Berta Walker, renowned gallerist and expert in visual arts, offers these tips for preserving a creative collection in the visual arts.
- Create a working catalog: The first and really essential step is to carefully catalog all items in the collection. You will need photos (as true-to-color as possible) of all of the works. If some works are part of a series or are conceptually or meaningfully related, catalog them individually as part of such a sub-group. Then, create a master list: List each object’s dimensions, title and medium along with the date of creation (if known) since this may inform its relative value. Note their general condition. Incomplete works, drawings and sketches in notebooks should also be carefully cataloged but can be done as a second step.
- Find a centralized place to store this information. This will make your working catalog readily available to those that may need access or with whom you wish to share for personal or commercial reasons. However, keep this secure, also. While some may want to create an artist-specific website, this is a demanding undertaking more suitable for artists with established name recognition. Even if you have a well-known collection or built-in methods for promoting such an personal website, using the display advantages of POBA will aggregate an audience and give access to tools and reach that might otherwise be difficult or expensive to achieve on your own. The important goal is to capture viewer’ s attention, which a reputable site like POBA can do more easily than an individual site can.
- Store the physical collection properly. Make sure that the art is physically stored correctly. Investing in proper storage does not have to be expensive but it can save you from very costly restoration later. Even something as simple as storing canvases front-to-front and back-to-back can save much heartache down the road. Each medium has its own basic rules for storage. Acrylics are different from woodblocks, pastels or watercolors, for example. Canvases are different from paper; notebooks are different from folios. Make sure you consult someone who can give you informed, straightforward advice as to how to do this yourself. If the collection has great potential for commercial value or there is evidence of some fading or other wear and tear on some of the items, it may be useful to consult a professional archivist.
- Create an accurate, interesting, and complete bio. If one is not already available or if it is out of date, put together a simple biography and, in it, include an “artist’s statement” if you have one. Many artist’s have a clear point of view on art, and on their own art work which may be of interest in understanding the artist’s point of view, relationship to periods of art, and the like. Include a list of prior exhibitions with their dates if available. Prices of any sales are not essential but they may be useful guide. If you have previous exhibition materials, these are often useful in making a presentation.
- Practice makes perfect. If you are going to be promoting the work yourself or trying to interest a potential gallery, auction house or representative, it might be helpful to practice a short presentation with a family member or with a friend next door. If you can’t describe things in a way that is interesting to someone, chances are they won’t be interested in investing the time to carefully review the work much less put in the time to represent it.
- Know your worth. If you have an estate or collection that you believe has value, you will have to get it appraised for tax purposes. Value is depreciated if an entire collection is sold all at once. The IRS often sees these as a one-time sale so that is how a collection is often valued. While this may be of interest for tax purposes, a frequent mistake made by family members and other heirs is to sell as much of the holdings as possible quickly. This will depreciate the value of individual items and may, in fact, erode the on-going market for an artist’s work over many years. Great art is truly a legacy worth preserving in every way.
- Donate Selectively. One of the most common, if well-intentioned, errors that can be made is to donate an item for charitable auction to help fund a favorite institution or cause. This is a worthy goal, which we encourage, but suggest you do it thoughtfully. People often go charitable auctions with the expectation of getting a bargain. Too many items sold too cheaply, even if benefitting a good cause, undercuts both your collection and the support you are trying to give that cause. So insist on minimum prices at charitable auctions, and choose those items whose value you know so that your charitable gift will have meaning and value for you as donor, the charity, and the buyer.
- Promote at the right time. Once you have documented, appraised and stored your collection (both on line and in physical space) and put a presentation together on the work(s) you want to bring to the public for sale or enjoyment, you can begin to promote it. When contacting possible galleries for representation, your first stop should be with those who may have previously shown the work. If the work has never been represented or not shown recently, carefully research which outlets might have a natural affinity for such work—similarity in genres, level of reputation, or even geographic area. If you get a reaction, even if it is a “No”, listen closely to what is being said as that can often help inform your next steps.
- Do yourself a favor. In seeking representation by a gallery, it will be harder to get a commitment (even if someone loves the work) unless you have a sizable collection. Committing to handle an artist’s estate or a collection is a time and resource intense effort. Make it easy by being organized, approaching the right types and level of gallery and by offering enough of a collection to make it worth someone’s effort to be involved.
- Ask POBA. Handling an artist’s estate or an inherited collection can be a big task. Each collection is different and deserves good guidance. I urge you to seek expert’s help as needed. POBA makes it easy, and there really is nothing else like it.
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