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Get started with art collecting

The Baltimore Sun

So you wanna be in pictures - picture frames, that is.

Perhaps you've become tired of lining the walls of your home with $20 reproductions of museum masterpieces. Besides, you want to support the work of contemporary artists, who have something to say about the world we live in now. Luckily for you, breaking into art collecting is a lot easier than breaking into filmmaking.

"People think of art collecting as being specialized and esoteric and intimidating," says Michelle Talibah, owner of New Door Creative art gallery. "But in many ways, it's like any other purchase. People should trust their instincts. The collector's individual taste is what matters."

Talibah recently offered pointers aimed at getting arts enthusiasts in the right frame of mind:

You don't need to refinance your home to start your collection.

"Typically, people with a small budget for discretionary purchases will start by buying prints," Talibah says.

A print - an image conceived from the beginning by the artist as a print, and painstakingly executed by him or her, one at a time - differs from a mass-market reproduction on paper of a work crafted in a different medium.

Acrylics and watercolors are more expensive than prints, while oil paintings are the costliest form of wall art.

"A print is still original art," Talibah says, "but because there are other multiple copies, there is less of a financial outlay. Someone can buy a nice print for a few thousand dollars, or even less."

Before buying a print, check the series number.

If, for instance, there were 150 prints drawn from the same "pull," or run, prints with a lower number will be more valuable than prints with a higher number. "As more prints are made, typically there is some depreciation in visual value," Talibah says. "The colors may not be as saturated as in earlier versions, or as consistent.

"Finally, check to make sure that the print is signed."

Don't buy artwork primarily as an investment.

"Sometimes the value of the artwork will appreciate, and sometimes it won't," Talibah says.

"You can't count on it. So choose something that you have a passion for. You will be living with it for a long time."

Avoid impulse purchases.

"Don't buy on the first visit," Talibah says. "Give yourself time to get to know the artwork, and to see if it has an allure that you might want to explore further."

Abundant resources are available to help inexperienced buyers.

"Visit galleries and museums," Talibah says. "The gallery owner can talk about the history of the artists on exhibit, the design elements in their work, and the meaning behind the themes and materials used in the painting.

"Often, there will be a gallery talk where the artist will meet with interested collectors about his or her approach.

"There also are a number of very good nonprofit art centers in Baltimore and Washington, such as Creative Alliance at the Patterson for local artists, or the Ellipse Art Center in Arlington, Va."

In addition, the Maryland Institute College of Art often has public exhibits and lectures by staff and visiting artists.

"Some of the student work is extremely interesting and also is a good value for first-time buyers," she says.

In addition, if the artist has been around long enough to have a reputation, a wealth of information and critical comment often can be found on the Internet.

Take care of your purchase. If the artwork is valuable, get it appraised and insured.

"Have it framed with conservation-grade materials to avoid deterioration over time," Talibah says. "Use glass that is resistant to ultraviolet rays."

Choose a place to hang the work that is away from air-conditioning and heating vents, and not in direct sunlight.

Then, stand back and enjoy your splendid new acquisition.

"I always tell people that the most important thing is that they buy for love, whether they spend $2,000 or $200,000," Talibah says.

"If they love it, it will stand the test of time."


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