We’re not all breaking records at auction houses snapping up Francis Bacon portraits or Koons balloon animals, but we have walls (and pedestals), too, and they deserve to be decked out. Ah, but where to begin? Lowell and Courtney H. Pettit, co-directors of New York City-based Pettit Art Partners, are experts in guiding private and corporate clients in acquiring, managing and displaying art. We sought out their tips on how to hone your eye, begin to build a collection — and enjoy art every day:
If I’m just starting out, how can I figure out what kind of art I like? Courtney: What we always encourage, whether you’re going to be buying in galleries or on the Internet, is constant looking—actually seeing art in person, interacting with it and seeing what you react to. Looking at one painting and saying, “Oh, I like that!” only goes so far. But, what’s invaluable is then seeing what else you respond to. Delving in one category may send you in one direction, which may then send you to another style or time period. We get our clients to look at a big swath of items and see what fits.
Do I have to stick with just one art personality? What if I consider myself eclectic? Lowell: Some of the finest collections establish a correspondence across media and generations. A novice may not cut their teeth on that immediately, but it’s an appropriate goal to have. Over time, you may find that 19th century pieces have properties that you also see in small-scale sculpture. Then the collection takes on a life of its own and honors the personality of the collector. We encourage our clients to think about those connections formally, conceptually, and art historically. Many of those concepts overlap. Whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned collector, it’s a really beautiful way to think about art rather than dollar amounts.
Is it bad if I’m looking to buy a painting that fits over my couch or goes with the colors in my living room? I mean, there IS a big blank spot over my couch… Courtney: Buying a painting to go over your sofa—it’s a fact of life. When it comes to size, if you say ‘over your couch’ you may not have an idea of what that actually is. Get a sense of scale with that very safe blue painter’s tape that comes off easily. Measure it out. Say it’s 55” x 60”—would a piece that size look right over the sofa? It’s about scale. In giant spaces, while you could put one large piece there, we’ve found that doing a salon wall allows breathability. That means there’s not one row of paintings at eye level. You put several smaller works in a random pattern.
But what if I find something I really love that doesn’t fit the space over my sofa? Courtney: As advisors we are mindful and respectful of a space, but a piece should be something you love so much that it could exist in any location. You will just as greatly admire it in a different spot in your home. Often people see buying art as simply acquiring… You are sheparding an object to another generation.
Lowell: That same rule does apply to very special elements of fashion and elements of design. It’s like a special accessory that you know that you are going to have forever.
What if I want to buy art but I don’t have a lot of money? Courtney: If you’re on a budget, unfortunately, it’s just about saving. It’s a very tricky ticket. Save your money so that you have some when you find something you like.
How can I be like those collectors I read about who snapped up inexpensive pieces for little money and then end up, years later, with collections worth millions of dollars? Courtney: You collect from your heart first. There is always going to be these levels—What is popular? What will trade higher next hear? But it comes down to what you truly, truly respond to. There’s not a shortcut to buying the next superstar. Of course, you can research to see who’s in the next museum show and Whitney Biennial. But, unfortunately, there’s no quick way about it. What’s important is that you continue to truly enjoy the art and be part of the art community and go to art galleries and functions and really benefit and engage. It sorts itself out from there.
What’s the most important thing to know about collecting art? Lowell: We feel strongly, obviously, about what good art advisory gives to people, but we can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting off of your ass and going to a gallery, a museum, a nonprofit art space, an alternative space, a benefit auction, an auction, art fairs, book fairs… It’s about educating your eye. All of this is going to inform the collection in its quality and breadth and nuance. That has immeasurable value.
Want to get started on your art journey? Check out our “Art for Everyone” sale, starting Tuesday, Feb. 4 at noon.
- Maria Ricapito