation of the Old Masters and art of the past. The Young Masters artists have, without question, benefited from being involved in such a high profile, international initiative both in terms of their career development and in terms of establishing the value of their work. Never underestimate the power of inside connoisseurship when it comes to assisting artists with their success.
One of the finalists of the first Young Masters Art Prize, Lluís Barba was very well known in Latin America and Spain when he entered the prize but was unknown in the UK. Following his exposure, the value of his work has increased five-fold. Matt Smith, the winner of the ceramics strand of the Young Masters Art Prize in 2014 has since gone on to do a residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum and his work is sought-after by many international collectors. These sorts of prizes really are a barometer for future success.
Building on this idea of identifying talent at an early stage in an artist’s career, I advise looking at artists who have recently graduated from the most prestigious art institutions – schools like the Royal College of Art and Royal Academy Schools in London or the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Parsons in New York. In addition, you should identify galleries that regularly attend the final-year and graduate art shows and have experience of assessing who to watch and be guided by them. This can be a very wise way of beginning an art collection and a work costing a few hundred pounds could well end up being very valuable in years to come.
Auction houses are the benchmark of value in an established art market i.e. Old Masters, Impressionism and high-end contemporary art. For investors who have the time and resources, trading within the auction houses can be very rewarding, but knowledge is power. However, if time is scarce there is great value in finding an artist who is still in the building stages of their career and at the cusp of becoming established. These artists won’t have a major auction record, for example, so this won’t need to be maintained in the subsequent sale of their work. Again, the right gallery will be able to guide on this and help to educate on the dos and don’ts of investing in art. Ultimately, someone wanting to invest in art should think carefully about where value is still to be found in the ever-growing and ever-changing art market.
Cynthia Corbett is the Director of The Cynthia Corbett Gallery, founded in 2004, which has an annual art exhibition programme in London, Los Angeles and New York. Prior to this Corbett, having received her MA in International Relations from Tufts/ Harvard Universities, spent 15 years as an international economist with various investment banks. Her speciality was debt restructuring in emerging markets.
In 2009 Corbett launched the Young Masters Art Prize, a not-for-profit initiative that gives a platform to both emerging and established artists who pay homage to the skill and innovation of the Old Masters and art of the past. An exhibition of work by the artists shortlisted for the 2017 edition will be held at Gallery 8, 8 Duke Street, London SW1Y 6BN from 19 to 24 June www.young-masters.co.uk and www.thecynthiacorbettgallery.com