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The Art Of Collecting

Amassing a personal trove of visual treasures doesn’t have to be about money.

You see it. You like it. You buy it. But then, why, a few years later, does that piece of art end up in the attic?

Maybe because you became less enamored with it over time. Or maybe it’s no longer color-coordinated with the new couch. But buying art doesn’t have to be a throwaway affair.

“A lot of people buy ‘things’ rather than promote a decades-long conversation,” says Jeffry Cudlin, a professor at Maryland Institute College of Art. “I know a lot of people who care about decorating their homes more than about collecting art.”

If, however, you think you can get serious about collecting art for its own sake, Baltimore dealers and experts have some pointers for you that can make the experience a lot more fun and rewarding—and even (relatively) affordable.

“Older collectors say that young people aren’t interested in collecting art, but it’s because millennials are strapped for cash,” says Deana Haggag, the 29-year-old director of The Contemporary, a nomadic, non-collecting art museum. “I have no money and have amassed a lovely collection based on knowing, living, and working with artists—young artists trade.”

Even if you haven’t immersed yourself in the art world enough to make trades, there are ways to save money.

“For any beginner, the Publications and Multiples Fair that happens every March is incredibly creative and affordable,” says Haggag. “I go every year and spend way more than I should.”

Another good place to start your new life as a serious (amateur) collector is at one of the area’s less high-end galleries that showcases the work of up-and-coming local artists. One such destination is the nonprofit Creative Alliance, where it doesn’t matter if you have $10 in your pocket or are spending your way through your kids’ inheritance.

And now for the important part: Why are you buying this stuff, and how do you know it’s, you know, good art?

“Everybody has their own perspective on what is good,” says Creative Alliance exhibits and program manager Jeremy Stern, who adds that buying art is something akin to starting a new relationship. “It’s the thing that calls out to you—the one you keep going back to,” he says. After all, you’ll be sharing a home with this work of art. “It’s not, ‘What’s the best fit above your couch,’ but what compels you. And I say, don’t buy for investment purposes. The art market is so fickle,” says Stern, who creates his own artwork using maps, as well as things like clay, plastic, tacks, and drywall.

Oh, and about that kids’ inheritance you’re burning through: One local aficionado who helps better-heeled buyers navigate the art world is Amy Raehse, executive director and curator at Goya Contemporary Gallery, where artworks range in price from $1,000 to more than $500,000. She says that when a client comes into her gallery, she spends some time getting to know him or her. “People arrive at collecting for different reasons,” says Raehse, who has been at Goya since 2001. “The pleasure of investing in artwork is that there can be a monetary return and you have the joy of living with this art.”

And what makes a good buy might involve looking beyond what’s most popular. “Consider something offered by female artists, or maybe African-American and Latin-American artists. These are all good buys because these markets are gaining traction,” she says.

Who you buy from is also important. “Trust is an important part of buying art,” says Raehse. “Know the history of an organization, how they conduct their business, and how they work with artists.”

Tour de Art

Here’s a sampling of galleries with a wide range of styles and prices, too.

Schuler School of Fine Arts
Located in an adapted rowhouse on E. Lafayette Avenue, the Schuler School of Fine Arts’ gallery offers buyers a chance to discover great traditionalist works by undiscovered talent—its students. Shows featuring the work of students and faculty take place three times a year in March, June, and December in both the school (another reborn rowhouse) and the gallery. 7 E. Lafayette Ave., open year-round by appointment, 410-685-3568.

Platform Gallery
Just around the corner from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, you’ll find the women-owned Platform Gallery, one of the city’s newest contemporary-art venues. This commercial gallery features local and regional artists. 116 W. Mulberry St., Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., [email protected].

Craig Flinner Gallery
Works on paper can be an attractive entry to collecting art, as an authentic century-old print can be had for as little as $5. Now operating in the same space as Millbrook Antiques, this gallery on The Avenue has large vintage posters from Belle Epoque Paris, 19th-century lithographs, 100-year-old Japanese woodblocks, and first-edition Audubon prints. 859 W. 36th St., Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 410-235-7655, baltimoreantiques.com.

Renaissance Fine Arts
If your tastes extend from traditional to contemporary art, then add Renaissance Fine Arts to your list of galleries to visit. Its collection includes works by Picasso, Matisse, and Warhol. Village of Cross Keys, 88 Village Sq., Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

C. Grimaldis Gallery
C. Grimaldis Gallery in Mt. Vernon is Baltimore’s longest-running contemporary art gallery, specializing in postwar American and European art, with an emphasis on contemporary sculpture. 523 N. Charles St., Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., 410-539-1080, cgrimaldisgallery.com.