Culture / Art Republik

10 rules for acquiring art from curators, art experts and auctioneers in Asia

You could be a buyer looking to decorate a home, a second or third generation collector carrying on a family legacy, a professional or entrepreneur seeking an investment opportunity, or simply someone interested in collecting art. Whatever your motivations, there is no denying that art is an exquisite, yet complex desirable.

Mar 03, 2017 | By Olivia Lock

Nick Knight “Jill Sander, 1992”

An agent of aesthetic pleasure, a symbolic reflection of personal psyche, cultural and historical context, and even a secure store of value resistant to economic fluctuations, art is an epitome of financial success and the harbourer of emotional and intellectual reward.

The art world today has undergone many changes from times past. Traditional epicentres such as New York and Paris, are giving way to new hubs across in the East where Asian art is quickly seeing a rise in prominence and significance. Collectors themselves are developing greater interest and participation in the international art market, traversing from fair to fair, to biennials, galleries and auctions. The industry has gone global, and the process of selecting art can be a daunting one for both the novice and the expert. After all, what is one to do with a growing circuit of exhibitions, events and artists each presenting a vast collection of creative and exemplary work?

As we enter a new calendar, and season, of exciting showcases both regionally and abroad, PALACE speaks to the experts to find out what the leaders in the industry have to say about how best to purchase and collect art. From consulting with art specialists and advisors to gallerists and auction professionals, we hope that you’ll be inspired with our guide of 10 golden rules to acquiring art right.


Buying or collecting art can be regarded as a journey and process that can enrich one’s life, and create new, meaningful memories according to Sandy Ma, Head of Phillips’ Hong Kong Evening Sale. As a specialist in Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art, she advises that rather than thinking of art solely as an investment piece, “be sure to buy something you love and would want to live with; something of the greatest possible quality”. For Nicole Tee, General Manager of Christie’s South East Asia, buying art should be a form of “passion investment”. “We recommend buyers or collectors to pick pieces that they would get aesthetic pleasure from”, she says. “That way”, she adds, “the piece of art will have ‘longevity’ in the eyes of the collector”.

Another important thing is to buy the best within your budget. “Different artists or art styles command different price bands, and it is far better to buy the top pieces of a certain artist (even if he or she may be less well-known) than the lower-quality pieces of the hottest artist”, says Nicole. Though another benefit of collecting art may be the prospect of a good investment return, it is best to buy for love and according to Lee, to view any investment upside as a plus.


Japan and Hong Kong have always been strong art markets, and in more recent years, China”, observes Stéphane Le Pelletier, Director of Opera Gallery Asian Pacific. He cites South East Asian art in particular, traditionally dominated by Indonesian art, as increasingly gaining attention in the international art market. Additionally, Ma notes that over at Phillips’ Hong Kong, “we are seeing an ever-growing demand for contemporary art in the region, as demonstrated by the proliferation of private museums in China, with international institutions, mega-galleries and leading art fairs bringing the highest quality works to the region”.

With the continued globalisation of the art market, collectors themselves are becoming progressively sophisticated, causing traditional boundaries within art to blur. “We see them going for cross-category works from diverse areas such as, Impressionist and Modern pictures, Post-War Contemporary Art, 20th Century Decorative Art, and Asian Art, just to name a few”, says Lee. “Lovers of Chinese contemporary art are increasingly open to contemporary art of other regions, as they start to appreciate the cross-regional themes, and view this genre of artwork as merely ‘contemporary’ (vs. Post-War Contemporary, SE Asian Contemporary, etc.)”, she explains.

Andre Braseilier, “Chevaux Sous Les Arbes”


There is no fixed formula to purchasing art, though building one’s knowledge is crucial to making informed acquisitions. “Educating oneself comes first”, Ma emphasises. “Start by exploring, visit museums, galleries, fairs and auctions to figure out what style you like. Research is also essential and it is important to read up on an artist to see if they have sales history”, she adds.

Having a good eye is also an important aspect according to Emily Johnston, Managing Director of Larkspur Art Specialists. “Training your eye comes from looking at a great range of art and looking closely enough to understand how the artwork was made”, she says. That way, one acquires a good instinct for what is trending, and it would be simpler to identify things like when an emerging artist or art movement is in demand.


Everyone could use some expert help, especially when it comes to selecting valuable art pieces or expanding a collection, something that Ma believes occurs naturally for a collection represents different stages of a collector’s life, and recurring themes may sometimes require some assessing.

“When you begin to spend a decent amount on art, you should hire a consultant”, Johnston says. “It takes time to navigate the intricacies of the market and work out whether something will make a good purchase. Art consultants are independent and their job is to show you a wide range of art and to do thorough research so that you can make a well-informed decision. They should also be able to negotiate a discount on your behalf”.

Similarly, art specialists offer invaluable advice from evaluating works of art, to providing in-depth colour of the artist and where the piece of work falls within his oeuvre, to offering price guidance, says Lee. Gallerists can also assist clients in looking for art specific to their liking, and are extremely useful for those looking to develop their collection. “To progress from collecting out of liking to collecting with a consideration of the investment value of the artwork requires in-depth knowledge of the artists and their portfolio, supply and demand etc.”, says Le Pelletier. “All these require time and effort to monitor, and the expertise to analyse the information, so expert advice from a gallerist will be preferred”, he concurs.


Nicole Lee highlights some key factors to take note of before making an art purchase.

MEDIUM – The materials used can determine the value of an art piece. For example, oil paintings are generally more valuable than works on paper and prints.

