Skip to main content

Don't Be a Victim of Bad Art

Here's a guide to getting the most out of your art purchases.

Bad art can happen to anyone.

It can be acquired in lots of places: at the front of a local

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Free Report

, perhaps, or even at a hot gallery opening in


Bad art is a

nouveau riche

epidemic that doesn't discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, gender or age. As 10,000-square-foot homes and beachfront vacation houses become a fact of nouveau riche life, many up-and-comers seem not to know the difference between filling wall space and making a true investment in art.

On a recent weekend at a "done-good" friend's

Miami loft, I found myself lying face to face with bad art that came in the form of a seven-foot-tall oil painting of a glistening rosebud with baseball-size drops of dew, encased in a Baroque gold frame.

When I inquired of its origin, as polite friends do, a dissertation-length explanation began. It included phrases like "weekend in

Key West" and "local art show" that are practically keywords for bad art.

My friend could literally afford anything he wants -- and that includes


art. I realized he was yet another nouveau riche victim of impulsive buying and bad art.

That's where April Jacobs fits in as Junior Specialist of Post-War and Contemporary Art for

Christie's New York. While a skeptic would think Christie's was exclusively pricey auctions for paddle-wielding art divas, the art house offers a diverse selection of sales aimed at burgeoning collectors. Rival auction house


(BID) - Get Free Report

also has a variety of offerings.

"Part of my job requires that I research the original selling prices for the works that we sell in our Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art. My jaw drops at the relatively affordable prices that young clients paid for masterworks by


de Kooning,

Rothko, etc." she says.

Additionally, Christie's has a sale twice a year called "Open House" that features a wide array of top-notch and rising artists at prices capped at about $60,000.

"It's a great sale to start collecting" insists Jacobs, "and the specialists working this sale are young, talented and willing to help new clients begin their collections."

Christie's expanded its presence in the private art market by acquiring Zurich-based Haunch and Venison last year. With outposts in London and Berlin, the avant-garde collection of boutiques features offerings by artists like

Mark Alexander,

Keith Coventry and

Anton Henning well suited to hip, young investors.

Collecting can be done with a very small budget and virtually all areas offer works of art for modest amounts of money.

Beginning an art collection is never an easy task, which is why newer investors are likely to end up with far too many portraits of Parisian streets and solitary fruit. A person's first art purchase is like buying a first Mercedes or first property, a very big deal that should also be an enjoyable learning process.

"The first and foremost advice should always be buy what you like -- if it's on a million-dollar budget or a $10,000 budget, buying an object you truly like and desire always turns out to be a good purchase," says Jacobs.

There's a surprisingly wide range of buying opportunities for almost any budget with galleries seeing more and more new collectors entering sales everyday. The under-40 buying market is one of the strongest demographics in the art market today; members of Gen X and Gen Y bring their dominant business style and instinctual attraction to personal purchases.

"Many people are talked into buying something that they don't like, only to regret the decision later. You should buy things that you enjoy, and that will pay off immensely in the long run."

Once you've found the piece of art you love, make sure you do your homework on whether you're paying a fair price or top dollar.

"Do your research. Many online research databases are available, such as

ArtNet, and a more informed buyer will make the best choices for their collection. Don't be afraid to reach to that next level, however. Whenever we meet collectors, the first thing they tell us is about the story of 'the one that got away.'"

After you've done your research, make sure you've taken into account the four elements of a good purchase, namely "quality, rarity, condition and provenance of the desired work." If the selected work is already framed, as with a large photograph or lithograph, ensure the piece is not glued onto the matting or backing. When purchasing a print, try to be specific with the dealer as to know the exact number and run of the edition you are buying.

If you fail to acquire the piece you love, keep an open mind to new styles and subsequent collections that will ultimately expand your personal art collection and experience.

"Becoming 'a collector' does not necessarily mean sticking to central style. You learn, you develop your eye, you get in touch with interesting and passionate specialists and other collectors -- it is a journey, a voyage, that should be rewarding and enjoyable," Jacobs says.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.