07/01/2014 11:03 GMT | Updated 09/03/2014 05:59 GMT

A Beginners Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art


Mella Shaw, Saudades - Tumbling Form, 2013. Body stained porcelain. 450cm x 39cm x 46cm. Credit: Sylvain Deleu

There comes a stage in life when clip frames and old art posters just don't cut it anymore. You yearn for something different in your living space, art that doesn't bear the hallmarks of former student living or décor on the cheap. But you don't have a lot of money and, assuming you're not after a landscape painting to match the curtains, you don't know where to start.

Talk to Artists

Any serious art collector will tell you to spend time looking at art and talking to artists. It's easy to sign up for 'what's on' websites such as Art Rabbit and ArtLyst, as well as local mailing lists that will keep you posted about exhibition openings, studio shows, talks and events close to home.

Go to private views, meet artists and, above all, talk to them. The conversations you have with artists are the key to finding out about their motivations, influences, ambitions and working methods. And once you have that knowledge at your fingertips, you're well on the way to acquiring a frame of reference that will inform your judgements about what to buy.

Commercial galleries

The commercial gallery sector in the UK is huge and by no means limited to London. Recent years have seen the emergence of spaces such as Vane and Workplace Gallery in Newcastle and Gateshead, International 3 and Bureau in Manchester and Salford, and WORKS | PROJECTS in Bristol - all committed to nurturing entry-level collectors and a good place to start if you want access to specialist curatorial expertise.

Contemporary Art Society Membership

If you enjoy the society of other like-minded people and feel you would benefit from a structured introduction to contemporary art, then membership of the Contemporary Art Society could be for you. This important national organisation has existed since 1910 and works tirelessly to acquire contemporary art for public collections. But it also runs membership programmes designed to help collectors keep in touch with the contemporary art world, not just in London but also in the North West, the North East and in Yorkshire.

Exploiting the Web

No aspiring collector can afford to ignore the valuable resources available online. Tate Shots, a steadily growing archive of film interviews with artists, gives a fabulous insight into the work of some of the world's most significant contemporary artists. FACT's ArtPlayer TV is another online space where you can browse a rich array of art-related content at leisure.

Finding the Money

If you can't afford the expense in one go, spreading the cost of a purchase makes good financial sense. Arts Council England's Own Art scheme offers an interest-free loan over 10 months when you buy work from one of over 250 galleries across the UK. It's a godsend for any aspiring collector.

Watch an interview Axisweb made for Own Art with collector Ian Murray:

Multiples and Editions

Multiples and editions offer the possibility of acquiring interesting work by 'big name' artists without a huge financial outlay. Highly recommended is the well-established and ever enterprising Multiple Store, with a stable of artists that includes Fiona Banner, Langlands and Bell and Cornelia Parker. An equally well-chosen range of limited edition prints and objects is currently available from PEER and Eastern Pavilions, both respected organisations with close links to artist communities. Many leading galleries also offer their own portfolio of limited edition prints, from the Whitechapel and Serpentine galleries in London to Dundee Contemporary Arts and Tate St Ives.


Elizabeth Price, Places where people resort, 2012.

Available as part of Eastern Pavilions print portfolio

Emerging Trends

Finally, if you want to keep abreast of work emerging from our art schools, look no further than our own MAstars programme, the Catlin Guide and Bloomberg New Contemporaries, all of which offer a perennially stimulating and authoritative overview of new trends.

The idea of buying original art can seem daunting, an activity more appropriate to Charles Saatchi than the average person on a modest income. But if you know where to go for information and advice, it's a journey that will take you in surprising directions and add a new dimension to your daily life.

So throw away the clip-frames, start looking and take the plunge! For even a small investment, you will gain in return a lifetime's enrichment and pleasure.