Friday 19 January 2018

'Nothing adds colour and drama to a home like a work of art'

Nothing adds colour and drama to a home like a work of art and, these days, it's an investment that can pay dividends.

Caroline Allen

When it comes to adding a touch of individuality to your living space, there's nothing like original art. Whether it's beautiful, bold or downright bizarre, art lends character to a property and gives it a finishing touch, a fact that's not escaping Irish homeowners, according to Adelle Hughes, associate director and head of art at Whyte's Fine Art & Collectibles Auctioneers and Valuers. She reports that 2015 was an extremely busy year in the art market. An increasing number of homeowners aren't just focused on creating wonder walls - they're viewing art as an asset.

Among the celebs who splash the cash on art is U2 frontman Bono who reportedly spent £62,000 (€80,000) on a number of street art pieces at The Opera Gallery in Mayfair, Central London, last year. But he's not alone among the Irish art aficionados, who include John Magnier; Michael Smurfit; Dermot Desmond; Carmel and Martin Naughton; Lochlann and Brenda Quinn, and A-lister Colin Farrell.

There is a variety of different ways of buying - in galleries; at various exhibitions, including degree shows; at fairs; and directly from the artists. Galleries offer a type of screening process, representing a number of individual artists and operating their own quality standards and style, says Kevin Kavanagh, of the Kevin Kavanagh Art Gallery. Attending gallery openings and following artists will not only inform your buying but also boost your social life, he adds.

So how do you get started?

Buy what you love - that's the advice of Ruth Carroll, exhibitions' curator at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). "I've never regretted a piece that I have bought, but I have many regrets about those I loved and didn't buy," she says.

Collecting is a long-term love affair with the objects or works you acquire - it's also a long-term investment, says Hughes. "Don't expect a return on your investment for a long period - it could be five, ten or 20 years before a purchase returns a decent profit."

"Art pieces, as with all investments, can fluctuate, so buy what you love and what you think may appreciate in value," Carroll advises. "The best collections are made up of artworks that are considered and meaningful purchases. A good piece of art will inform and enhance your life, so buy artworks with which you can live happily." It is a lifelong process. "So think about art as something that will become part of your future and how you view your present."

Do your research

Researching before you buy is a must, says Carroll. "Start with large group exhibitions, like the RHA annual exhibition or recent graduate exhibitions, that will give you an idea of what is being made."

Nicholas Gore Grimes, of The Cross Gallery, advises getting out and about as much as possible. "There is some exceptional work being produced here in Ireland, and we have some fantastic galleries which are doing well, but, more importantly, are exhibiting at some of the most important international art fairs." Unfortunately, he says, many people have fallen into the trap of paying too much for mediocre work by well-known artists.

There are, Carroll says, great online resources like,, or that will let you know what is opening in galleries and what's on view in your area. "Art publications like Aesthetica, ArtForum, or the Irish Arts Review are also a good place to start."

When it comes to buying at auction, Hughes recommends always trying to view in person. "If you can't get to the viewing, contact the auction house and get further information on the works you're interested in," she says. When buying older works, particularly for large amounts of money, check the condition, Hughes advises. "You wouldn't buy a house without a survey; the same applies to art and antiques."

Don't dismiss online buying

Be open about where you buy. Love it or hate it, the notion of buying art online is taking off, with the numerous options - including Amazon Art;; and Christies has been increasing the number of its online only art auctions, and Skibbereen-based fine art auctioneer Morgan O'Driscoll holds online auctions.

Aimed at taking the hard work out of hard buying, was founded in 2012 by Katie and Patricia Tsouros. "I wanted to make buying really great emerging art from anywhere in the world simple and accessible. We hunt out the best emerging talent, from the top art schools around the globe, and make their work available for sale online at accessible price points," says Katie Tsouros. "We vet all the artists on the website and curate a selection of pieces to make sure they're of a really high standard, so all you have to do is browse and pick what you like and have it delivered directly from the artist's studio to your door. We offer a free curatorial service, giving advice and keeping people up-to-date on how artists' careers are progressing."

Know what you like

Build an awareness of what you want in a piece of art, be it medium, material, theme, concept, scale or era, Carroll advises. "The best ideas about what makes an artwork appealing come about by conversation with those with knowledge, so use any contacts you have. Get a sense of the artist you are buying, their career stage, exhibition history and their process. Ask questions."

Two artists from The Cross Gallery who are doing well at present, says Nicholas Gore Grimes, are John Boyd and Cristina Bunello, whose works come in at prices from between €2,000 and €9,000. "Other artists who I would advise keeping a close eye on are Diana Copperwhite, at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery; Eoin McHugh, at the Kerlin and Kevin Cosgrove, at Mother's Tankstation." You can expect to pay roughly €2,000 and upwards depending on the artist and size of work.

Start an art fund

You don't have to have deep pockets to become an art collector. Start small or pay off gradually and your collection will soon grow. "The majority of galleries would have flexible payment terms, allowing clients to pay over a designated amount of time," says Gore Grimes. "One of the many advantages of buying from a gallery, as opposed to an auction house, is that most galleries would be happy to arrange for work to be brought to a client's house or business to see whether it's suitable in the space."

