By Kris Wilton Published: May 22, 2008
Hunt offered this tough-love call to action at a panel called “Collecting Photography: What’s Hot,” at the debut New York Photo Festival, which took place in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood May 14–18. Joining him were fellow gallerist Yancey Richardson, collector (and record exec) Kent Belden, and Patrick Amsellem, who is associate curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum.
Like many of photo-world professionals and enthusiasts who attended the new festival, dedicated to “the future of contemporary photography,” these four talked about finding that perfect work — a work that compels you to collect — as a visceral, pulse-raising experience.
“Look at the hair on the back of your hand,” advises Hunt. “Listen to your heart. Commit.”
Here are some more tips from the panel to help you get started.
1. No Trust Fund? No Problem
You might not be a nouveau riche Russian billionaire or the heir to a family forture, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a collector. “There are many areas of the market to collect in," says Richardson. "You can buy Struth and Gursky and be ready to spend a hundred thousand to half a million dollars, but you can also buy strong young artists for, say, $2,000 to $3,500.”
2. Let Dealers Help
“A lot of dealers are collectors at heart, so they share this excitement and enthusiasm for finding a piece that’s fabulous and wonderful and right for you,” says Richardson — even if that fabulous piece is in another gallery. “Part of the excitement of the photographic community is that a lot of sharing goes on.”
3. Be Sneaky
If you find a work that you love but can’t afford, look around a bit, advises Belden. You may be able to find a smaller version of it being offered somewhere else. Belden does most of his searching online, trying auction house, gallery, and artist Web sites.
4. Look in the Closet
If you go to an art fair, says Richardson, look in the closets. “I’ve found some of the best pieces for myself and my clients in the closets of the exhibition booths. They’re for sale, but they’re tucked away for one reason or another.”
4. Don’t Rely on Fairs
Go to art fairs to see a range of work, but go to exhibitions at galleries to learn about a particular artist’s range, says Richardson. “You’ll have a much better understanding of who that artist is.”
5. And While You’re There…
If you find an artist you like at a particular gallery, ask to see work by other artists it represents, since it could be that your taste overlaps with the gallerist’s. You can also browse through a gallery’s stable of artists online, though Richardson warns that there’s a good chance the images posted there are not necessarily the newest work.
6. Do Not Fear the Gallerina
Those chic, bespectacled young aesthetes behind the desk at the gallery may not be the most welcoming, but they’re there to help. “I know people find galleries intimidating,” says Richardson, “but we’re always trying not to be.” She suggests the following approach: “If you’re interested in something, walk up to the gallerina at the desk and say you’d like some help, or point to something on the wall and say, ‘Who is that, can you tell me about that?’ In many galleries, someone will happily get up and talk to you about the artist.”
7. Stop By in the Summer
“Summertime’s a great time to look at photographs,” says Hunt, “because many galleries will do a summer show that features talent that the gallery’s trying on to see the response. The price point is pitched a little lower, because you get a different kind of traffic in summer. And I think dealers behave a little differently.”
8. Give a Little, Get a Little
Charity auctions can be a great place to find bargains, says Richardson. Galleries are unlikely to offer up their very best gems, but “often a lot of very good pieces are donated. It’s also a great way to get exposed to a lot of work.” Hunt adds that it’s also “a great way to see a mix of photographs that may otherwise never be seen together.”
9. Be a Joiner
If you can afford it, join the support group for patrons of the photography department of your local museum, suggests Richardson. “Curators and directors will talk with you about work they’ve seen that they think is important. They’ll take you through the art fairs and help you understand what you’re looking at.”