Maverick Life: ART

An art advisor’s guide to collecting art

By Malibongwe Tyilo 28 January 2020
Caption
Image courtesy of the Investec Cape Town Art Faire

Starting an art collection can be an intimidating experience. Art dealer and art advisor, João Ferreira breaks it down for us.

From 14-16 February 2020, artists, galleries, collectors and enthusiasts will descend on the Cape Town International Convention Centre for the 8th edition of the annual Investec Cape Town Art Fair. In addition to exhibitions from South African as well as international galleries from various African and European countries, every year the organisers host a series of panel discussions on various topics, open to all fairgoers to attend. For the 2020 edition, the discussions will range from art philanthropy to the relevance of museums in the 21st century to the need for public investment in culture. 

João Ferreira, a Cape Town-based art dealer and art advisor with over two decades of experience in the industry, will be hosting a panel discussion on collecting art. He will be joined by three private collectors, Guido Giachetti, Kholisa Thomas and Martin Epstein as well as Tristanne Farrel from Investec Wealth and Investment. 

Maverick Life caught up with Ferreira ahead of the fair to pick his brain on the intricacies of art collecting. “Look at a lot of art, that is the first thing you need to do if you decide to start collecting. Go to as many galleries as you can, get on their mailing lists, go to museums, ask a lot of questions, don’t be intimidated. I always say to people, have 10 questions in mind. Galleries can seem like these intimidating, beautiful white-walled spaces, but go for it, feel comfortable, that’s what they’re there for. You get to be alone with the art, that’s why they pay these high rentals, so that you can be alone with a painting in this beautiful environment,” says Ferreira. 

The past two decades have marked a continuous growth in demand for contemporary African art around the world. Locally, many galleries have opened. And of course, there are the Investec Cape Town Art Fair and the FNB Joburg Art Fair, which was launched in 2007, and then remodelled, streamlined and renamed FNB ArtJoburg in 2019. There’s also 1-54, an art fair founded in 2013 and which focuses on contemporary African art, with editions in London, New York and Marrakech.  

“About 10 years ago, the big museums abroad started looking at contemporary African art and the art started becoming more important, more vital, and that resulted in increased demand. Now contemporary African art is considered to be very collectible, very, very collectible,” explains Ferreira. 

“So the establishment of the Cape Town Art Fair was a very good thing, we can draw down from the galleries and artists in the African continent, and be a pivotal place where international art collectors can come to South Africa to purchase from and develop relationships with our galleries.” 

Developing “authentic” relationships within the art community is something that Ferreira considers to be absolutely necessary for any would-be collector: “That is the fundamental necessity in developing a collection. Develop relationships with galleries, curators, artists, and build and mould that social network. With that comes information, and with the information comes insight and knowledge.”

He also stresses the importance of developing a collecting strategy, something he says can be continuously refined as one gains more knowledge about the art ecosystem. According to Ferreira, a buyer with no strategy might buy a piece simply for its decorative value – perhaps they are furnishing their apartment and looking for something that might match the sofa – however, collecting is more of a long-term process and an openness to learning more about the artists one collects as well as the art world.

“Collecting is strategic, there’s underlying research into the work, and through the process you gain knowledge and an understanding of connoisseurship and collector motivation. You want to know why is this work good, why is the artist good. Then, as you start amassing pieces out of interest, you start to put pieces together that make sense; there’s a conversation between the works. Eventually, there’s that point where collectors become really passionate. It’s a journey,” he explains. 

Surrounded by well-versed art enthusiasts who might seem to easily grasp references in an artist’s work, novices might question their critical appreciation of the work. This is one of the subjects Ferreira and his fellow panellists plan to discuss at the fair. In his view, ownership itself contributes to the growth of the collector’s critical appreciation and a deeper understanding of the art of living artists. 

“If you collect abstract art for example, you might start with a very basic formal abstract, but once you start living with abstraction, and maybe doing a bit of research, you become critically appreciative of the language of abstraction, then next time you see a bunch of abstract art, you understand it better. It’s common to hear art collectors say things like ‘you wouldn’t believe what I bought when I first started’. That’s because they had to go through that phase in order to get to the next step. Those are the formal stages and are critical to art appreciation,” says Ferreira.

Taking that into consideration, he advises the new collector to be budget-conscious at the beginning, and to buy with one’s eye and heart rather than one’s ear, meaning buy what grabs your eye, within budget, rather than blow large amounts on an artist that someone one else might tell you is highly rated. He also recommends familiarising oneself with smaller galleries and the art school circuit, and attending student exhibitions, where one might pick up affordably-priced work from younger artists. And of course, should your budget allow, one can also get the services of an art advisor like Ferreira and others. 

There are also different motivations behind various collectors. There are those who would amass a large collection and keep much of it in storage, perhaps occasionally taking out pieces to display in their homes. Some might lend pieces to museums and galleries. At the wealthy end, there are collectors who might end up opening institutions like the Norval Foundation and the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town where a selection of their work might be displayed alongside work from other collections. 

Then, of course, there are collectors looking to buy and sell some works at a later stage. Whatever the motivation behind starting a collection, practical considerations like longevity, storage and insurance come into play as a collector advances.

Says Ferreira: “As one progresses and budgets increase, it’s important to ensure that the work is restorable, especially because a lot of contemporary art is made with materials like fabrics and plastic that might change over time. Make sure it’s hung well and not in direct sunlight. Pay attention to the condition of the work going forward. Keep all the documentation that came with the work, like the certificate of authenticity, collect and store additional documentation, perhaps you met the artist and took a photograph with them, or their studio, keep that. If you have the exhibition catalogue the work came from, keep that as well. And then get a professional appraiser to come in and appraise the work every three to five years.” 

As one embarks on a journey towards amassing the kind of collection that enriches their lives and the lives of others that might view it, and perhaps receive a favourable appraisal, Ferreira once again emphasizes the importance of educating oneself and building relationships at various exhibitions as well as art fairs.

“An art fair is a unique opportunity to see a series of the top galleries that have applied to the fair through a very stringent selection committee. So going in, you’ve already got a high quality of art. You get to meet all these different galleries and artists at various stages of their careers. And then, of course, you get to meet and possibly build relationships with other collectors, and that’s first prize because they might have years of experience and great insight into the contemporary art market.” 

You can catch Ferreira’s panel discussion, titled, A passion for collecting art, from 2-3pm on Friday, 14 February 2020 at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair. ML

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