Kavanagh reflects that people can make mistakes when starting off and that interests and tastes can change over time. "In the past, we have given people their money back, but that's quite rare," he says.

Setting aside a little spare cash when you can to use for an art fund is worthwhile, according to Carroll. "Think about the idea of an art-buying group with friends, where each member puts in a determined amount to a fund which is then used to buy as a group. Artworks are then distributed among the group for a designated time period, allowing all members to enjoy the works, while adding to the collection year-by-year," she says. Carroll knows of a number of these arrangements, which allow young collectors to pool their resources and take advantage of both the collective decision-making process and the financial resources of the group.

Buy to suit your space

Intelligent art buying, according to Carroll, involves buying for your space and lifestyle. "Think about where the artwork will be. Will it sit well in your home or office? Do you have the space to keep it in good condition? Thinking about your space is vital when choosing a piece. Will it fit in with the aesthetic? Are you looking for something that will create a statement?

Art, Carroll says, is instinctive. "Trust your instinct. Think of why a particular artwork appeals to you. An artwork is something that will be part of your life, so think long term. A collection can act as a visual diary; each piece a marker for an event or moment."

Think differently

Carroll advises buying works that you may first think of as unconventional. "Try ephemera; documentation; books; objects; video and film or sculpture. Irish photography is always a good buy, undervalued and on the rise in terms of endeavour and critical mass. Artworks aren't limited to oil on canvas. Remember that by buying art, you are directly supporting an artist's career, as well as acquiring something unique and of intrinsic value."

Buy the best you can afford

Quality is better than quantity so always buy the best you can afford, Hughes recommends. "Whether you have €1,000 or €100,000 to spend, buy one picture rather than two or three. It will take longer to fill your walls, which is no bad thing as it means you will enjoy the pleasure of hunting that much longer."

To avoid overspending at auction, decide your top price in advance and stick to it, with the discretion of one bid more, Hughes advises. "The auctioneer's guide price is usually accurate, but there will be exceptions - usually for rare works that don't turn up often - and here you may need to use your own instinct or get extra independent advice."

When buying at auction, read the terms and conditions carefully. "Especially check what the buyers' commission and VAT charges are," says Hughes. "In Ireland, it is usually around 25pc, including VAT, on top of the hammer price. The larger UK houses charge 25pc plus VAT, and in some cases, another 5pc import tax and 4pc artist's levy. So a painting sold for £20,000 at Sotheby's could cost another £8,000 in fees and taxes."

Check what corporates are collecting.

Mason Hayes & Curran has the walls of its large modern open-plan office on Barrow Street, Dublin, filled with original art from local and international artists. Partner Natasha McKenna explains that the art committee currently comprises of four staff who regularly visit exhibitions and galleries.

"Over the years, the office has established long-term relationships with a number of gallery owners who provide us with guidance, and we've been equally fortunate to have developed friendships with some of the artists. Occasionally, we visit artists in their studios and attend graduate shows. This year, we commissioned a piece from NCAD graduate, Ciara O'Brien," she says.

The collection currently stands at over 100 pieces, and includes a specially commissioned Corban Walker sculpture in the atrium. As well as many emerging artists, Mason Hayes & Curran also has works from well-established names, such as Martin Healy; John Boyd; Bridget Reilly; Eithne Jordan; Geraldine O'Neill and Diana Copperwhite.

Scale is a consideration - a super-sized painting by Thomas Brezing was recently purchased for the reception area, McKenna says. "Buying art for an office means you have to keep the opinion of many people in mind, as well as the overall tone of the collection. You have a much larger audience, and in a firm of over 410 employees, you will receive many opinions. The committee tries to ensure we appeal to a wider audience, as well as our own taste."

Pay and display

When it comes to displaying art, Katie Tsouros of says her preference is always fresh white walls, although that is not always to everyone's taste. A typical trap, she says, is to hang work too high. "It should be at eye level. Make sure everything is hung off the same centre level to give the room uniformity," she says. "If something needs to be framed, I always advise taking it to somewhere reputable and professional. There's no point compromising a nice piece of work with a shabby job. I love Baggot Framing, and have also used Framing Direct and Hang Tough."

Five art trends to know

1 At, the most popular medium is still painting. "Every now and then you get the age-old art theorists' question: 'Is painting dead?' That couldn't be further from the truth," says Katie Tsouros. "We have some exceptional painters who are producing really amazing original work. Sophie Iremonger and Lidu Tikkannen are two who spring to mind."

2 There is big interest in photography, according to Katie Tsouros. "It's something that has become so ingrained in our daily lives and its role as an important art medium is really developing. You can see that in the global market as it's starting to reach really big prices."

3 Large international art fairs have been dominating the contemporary art scene for some time and look set to continue into the future.

4 "Buying art online is a growing trend as more people become confident to purchase work through the web," says Gore Grimes

5 There's demand for small pieces ranging in price from €100 to €200 among young people, says Tsouros. "You can have significant interest and buy nice art without having to part with significant sums of money. It's a nice way to start, before moving to larger purchases."

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