Ahead of Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, The Resident magazine caught up with fine art advisor Vanessa Curry for her top tips to buying art and antiques like a professional
What tips would you give someone who knows nothing about buying art and antiques?
The key thing is to know when and where the art and antiques fairs are – they’re a great place to start and you can build knowledge just by visiting. Think about what you are looking for but also keep an open mind so you can be inspired by what you see. Spend time – four or five hours – in a fair to identify threads of fashion and build an understanding of different aesthetics during different periods. This will make it easier to identify particular shapes and styles of furniture and knowing what era they’re from. Once you’ve identified what style is appealing to you, talk to dealers – most antiques and arts dealers will be happy to have a conversation with you.
How do buyers know that everything at the fair is authentic?
All the items are vetted by experts, right down from a small comb to a four metre square rug. The piece will be exactly what it says on the description.
What do you look for when you’re buying art and antiques?
With art, just knowing if the artist is attributed is important. This is very simple. Can you find any information on the artist, have they exhibited anywhere publically, do any public collections own anything by the artist and is that artist quintessential of their period?
It’s important to know the provenance of the piece, so if it’s been exhibited in a national gallery or owned by an interesting person – it doesn’t matter if that’s Kylie Minogue or George III. If you can get your dealer to write down the information they give you on letter-headed paper it can be passed down through generations and add value to your purchase.
Is it a good idea to go with a budget?
It depends how well you know the market. I do think it’s always worth negotiating a little on prices. As English people we are nervous about that but in other countries – Italy, Spain –there is a well-respected tradition of haggling. You don’t want to be insulting though, it is important to think about what is the right price.
What advice can you offer when it comes to negotiating?
I will always go into a negotiation knowing the correct price for the piece I am prepared to pay. What infuriates me is when I hear people just pluck a number out of their head because it’s a bit lower than what they’re being asked for. Every number has to be substantiated and if you know that the market price is not what the seller is asking for then just tell them that you’re aware of cheaper prices.
Be sensitive to the fact that the gallery or the dealer probably knows a bit more about that piece of work than you, and don’t be arrogant, have an honest conversation about why you’re suggesting the price. Be sensitive also to the lengths that galleries / dealers have to go to source items, people are flying all over the world to find pieces and everyone is going after the same thing, so understanding what dealers have to go through to bring something to market is important.
Be aware that this is an opportunity for you to build long term relationships with dealers in order to build your collection. Their knowledge can help increase your enjoyment of the piece.
Would you pass up an item if it’s damaged?
This is really dependant on the item and the buyer. A year or so ago, I looked at a really lovely piece of Lalique, which had been seriously over polished and damaged by the cleaning process, as a result I knew it wasn’t worth my pursuing as it will never be able to be corrected.
However, I recently bid on a Warhol painting at Sotheby’s the style of which rarely comes up at auction. I went through a long conversation with my client about how much the damage bothered us. One of the factors we considered is Warhol’s studio, which was known for being in a bad condition, particularly his studio in the 1960’s, it was pretty crumby – who knows what was going on around those canvas’s – and things were often damaged straight after the paint had dried. So it’s an accepted fact that lots of Warhols are damaged and therefore it doesn’t affect the price.
Should you buy something because you want to make money from it or because you love it?
When I started working with private collectors I was told that if you love something then someone else will but if you don’t possibly no one else will. That is always in the back of my mind.
One does have to love the item you’re buying as you’re committing to it financially and there’s no guarantee that it will go up in value, so you have to be happy to spend that money without making a return.
That said, the thing about antiques, more so than art, is that they are practical, usable items so they have an intrinsic value.
What are you particularly excited about seeing at the Fair?
The art deco period is still really hot, it goes so well with modern art, contemporary art and modern furniture, because of the geometry. I love things like this Titus Omega, John Paul Cooper, silver and shagreen box, 1920 (pictured above). It’s very now. Linley’s new catalogue has got lots of shagreen work and this is where it all comes from. I really see this piece standing the test of time.
I also think this acid yellow French 1920’s boudoir clock from Hickmet Fine Arts is very now. The acid yellow look is very modern and cool and would fit in a contemporary bedroom beautifully.
There’s a gallery called Van Krankendonk, one of the worlds most respected jewellery dealers, and it always brings an absolutely exemplary collection of 1950’s to 1980’s jewellery. That period of jewellery design used to be ignored 20 years ago but now, because it’s so stylised and especially after the post modernism exhibition at the V&A, it has increased in popularity hugely, it’s very striking bold jewellery, which looks very cool today.
Hatchwell (pictured earlier in the article) always has really nice 1960’s/70’s examples of Scandinavian furniture, the type of furniture that we see in Heals today. And in terms of art, Gilden’s Arts Gallery in Hampstead has a real international reach, it sources good quality works on paper and I have bought from them cheaper at the fair than I could buy at auction.
Join Vanessa Curry for tours around Olympia International Art & Antiques from 18-28 June 2015; olympia-art-antiques.com