Wait…Before You Buy That Piece…Here’s What You Need to Know

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 4 simple steps to take before you purchase art.

Like anything else you invest your money in, you need to do your research before acquiring works of art. Below, I will put key things to consider before you make a purchase.

1. The Provenance

When buying a piece of artwork, especially a drawing, painting, or piece of sculpture (the provenance of prints are not as widely recorded), make sure you are aware of have access to the work of art’s provenance. Provenance is generally a history of previous owners, and exhibition history. Often, art is accompanied by documentation that confirms its authenticity. Good provenance leaves no doubt that a work of art is legitimate and by the artist whose signature it bears. Before bidding on or buying a piece, your job is to make sure that any such provenance is correct and verifiable and does in fact authenticate the creator of the work of art. Common forms of provenance include exhibition or gallery stickers, signed certificates of authentication, and names of previous owners of the art. For more information regarding provenance,  ArtBusiness.com.

2. Has The Work Ever Been Restored

When buying an original piece of artwork, you always want to know the condition of the work you are buying. If the work has had any restoration done at all, that is something that you NEED to know. I cannot stress this enough. Even if the work you are thinking about buying has a flawlessly repaired area of damage, the fact is that you still have a damaged work of art with a repair, not a perfect work in immaculate original condition. A work of art with repaired damage is worth less than a comparable work of art in perfect original untouched condition. Be sure to request a condition report for any work of art you are buying and if possible, go in to inspect the work yourself. And always, if a work has had repairs, make sure that this is reflected in the work’s cost.

3. Prices for Similar Works

To make sure you are getting a fair and competitive price, be sure to research prices (past and present) for similar works (medium, size, style) by the artist of the work you are looking to buy. This can be looking at the recent auction history for the artist, calling galleries and finding out the price they have similar works listed for, and contacting the artist’s dealer directly.

4. Are There Any Extra Costs

Most collectors do not have an unlimited budget. So when thinking about acquiring a work of art, be sure to make sure you consider any extra costs. Is the work unframed? If so, be sure to consider how much it would cost to frame the work. Are you not able to pick the work up upon purchase? What are the estimated shipping costs, including insurance, for shipping the work? If you are buying a work at auction, always be sure to consider the buyer’s premium, which you will pay on top of the hammer price. These among others, are some of the extra costs to be aware of before buying a piece of art.

Alaina McEachin

Author: Alaina McEachin

Alaina McEachin has been working in the African-American Fine Art department at Swann Auction Galleries for a little over a year. She received a BA (magna cum laude) from Howard University in Art History, with a concentration in American Modern and Contemporary Art and further emphasis in African-American Art. While an undergrad, Alaina minored in German and took classes at Corcoran College of Art & Design as well as Vanderbilt University through a domestic exchange program.

In the summer of 2012, Alaina served as Director’s Fellow at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where she created interpretive materials in conjunction with the exhibition William H. Johnson: An American Modern. Just prior to joining Swann, Alaina served as an interpretive guide at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian Institution’s museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. In her spare time, Alaina enjoys reading, visiting museums and trying out new restaurants.

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