If you’re considering buying art, the next piece you purchase may already be in your pocket. Providing, of course, you have an Instagram account on your smartphone. Search #Artist and you’ll have access to a mind-boggling 186 million posts, with something in every genre, from painted landscapes and portraits, to political illustrations and still lifes.
Be a little more targeted, with #CollectibleArt, for example, and that number comes down to a more manageable 16,000. Clearly, emerging artists are using the platform to get their work seen, and logically, many gallerists—and savvy art investors—are using it to scout for the next stars of the art world.
“I check Instagram regularly,” says Cem Angeli, of CA Contemporary gallery in Vienna. “I’ll see what they’re about, and if I like the look of them, I’ll reach out to them.” Marcello Kwan, Vice President, Senior Specialist, and Head of Sale of Contemporary Asian Art at Christie’s Hong Kong, agrees: “Try finding art-related hashtags to find not just artists to follow, but galleries and museums, new trends, and new names.”
Buy what you love, and only what you love. You’ll be left with something you always enjoy seeing on your wall—Emmanuelle Chan
But don’t stop at hashtags. Both Angeli and Kwan stress the importance of doing some homework when you begin collecting the work of up-and-coming artists. “Look at their resumé, where have they exhibited, if anywhere, and what kind of shows?” counsels Angeli, who opened his space in 2016. He also advises looking at the beginning of an artist’s career—where did they study, did they get good grades at art school, what was their degree show like? “Go to graduate shows!” he adds.
Away from smartphones, Kwan points would-be investors to art fairs. Either online or, when the time comes, back in the real world, believing fairs to be a good way to explore new talent. “It’s always best to view artworks in person, but virtual tours are a good preparation.”
Art-related hashtags can help you find artists to follow, as well as galleries and museums, new trends, and new names—Marcello Kwan
Rachel Uffner has been showing emerging and mid-career artists in her eponymous New York City gallery since 2008, and spots new talent at shows—both individual and group—and sometimes through recommendation. “I’m looking for something new, something that pushes whatever medium the artist is working in: sculpture, painting, photography, in a direction that I find new and interesting.” Once someone has piqued her interest, she will pay a visit to the artist’s studio to see if they connect. “Starting a relationship with an artist is a big commitment from both sides, so there has to be something about the artist, their rigor, their personality, their thinking, that I’m going to want to work with.”
Angeli also likes to visit an artist in his or her working environment. “I like to see how they work, how they draw, for instance. You need to see quality in someone’s work and to see working with them as a long-term thing.”
When you’re investing in an artist, you’re investing in a person. Collecting should be a long-term relationship—Rachel Uffner
Both Angeli and Uffner recommend building a relationship with the gallerists who act for artists producing the kind of work you like. Be a regular visitor to their galleries, talk to them about the people they represent, ask them why they decided on certain artists. Emmanuelle Chan, Associate Specialist and Head of Online Sale at Christie’s Paris, also advises meeting the artists themselves whenever you can, either through a gallery or via social media. “Most young artists are happy to meet their collectors,” she says. “You could perhaps even become a patron. That’s how artists made it throughout history: without the Stein family, we probably wouldn’t know the names Picasso and Matisse today.”
Gallerists, of course, are happy to arrange meetings between their artists and potential clients, at private views and hosted dinners, and can also arrange studio visits. Both gallerists and auction house experts advise taking a long view when it comes to investing in emerging artists. “Art is a medium-term investment,” in Angeli’s view. “You are not going to buy a young artist one month and expect them to sell for huge prices a few months later.”
Patrons helped artists throughout history: without the Stein family, we probably wouldn’t know the names Picasso and Matisse today—Emmanuelle Chan
“When I get asked about starting a collection, I say look at as much art as you can so you begin to get a feel for what you like,” says Uffner, “and be prepared to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes when they are starting out.”
“Buy what you love, and only what you love,” says Chan. “If the price goes down, at least you’re left with something you actually enjoy seeing on your wall. And don’t flip too soon, it’s killing the market and people will lose respect for you.”
Uffner recognizes that every art buyer wants to see their investment appreciate, but reminds would-be buyers, “when you’re investing in an artist you’re investing in a person. It’s not like real estate where you might buy with a view to selling it for profit in a couple of years. Collecting should be a long-term relationship.”
Kwan agrees that you should collect with your heart, but adds, “Remember, all big artists start small. No one could have known in the early 2000s that SpaceX would send a rocket into space.”
Banner image: Work by emerging artist Wu Chen on display at Art Basel Miami Beach 2019