How to start collecting art: 10 lessons for shopping addicts

How to start collecting art
Photography by Peter Stigter

When it comes to spending our hard-earned dollars, we’d be remiss if we said that clothes weren’t above everything else on our list, including art. Sure, it would be nice to have a Picasso in your casa, but those booties in your Net-A-Porter shopping cart are calling—hard. For those of us who occasionally (or too often) shell out three-to-four figures on one item of clothing, you’d be surprised to learn that you the amount you’re about to drop on that Proenza bag (even if it’s on sale) can nab you a unique piece of art you’ll cherish for a lifetime (just ask Jeanne Beker).

Collecting art is incredibly fun and much easier than you’d think, especially with Canada’s buzzy contemporary art scene. Jill Birch, the impressively chic CEO of the Canadian Art Foundation, took a break from prepping for the Foundation’s annual gala on September 17 to share her pro tips on getting your art collection up and running.

Go to gallery openings
“You can begin the process by coming to a website like ours and looking at some of the key shows coming up. You’re not going to be able to get to all the openings, but the great thing about most of the cities—Montreal, Toronto, for example—is that there are pockets of galleries. You can literally go to Dupont Street—that’s the new hot place in Toronto—you can go to Dupont and hit five that night.”

Get to know gallery owners
“Seek out the gallery owner at these openings and begin a dialogue with the gallery owner. Understand who they’re collecting and what kind of things they’re collecting.”

Don’t be shy
“At most of the openings, the artists are always there. It’s corny, but it’s true: the artist’s world is a very lonely world. For them to have an opening and be able to talk about their work and meet people who are enjoying their work is a great moment for them.”

Don’t let your budget stop you
“Price is an issue with art. People are saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have thousands of dollars.’ I think the thing is that that’s why, perhaps, there’s such a focus right now on the emerging artist. They need the support and their artworks are generally at a more reasonable price point.”

Visit university art sales
“Every May, OCAD has a showcase of all their graduating artists. It’s really a thesis project. You’ll have 650 projects that are up on those walls. You can go in there and the students are there, the professors are there—even if you’re nervous about a gallery, you can go to OCAD. It’s also a very accessible price point.”

Think outside the frame
“A lot of people are doing work right now in fabric, which is interesting from the fashion world. If you look at some of the work that’s being produced in the northern parts of Canada, for example, there are beautiful wall hangings. I was looking at some yesterday that were $250. Yes, some were up to $10,000. You could have a beautiful piece of Indigenous art for a very low price.”

Consider your living space
“You have to size it up. You want the pieces to complement each other and talk to each other. If you have a very large wall on your home and you put in a massive piece, you’re making a statement that you can enjoy yourself. Anybody else who comes in—wow. They’re going to want you to talk about your art. There’s no better conversation starter than art.”

Let your collection grow with you
“It depends on where you start in your life with your collection and where it takes you. You grow, it grows, you change, it changes. It’s interesting for people who are collecting art to think about a piece they bought a couple years ago. It becomes a talisman, a memory.”

Always keep an eye out, especially on Instagram
“You can’t be asleep in the art world. You have to always be scanning, looking. There are many artists sharing their work on Instagram. That’s instant accessibility.”

Have fun!
“Some people may make judgments about various pieces of art. I’m always nervous about that kind of thing. It’s always very subjective. The main issue that we always try to support is that there is no wrong answer. Anything that you purchase is a good purchase.”