How to Start an Art Collection

One of the first pieces of art that Lauren Kotmel ’11 ever bought was a huge mixed-media canvas from a hole-in-the wall gallery in Washington, D.C. At the time, she was interning at the Smithsonian as part of Kent State’s Washington Program in National Issues. “When my parents came to pick me up [at the end of the internship], they almost killed me because it took up half the car!” laughs Kotmel.

That was just the beginning of the artwork she’s collected over the past few years. “I love to support local, and I’m an unconventional collector,” Kotmel says. “I have a little bit of everything: lithographs and screen prints of exhibits or gallery openings, sketches from a fashion designer friend’s recent fall line, vintage surrealist black and white photography, mixed-media prints and rare or framed vinyl album covers.”

Here are Kotmel’s collecting tips:

  1. Learn what you like. “Train your eye because there are so many different types of mediums and genres available. Expose yourself to different types of galleries or installations; even if you don’t think you’ll like something, go and look anyway. You may be surprised!”
  2. Know your budget. “I’d never encourage someone to buy something they couldn’t afford, but a little stretch is worth it if you find something you love. Most gallery owners will do payment plans for young people just starting out. They don’t advertise it, but it never hurts to ask.”
  3. Buy it because you love it. “Don’t buy something because someone talked you into it or because the artist is trendy right now. Do you love it? At an auction at the Smithsonian, I bought a lithograph poster celebrating the 1974 grand opening of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Posters and screen prints are usually affordable and a great way to start collecting. I bid on the piece because I loved the bold colors, and the Hirshhorn is my favorite museum. I didn’t realize it was by Larry Rivers, one of the founding fathers of pop art, until after I fell in love with it. It will only appreciate with time. So go with your gut!”
  4. Be confident in your taste. “Don’t worry about getting too academic. There are no rules. One of my favorite pieces is a mantra block made out of repurposed driftwood from Lake Erie, engraved with the power word ‘Fearless.’ I gravitate toward pieces that include words because I find them empowering.”
  5. Take care of your artwork. “Framing or mounting can be more expensive than the price of the work itself. Proper archival preservation and maintenance is important for your long-term investment. Be sure to ask the artist or gallery owner for their advice in matting, framing, lighting and placement.”