Art Collecting With Confidence

Think that painting for sale is inaccessible, either financially or because you don’t know enough about art to trust your own tastes? Think again.
Brooke Abrames, co-executive director of Blue Line Arts
Brooke Abrames, co-executive director of Blue Line Arts. Photo by Beth Baugher.

One of Stephanie Taylor’s professors in her graduate program for sculpture at Sacramento State would have students stare at a piece of art for an hour. Most museum visitors spend only about 30 seconds gazing at one work of art—and those are masterpieces. Looking for so long could feel daunting at first. “Then all of a sudden, after a certain time, you start seeing stuff that you just never would have seen or appreciated,” Taylor says.

Truly appreciating art demands time, attention and an in-person viewing, especially for those choosing art to buy. “There’s no replacement for going to visit and seeing the actual work,” says Taylor, a studio artist since 1977 whose murals and sculptures can be found throughout the Sacramento region, with many of her other creations in collections across the United States and in Paris and Kyoto, Japan. “You might like a subject matter, you might like the content or what the narrative of a piece is, if it has one. You might be drawn to the application of the medium, the skill of the artist.”

“Amphora #7,” by Stephanie Taylor
“Amphora #7,” by Stephanie Taylor.

In 2021, global art and antique sales reached a massive $60.5 billion, according to the annual Art Market report commissioned by Art Basel and UBS. This figure represents a 29 percent increase over the prior year, ending a deep recession for the global art market. The report’s authors describe this recovery as “particularly strong for major auction houses and galleries in the top echelons.” Much of the recovery can be attributed to “incredibly high priced pieces” and “staggeringly” wealthy individuals.

But buying art is actually more accessible than one might assume, says Liv Moe, founding director of Verge Center for the Arts in Sacramento’s Southside Park neighborhood. “If people realize that a lot of the art is not as expensive as they think it’s going to be, and collecting really can just be about forging relationships with artists in your community, I think that changes the calculus a little bit,” she says.

Step aside, leisure class. Original art, Moe says, is for everyone.

Stepping Through the Gallery Doors

Among the many cultural shifts prompted by the pandemic, people who have transitioned to remote work now pay more attention to their living spaces. They want those areas to feel nice. “Whether it was their home or office they were spending more time in, if they were getting tired of their space and needed something to freshen it up, art became a way for them to do that,” says Brooke Abrames, co-executive director of Blue Line Arts in downtown Roseville.

With the help of vaccines and a desire for normalcy, people have begun re-entering galleries that are eager to welcome them. Sacramento’s long-running Second Saturday art walk has also returned—good news for potential buyers wanting that in-person artwork experience.

Cynthia Lou, curator and owner of Sparrow Gallery. Art
Cynthia Lou, curator and owner of Sparrow Gallery. Photo by Beth Baugher.

That’s because photographs don’t represent a work’s full scale. Colors get lost in digital translation. An Instagram post diminishes emotion. And a two-dimensional version can’t convey texture, says Cynthia Lou, curator and owner of Sparrow Gallery in Sacramento’s R Street Corridor. Her gallery represents many mixed-media artists, along with painters, ceramicists and photographers. Artist Dianne Poinski, for example, creates by first gluing an archival pigment print onto a panel. Then she brushes layers of a clear encaustic medium (beeswax mixed with damar resin) over the print and fuses it with heat. She might also add embellishments. These details are nearly impossible to deliver through a screen.

Potential buyers should see as much art as possible to develop their own tastes, Abrames says, because when it comes time to hand over the credit card, the buyer needs to trust in those tastes. The local secondary art market is small, so when a consumer buys a piece, they might be stuck with it for a while. The best advice for feeling confident in one’s decision? “Usually, people buy art they love,” Abrames says. “I don’t think there’s a much better strategy than that.”

Galleries in the Sacramento region like Elliott Fouts Gallery, which opened in 1999 and later moved to midtown Sacramento, can attract those interested in representational landscape and still-life painting, nonrepresentational art and Funk ceramics. John Natsoulas Center for the Arts in Davis, considered one of the top galleries in California, showcases pre-eminent West Coast artists. There are also newer venues to explore, such as Twisted Track Gallery on R Street, which recently held a group show curated by local independent curator Faith J. McKinnie.

