Not Sure Where to Buy Art? Here are Some Secrets to Success in Buying

A journey begins with the first step, and the first step in starting your art collecting journey is your first artwork purchase. There are many options in determining where to buy your first or second, or third piece of art. You may find yourself dabbling in each of them. Let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of each avenue.


One of the best reasons to shop at an art gallery is the variety of artwork to be found and the education you can receive while discussing art at the gallery. The curator gallerist is an expert, and likely willing to share information about the artists, the work, and the art world. Prices can be higher at galleries but don’t discount the possibility of getting a discount (no pun intended). Additionally, they have done their homework, so you will have a quality piece in good condition when you buy from a gallery. Lastly, they can arrange for shipping, so you don’t have to wonder how you will get a 200-pound sculpture home! Build a relationship with a gallery which may pay off with better pricing (or even let you pay for it in installments). Art fairs are sometimes seen as a category within the gallery sector, and many of the same rules apply here. We have previously discussed art fairs here.

Online Auctions

There are deals to be had at auctions, and opportunities to find pieces one could not find locally. The market increases exponentially with online sales, but so does the risk. Without viewing a piece in person, quality and view are not verified as clearly. Further, you may not be able to determine some of the details of the piece or have the chance to investigate the artist or the piece.  However, there is a slightly reduced risk if you purchase online through a brick-and-mortar house, where the retailer or gallery house has a good reputation (think Christie’s) and provides a wealth of information about the art. Online-only auction houses may not provide the depth of information about the item or comparable sales, disallowing the buyer to value the piece accurately. Be sure to ask for a condition report to help offset the online jitters you may have.

Private Seller

One might think that buying art from a private party helps to ward off competition, allowing a purchaser exclusive access to a piece. But, for an inexperienced collector, there are several risks you will want to mitigate. First, verifying authenticity is the biggest one. You will need to be sure that the piece is what the seller says it is. Provenance helps the buyer get a feel for the artwork’s ownership history, helping to support authenticity. Harder to prove, it is an excellent idea to get a promise from the seller of the accuracy. Determining value is best left to experts, and this is where an art advisor is crucial, especially for less skilled collectors. Even if you choose not to retain an advisor for a long-term engagement, hiring one for an opinion can certainly pay off in the long run.

Online Sales

Different from auctions, online galleries are becoming more popular with new (especially younger) collectors.  Some of the benefits to this brand of art purchasing are the sheer number and variety of pieces of work you can view in one location. Because they are not bound by the square footage of gallery space, online marketers can showcase an extensive inventory of options. Further, you don’t need to travel during the gallery’s limited hours to view your options. You can sit in bed in your flannel PJs, finding the best piece for your budget. However, you must insist on satisfaction guarantee; some galleries will either “loan” the piece out (with restrictions), so you can truly see it “in action”; others will offer a money-back guarantee to be sure you are delighted with your purchase. With the increase in popularity of online sales, prices are on the rise, so don’t expect that you will automatically find a “steal.”

Cruise Ship Auctions

Run away. Far, far away. It might be tempting; you are a captive audience, and the pieces might even be displayed nicely. However, the companies overseeing the auction are likely the only authentic things there; most pieces are reproductions and should be purchased as such. A cruise ship art auction is no place for a serious art collector, so leave the artwork to the amateurs.

Live Auctions

In most instances a secondary market, art sold here will have a traceable history, which gives new collectors a bit more confidence in his or her purchase. You have access to condition, authenticity, and provenance reports, all which can bolster the value and the price. You will find all sorts of buyers here, and you may be able to spot the experts easily. This is true in most situations; however, you may find charity auctions a different animal since there is the added value of the charitable donation. Take this into consideration when watching the numbers rise. With the addition of growing popularity of live-and-phone or online combinations, be on your toes. Understand auction etiquette, so you know exactly how much higher you are bidding when you do raise your hand (and no, you will not accidentally bid if you scratch your head!). Again, an art advisor can make a difference in your live auction experience, allowing you to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the day!

Personal Shopper and Curator

We at Sybaris Collection pride ourselves in delivering premium, original pieces to art lovers, interior designers, and collectors enthusiastic about acquiring art from the unique, culturally rich places discovered worldwide. Allow us to help you find what intrigues you while promoting diverse cultural heritages through art and design. Our private ARTclub allows you access to even more exclusive breathtaking pieces, handpicked for your selection.