How to Collect Art: Understanding Provenance

I joined ArtPS, the fine art fair in Palm Springs, as an exhibitor over Presidents weekend. Since I’m currently living and working in the Coachella Valley, I wanted to introduce myself to the community.

The fair was a success and I met a lot of wonderful people.

I was asked to do a lecture in the Theatre on how to begin collecting art. As I created my presentation, I realized I needed to cover a lot of topics, not only about obtaining art, but about a collector’s duties as a good guardian. I spoke about preservation and conservation, insuring your works properly, and thinking ahead about estate planning for your collection.

While all of that is vital for a collector to understand, the most critical thing I stressed in this lecture was good record keeping, and how provenance is so important to both an invidual piece of work and a collection as a whole.

It’s a fact that pieces with good provenance sell for higher prices. Beyond achieving higher prices when the pieces are brought to market, however, good provenance has lots of benefits for a collector.

Good provenance and great recordkeeping are essential for many aspects of art collection:

  • An insurer may ask for the provenance of a piece that they will possibly be insuring.
  • Appraisers have a much easier time with the valuation process when a piece has good provenance.
  • When donating a piece, most institutions and organizations require a good paper trail of its provenance.
  • Well-maintained art will outlive many, many owners, and as the piece exists further into the future, beneficiaries, scholars and dealers of all kinds will use provenance records for the benefit of the work.

What is good recordkeeping?

  • Write down everything you can about the art you own, including stories shared by the artist or sellers, artist information like their bio and career history, and any information on how and where and when the art was made, along with any exhibitions the work was in.
  • Save and file all gallery brochures, reviews, related books, exhibit catalogues, web pages, etc.
  • Keep documents safe, with backups where possible.

There are many cataloguing and collection management systems available on the market. These systems can help you stay on top of your documentation and are especially helpful for large collections. If you are so inclined to use one to get your collection properly managed, please reach out to me and I can make a few suggestions.

No matter the size and source of your collection, remember the most important thing: KEEP EVERYTHING!

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