How to Build an Art Collection Like a Pro

Houston artist Barbara Able creates an original work. | Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery

In a special 8-part, bi-weekly series—created in partnership with member artists of Archway Gallery in Montrose—we’re pleased to feature a selection of artists’ tips, recommendations, and perspectives on connecting with art, how to begin your own collection, where to find affordable art, and more. In the series‘ fifth entry, Houston artist Barbara Able offers a step-by-step guide to collection art like a professional.

Passion… Not the first word that comes to mind when considering collecting art. Most serious collectors surveyed said they did it for the love of the genre and not financial reasons. Most started collecting early in life.

“It is said that collecting is a disease; I think I had it from childhood,” said Ima Hogg in 1973. “In Austin, the streets were not paved and were covered with beautiful pebbles. When wet, they sparkled like jewels… pebbles and flowers formed my first collection.”

Dive In & Get Started

Obviously, the best way to learn any business is to get into that business. You may not want to jump in by opening a gallery, but you have a myriad of choices in Houston, the third-largest art market in the U.S.

Do your homework. Talk to everyone and find out everything you can. Go to galleries and get on their mailing lists. Attend artists’ talks at galleries and museums. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has a vibrant docent group, so sign up for a tour.

The Greek Goddess by Barbara Able | Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery

Find a Focus that Speaks to You

Secondly, establish a focus for your art. Concentrate on a few artists or a genre such as landscape or photography. Use your personal preferences as your guide. Think like an artist. This is going to be your unique collection, and it should reflect you. Build and read a library of books on the type of work you are interested in. Buy only what you love, what moves you.

In the beginning, it helps to narrow your focus. As an example, my collection contains about 75% paintings and 25% photography. In my painting collection, I have mostly figurative work, and in my photography collection, I have landscapes.

Create a Budget

Set an annual budget or decide how much you will pay for an individual piece. But know that even the most assiduous collectors admit to going over budget. According to one, who owns a large collection of Texas art, “Everything I bought required a sacrifice.”

But fear not, some very rich collectors are also bargain hunters. Joseph H. Hirschhorn, a uranium magnate whose collection formed the basis of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., liked to buy groups of subjects at large discounts.

Many galleries offer at least 10% off just for asking—it’s called a “collector’s discount.”

Pioneer Pass by Photographer Larry Garmezy from Barbara Able’s personal collection | Photo courtesy of Barbara Able

Make a Purchase

Your next step is actually buying a work of art. Know what to look for. The visual and emotional impact the work has on you, as well as the composition, quality and condition of the work, and reputation of the artist should all be considered as you evaluate the price.

Buy from a reputable gallery. Houston has dozens of excellent galleries: Moody, Inman, Hooks-Epstein, Anya Tish, Barbara Davis, McClain, David Shelton, Archway Gallery, and many more have all been around for decades! 

Get on the Houston Art Gallery Association’s mailing list. Visit Glasstire’s list of exhibitions and look for those that interest you. When you visit a gallery, sign the guest book, and ask to be on their mailing list—most will email you details about their upcoming shows. Like their pages and accounts on social media.

And if you find something you like, keep in mind that most galleries will let you make payments over time. Some will even allow you to take the work home to see how it looks on your wall. 

Document Your Collection

Keep a record of your art collection. Include all the pertinent data about the piece, including title, date, medium, size, place of purchase, and price. This is for insurance purposes, but it’s helpful over time. Look into a rider on your homeowner’s insurance to cover your art collection.

It’s also important to maintain your collection. Research art restorers in case a piece gets damaged. Sarah Balinskas Fine Framing and Art Preservation is an excellent source. 

Keep in mind that it is very difficult to resell artwork unless the artist is nationally or internationally known. There are very few galleries who resell art (known as the secondary market); Heidi Vaughan Fine Art is a reputable one.

Flood by John Slaby from Barbara Able’s personal collection | Photo courtesy of Barbara Able

Take Your Time & Have Fun

Finally, take your time building the collection. A good goal would be to have a certain number of pieces in five years. Then, after five years, you may want to change your direction or increase the amount you are willing to spend.

Enjoy the process! Regular contact with artists, art dealers, and fellow collectors often lead to friendships with people of different personalities and backgrounds. 

Most collectors still own the first work of art they bought and can recall the circumstances of that purchase—such is the emotion associated with collecting. So, congratulations are in order.

You are taking the first step on a lifelong journey that will enrich your home and your life. Follow a few basic guidelines, and you will be on your way to creating your collection.

Elevating local art and supporting the Houston art scene for 46 years, Archway Gallery is the longest-running artist-owned gallery in Texas. Stop by the Montrose gallery, meet an artist, and learn about owning original, local art. Plan a visit to the gallery or learn more.

Barbara Able has a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin. She owned a gallery in Santa Fe and is currently a member of Archway Gallery. Her show Venus Rising is on display at there through through Thursday, December 1, 2022. You can also see her work at Barbara Able Fine Art.

Learn more about Archway Gallery and explore its current and upcoming exhibitions.

Houston artist Barbara Able creates an original work. | Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery

This series has been created in partnership with and sponsored by Archway Gallery. Per our advertising and sponsorship policy, we only accept sponsored content from organizations that meet our editorial standards and truly present a valuable activity, event, resource or destination for residents and visitors across the greater Houston area. Advertising revenue helps support 365 Things to Do in Houston, and our contributors, allowing us to expand our coverage of activities and events around the Houston area. Learn more about promoting your event or business

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Barbara Able
Barbara Able has a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin. The former owner of a gallery in Santa Fe, she is currently a member of Archway Gallery in Montrose, which has been elevating local art and supporting the Houston art scene since 1976.