CONDITION – Look at the condition of pieces and request for condition reports. Make sure that the art you are looking at is in good condition and built to last.

PERIOD – Identify the period or movement an art piece is from, and consider if it was created when the artist was at his/her peak, or when they were not at their best, or even during an iconic period from the artist.

FRESHNESS TO THE MARKET – The art market is affected by the primary art market, where new art comes to the market for the first time, and the secondary market, for existing art that has been sold at least once before. The prices for which a work was sold in the primary market usually has a direct bearing on the work’s value in the secondary market.

PROVENANCE – Ensure that the provenance of the piece has been verified before you proceed with a purchase. Good provenance increases an art piece’s collectability, desirability, market value, and also proves that it is by the artist.


There is no fixed philosophy to building an art collection, though having strategy and a focus on aspects such as a common theme or subject matter, is key. Johnston urges collectors to specialise in art from a region, or from a particular period. “Without specialising”, she adds, “it can be difficult to develop your expertise and your art collection will feel disconnected. By specialising you will also form good relationships with the most relevant dealers”.

Alternatively, a collection can be motivated by links between artists. “My collecting philosophy is more focused on breadth than depth”, Lee comments. “I am particularly passionate about pieces where you see the soul of the artist reflected, for example, the vitality and energy of abstract artists like Richter and de Kooning manifested in their techniques; the angst of artists like Hendra Gunawan that reflect in the subject matter of their work; or the mental state of Yayoi Kusama that drove her to create her iconic Infinity Nets motif”.


“Anyone buying art should be driven first and foremost by the art itself, and we highly encourage collectors to live with their artworks”, says Ma. However, it is also important that artworks are displayed in an appropriate setting, be it indoors or outdoors. For works on paper, it is important that the artworks are framed using acid-free mounts, says Johnston. “These mounts reduce the amount of moisture entering the paper and prevents discolouration”, she explains. Le Pelletier also recommends storing and displaying art in a well ventilated or even air-conditioned environment x to counter the humidity of the South east Asian climate. Most importantly, he cautions, “do not expose artwork to direct sunlight”. To protect art pieces, consider having a UV Plexiglas when getting them framed in order to impede colour fading.

Another thing, glaringly obvious perhaps, but be sure to have the right property and space for your art. When displaying pieces in the home, consider the total height of the work, any adjustments to be made for furniture, as well as the overall space that you envision the piece to be placed in. Larger artworks may be a more suitable focal point in bigger areas and on wider walls. For smaller works, experiment with a salon-style arrangement modelled after 18th and 19th century Parisian salons, where individual pieces are hung in a cohesive cluster with the central frame as the main focus. This way, attention is given to the collective effect as a whole.

Alternatively, try out a geometric- style with same size works and frames laid out symmetrically and precisely on a wall. Ultimately, displaying a mix of large and smaller art pieces creates a more interactive experience for the viewer, with certain works requiring closer attention in order for its intricacies to be fully appreciated.


Lin Fengmian, “Fishing Harvest”

Auctions are excellent platforms for purchasing art, and are perfect for every level of buyer. They are a curated selection of art pieces that represent a certain level of quality and recognition in the art world, and “with online auctions growing in importance, new collectors have growing accessibility to a repertoire of offerings across different categories (prints, photographs, interiors, paintings, etc.) and price points”, explains Lee.

In order to become familiar with the auction process, do spend time researching on categories or pieces of work that catch your interest. Start by visiting auction sites to see what is coming up for sale, and browse auction house catalogues for information about the pieces that are up for bidding, says Nicole. It is also advisable to view the items you are interested in. Public viewing usually takes place three to four days before the sale date, and interested buyers are welcome to preview the lots and speak to specialists to get further information and perspectives.

For seasoned collectors looking for certain art pieces to complete their collection, auctions are useful channels into the secondary market, with auction houses bearing an extensive client network. Should you have a specific work in mind, private sales can be arranged by an auction house as well, where buyer and seller are connected outside of the auction room, and the details of the process remains undisclosed. Private sales are conducted with a tailored approach and can happen at all times of the year, while auctions are held at specific timings, says Lee.


Looking around art fairs and exhibitions is important for those who desire to hone or fine-tune their taste and preference for art. They provide excellent exposure for both artists and galleries alike, enabling them to reach out to a wider group of art lovers and collectors, says Le Pelletier.

The international art calendar is filled with plenty of such events bringing together hundreds of dealers and exhibitors in one location. A good place to start is at major art fairs both in the region and overseas. For example, Art Stage Singapore (January), TEFAF (March, May, October), Art Basel (March), the original Art Basel in Switzerland (June), Frieze London (October), and Art Stage Jakarta (August). For those interested in auctions, Nicole recommends Christie’s First Open in Hong Kong in March, where emerging artists and artworks are offered at accessible price points.


 The rapid growth of the digital marketplace has changed the way that art is being viewed, marketed, and acquired. Information is now instantaneously shared to a global audience via social media platforms like Instagram and WeChat, and E-commerce as well as digital sales have become effective methods of connecting to international art buyers. For example, “through Christie’s LIVE, clients can bid in a live auction via their computers”, shares Lee. Collectrium, a leading digital art collection management service acquired by Christie’s, “is the only platform in existence that integrates all collection tips, care and management tools into a single experience that is comprehensive, mobile, and secure”, she adds. With the advent of the digital age, acquiring art has never been so globalised and convenient.

This article was first published in Palace 18. 

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