Sotheby’s Expert Nick Buckley Wood Shares Essential Tips to Build your Art Collection

By Nick Buckley Wood

So you’ve attended a handful of exhibition openings, taken an interest in the art world, and are thinking of buying some art. There are a myriad of reasons for you to start your collecting journey – and you’re convinced that there’s no time like now to begin – but as a first-time collector, this excitement often comes with an equal sense of nerves and uncertainty.

In my experience working with private collectors for over a decade, I can confidently say that the feeling first-time collectors have is very much universal. The world of art collecting opens doors to a realm of creativity, discovery and personal expression, but it can also be a daunting one to step into. How do I get started? And, What should I look out for? These are common questions for collectors at the start of their journey. Here are my top tips for first-time buyers:

  1. See as much as you can

This is fundamental to starting an art collection. To really get a feel of the art world and identify your interests, you must see as much as possible. I highly encourage anyone looking to build their collections to visit as many museums, galleries, and auction previews as possible to expose yourself to different styles, genres and movements. Art Biennales, such as in Singapore and Thailand, and Art Fairs like Art Basel are great ways to dive right into the world of art and expose yourself to different artists and mediums. Over time, you will also find yourself identifying the types of works that speak to you. Social media is also a good platform to explore diverse artists from around the globe and even connect with them – all at your fingertips.

  1. Buy what you like

There are numerous reasons to start building your own art collection, but ultimately, it should be a repository of treasured pieces that reflect your tastes and interests, not just what’s trendy or popular as they tend to fluctuate over time. I recommend that first-time buyers acquire art carefully and selectively. It also helps to identify the reasons behind wanting to build your own collection. Some good reasons: transforming a living space in your home; supporting artists that you truly resonate with; and curating pieces that capture a special moment in history perfectly. From sculpture to photography, art is a great way for you to learn about the world and express your taste in a very special and personal way.

  1. Buy the best that you can afford

After you’ve defined your goals and have your eye set on a line-up of artists or style to look out for, it’s time to set a budget. Quality matters, and when you’re first starting out, it can be tempting to pursue quantity over quality or try to get a “good deal”. Take your time and invest in the best pieces by the artists that you like – the best quality pieces are rarely sold cheap and will always hold and build the most value in the future. But of course, purchase within your own means. Building your collection should be a freeing and exhilarating activity to pursue!

For first-time buyers, if you’re on a slightly tighter budget, I would recommend for you to look into recent art graduates or emerging artists with pieces that genuinely resonate with you. Collecting prints and multiples is also a great way to start and this market has been getting stronger and stronger in recent years.

I also encourage prospective buyers to go online as many sites are transparent about their prices. It might also be a less daunting experience than heading down to the artist studios or galleries themselves to ask for their price lists. Here are four websites that will serve as great starting points. Websites: Artsy.net; Artue.io; MutualArt.com; Sotheby’s

  1. Explore underrepresented voices

Never limit yourself to established artists. It is important to constantly seek out underrepresented artist communities, such as female artists who have historically been overlooked in the art historical canon and those from the global south, outsider art and indigenous cultures. Hailing from regions rich in cultural diversity and unique experiences, their stories and perspectives can add a richness to your collection and should be thoroughly considered as well. Some artists from Asia whose works I’ve recently been captivated by:

Aku di Pulau Menjangan (I’m on Menjangan Island) (2001) is an acrylic painting on canvas by Indonesian artist I Gusti Auy Kadek Murniasih who passed away in 2006, whose work is now gaining traction on the international market. Her humorous and vibrant works trace moments of hardship, trauma, and resilience growing up. They defy Balinese conventions and showcase the ways she reclaims her sexuality and body through traumas of violence and labour.

Untitled (2024) is part of a series of oil on canvas paintings by Japanese artist Izumi Kato. His works are currently exhibited at Perrotin Hong Kong from now till May 18. Image credits to Perrotin Hong Kong.

Realm of Nothingness (2024) is the first piece of embroidery art by a young Balinese artist, Citra Sasmita. As hand embroidery is becoming a lost art in Indonesia, the artist melds contemporary storytelling with this dwindling craft. She is represented by Yeo Workshop in Singapore.

Net-Grid (Venezuelan thousands) (2023) by Malaysian-British artist Mandy El-Sayegh is an oil and acrylic painting presented on canvas with silk screened elements.

Type 0 Civilization (2016-17) by Singapore artist Ruben Pang is an oil, alkyd and synthetic varnish on aluminium composite panel.

  1. Network, and make connections

As you go about your visits to different exhibitions and galleries, make it a point to get to know the people who operate within them. Gallery owners, curators, auction house specialists and other collectors will often have interesting insights and valuable advice to offer. They’ll also be able to introduce you to popular artists and private sale opportunities.

Nick Buckley Wood and Tomokazu Matsuyam

Mandala Club has a great programme right now held in partnership with the Art Galleries Association Singapore (AGAS), with six galleries under its umbrella coming together to display works by 19 Asia-based artists at the club’s Analogue Room and all-day dining restaurant, POPI’s. The works will be curated every six months, and Mandala Club and AGAS are hosting a series of panel discussions by participating gallerists to speak about different timely topics in the art world. It’s a great opportunity to get started and a prime example of how the community can support you in your goals as a new collector.

  1. Bonus point: Consider the condition

If you are buying a new artwork from a gallery who represents the artist the condition should be fine. However when buying older works it is important to take a close look at the condition of the artwork before you make a purchase. Ask for a professional condition report or arrange a conservator to check the piece to ensure that you’re comfortable with the level of restoration as well.

All images to be credited to the artist unless stated otherwise. Nick Buckley Wood is the Asia Director of Private Sales at Sotheby’s, he also sits on Mr Porter’s Style Council.

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