“When Life Hands You Lemons,” by Jennnifer Lugris
“When Life Hands You Lemons,” by Jennnifer Lugris.

“A person should be prepared to spend some time in a gallery when it’s quiet and really do justice to the pieces they’re attracted to and even the ones they are not,” Taylor says. “Lots of people don’t have time and they want to be more spontaneous. Great. But chances are the longer you spend before you purchase it, the greater the appreciation will be over the years.”

Patris Miller, who runs Patris Studio and Art Gallery in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, says buyers can discover an array of styles, subject matter and mediums by visiting galleries. “For the beginning collector, just spending some time thinking, looking, enjoying the visual sensation of the art and then allowing it to speak on a more visceral level” is invaluable, Miller says. Talking to gallerists can also add a “nice level of richness” to the art-buying process.

And there’s no need to be intimidated: Gallery representatives enjoy interacting with curious visitors, even novices. “Everyone here is thrilled when you ask a question that we can tell you more about the art and the artist,” Abrames says. “Genuine interest is always appreciated, and if you have time to do a little bit of homework on what you’re looking for, that is always helpful to the conversation.”

Art Can Be Affordable

Art isn’t necessarily financially out of reach. The walls of a grungy garage or a tattoo parlor might be where some buyers discover their reasonably priced masterpiece. Many artists accept payment plans. Galleries often sell limited-run prints of originals featured in a show. Buyers can inquire about custom commissions, which a gallery might help facilitate with the artist. Sparrow Gallery holds an annual show of painted vinyl records with price points under $300. “It makes it a little bit more feasible on the pocketbook for new collectors,” Lou says.

A new collector hesitant to make a big investment might start by patronizing emerging artists. Or they might buy less-expensive smaller pieces or prints, frame them, and curate an eclectic gallery wall as a home’s focal point. They should be open to taking risks, says Moe, who gravitates toward art that challenges or intrigues her, rather than settling for a straightforward painting or what looks most aesthetically pleasing.

“When I collect work, I get excited about the idea of how I can live with something that maybe isn’t just a framed thing I’m going to put on the wall or a sculpture I’m going to set on a shelf,” she says. Moe has a treasured piece her late friend and artist Nathan Cordero made out of a magnolia leaf; a framer crafted a shadow box to suspend and protect the leaf, which would have otherwise disintegrated.

At Sparrow Gallery, paintings of the American River and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta resonate with patrons. With abstract art, color seems to be what grabs viewers. Personal pieces that evoke emotion are also popular, Lou says, referencing collage artist Jill Allyn Stafford, whose creations incorporate family letters and her grandfather’s cookbooks.

Sacramento artist Jennifer Lugris often finds herself enamored with art but not quite able to articulate why. “We are used to navigating the world in a very verbal way, where you’re putting words to everything you’re experiencing through sight and hearing, feeling,” she says. “But art is more intuitive. It’s more emotional. Sometimes there’s a work of art that captivates me, and it’s very hard to put in words why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, why I connected to that piece and I just have to have it.”

“Dewdrops or Morning’s Secret,” by Dianne Poinski
“Dewdrops or Morning’s Secret,” by Dianne Poinski.

For her own art, Lugris paints simple moments or things—a mother breastfeeding her child, a houseplant—and infuses them with colorful, fun patterns to elevate the moments to small miracles. Her artwork is about showing gratitude for the everyday experiences of life, says Lugris, who comes from a long line of refugees, her ancestors having fled dictatorships in North Korea and South America. She believes collectors buy her work because they connect with her story.

“You’re not only buying this beautiful piece, but you’re also buying an experience from the artist,” Lugris says. “You’re connecting with this other human being. In a way, it reminds us of all of our humanity and all of our connections and how we’re all trying to live a happy, fulfilling life. That’s what art can be about.”