Did you recently earn a well-deserved raise or successfully stash enough cash in the emergency fund you started at the beginning of the year? Props to you — being smart with your money while building a life you love is definitely something to feel proud about. Though you might decide to pay off student loan debt or funnel your funds into a more traditional account, there are other lesser-known investment options to consider too, like investing in contemporary art. Nahema Mehta, the co-founder and CEO of Absolut Art, recently schooled us on why it’s important and how valuable starting a collection can be.
Mehta tells us that in today’s climate it’s more important than ever to purposefully invest in things we care about, including contemporary art. “Young collectors have a lot of influence,” she explains. “Our walls are powerful real estate: Each time we invite people to our home, our walls serve as a mini gallery that can spark conversations and introduce loved ones to amazing artists.”
She goes on to share a few jaw-dropping stats that further prove why women should become collectors. “In 1989, feminist activists the Guerrilla Girls famously reported that less than five percent of the works in the Modern Art section at the Met were by female artists — but that 85 percent of the nudes were women. In 2012, the group did a recount. The numbers had barely changed.” On that note, Mehta says that one of the things she loves most about her job is an ability to help strong female voices shape major creative hubs like Stockholm, Berlin, Havana, and Hong Kong. “Even so, while 58 percent of top selling artists on AbsolutArt.com are women, it’s incredibly disheartening that the diversity we cherish on our platform often doesn’t translate to the art world as a whole. The problem isn’t that diversity of thought doesn’t exist in the art world, but rather that it’s rarely given the platform it deserves,” she notes. “Ultimately, buying relevant, beautiful works of art serves not only as investment and inspiration, but also immediately supports artists and the art ecosystem.” What a win-win!
How to Start Investing in Art, According to Nahema Mehta
When it comes to buying art you love, Mehta tells us that the trick is to know where to look and whose advice to follow. “Once you’ve achieved that, collecting becomes instinctive; it’s about finding pieces that resonate with you and that you truly adore.”
1. Learn how to think about your investments. “I always tell people that their first purchase should be something they love and want to live with,” Mehta explains. “That said, what makes contemporary art a unique investment that’s different from other luxury purchases (a pair of designer shoes, for example) is that an artwork maintains its value if you want to resell.” She tells us that if you choose correctly there’s even the chance a piece will be even more valuable in the future. “That’s why it’s so important to take the time to inform yourself,” Mehta notes.
2. Embrace your curiosity. Mehta says that the more you see, the more discerning your eye becomes. There’s good news though: It’s never been easier to inform yourself! “Follow art world Instagram accounts — I love @brettgorvy, @curatorial, and ours, @absolut_art; visit art fairs (1-54 and TEFAF were my favorites this year); sign up for newsletters (I enjoy Artnet and Artsy); go to public art sites like Dia:Beacon; and go to auction houses,” she advises. “People think Sotheby’s and Christie’s require invitations, but you can often find works available to the public before an auction.” Such fabulous pro tips.
3. Trust your gut. Once you’ve spent enough time scouring the market for the perfect piece, Mehta says to muster up the courage to be true to your gut. “A personal point of view is what separates a good collection from a great one,” she smiles. “Remember that it’s perfectly fine for your tastes to grow and evolve as you do; in fact, I find the best private collections are direct reflections of that personal journey.”
4. Take a test drive. Mehta clues us in on a little secret: “In the art world, galleries and artists will let you take an artwork home for a week or two before committing to purchasing it. So don’t be afraid to ask for this option!” Mehta tells us this common practice actually inspired Absolut Art’s 30-day return policy, which we find super cool.
5. Join young patrons groups. Birds of a feather often flock together, and Mehta tells us that meeting other young collectors can be an awesome way to discover more about the art world while supporting it. “These groups bring young collectors together and introduce them to curators, museum shows, artist studio visits, talks, and even trips to fairs,” she explains. She cites the Guggenheim Young Collectors Council, the Whitney Contemporaries, and the MoMA Junior Associates as standout examples in New York. Based elsewhere? A quick Google or Facebook search will surface similar communities near you.
6. Choose from a curated selection. “Whatever you do, ensure you’re choosing from a well-curated selection; it’s not just about the name of the artist — within every artist’s body of work there are both timeless pieces and there are duds,” Mehta reminds.
7. Spend wisely. “Editions, photographs, and prints are an ideal entry point for new collectors — or any collector without an enormous budget,” Mehta confirms. “But you can access works by established artists for a fraction of the price without sacrificing provenance or visual impact.” Feeling adventurous? Mehta says you can hunt for the next big thing at fairs like NADA in Miami or LISTE in Basel, or even from emerging art scenes like Cuba and Kenya with pools of talent that have yet to graduate to higher price points. Sounds like serious fun to us.
8. Beware of hidden costs. When it comes to listing prices, Mehta cautions against being fooled. “Hidden fees like shipping, insurance, and framing can quickly add up, and if it’s an auction the ‘buyer’s premium’ can tack on a hefty 20 percent,” she warns. “Very few art world players price transparently in a way that takes care of you from discovering the perfect artwork to expertly displaying it in your home.” The bottom line? Do your research and assess *all* of the fees before you officially pull the trigger.
9. Meet the artist. Think it’s impossible to meet an artist? Mehta tells us it’s not. “Whether it’s emailing a local artist and asking to visit their studio or binge-watching videos of your favorite artists online, there’s nothing better than getting to know the person behind the art,” Mehta affirms. “It’s possible, and it really completes the story.”
10. Don’t forget about framing. Once you’ve invested in a new favorite piece, the last thing you want to do is skimp on the frame you’ll use to protect and display it. “It makes all the difference!” Mehta exclaims.