Starting a collection, launching an adventure

The first work of art I ever bought was a print by the graphic designer Patrick Nagel. Fans of the 1980s band Duran Duran would have immediately recognized the sleek lines, pastel colors and the model’s angular eyes, which looked a lot like those of the woman on the cover of the British band’s “Rio” album. Did the work go up in value? No. But that simple print set the tone for my future collecting habits (though I like to think I’ve become a bit savvier in my collecting tastes).

Twenty years later, I still have a fondness for works on paper and art with a strong visual sensibility. I am also still intrigued by other creative people and the art that inspires them.

In this day and age of greater access to information, global art fairs and online buying options, being an arts—or coin, space memorabilia or wine—enthusiast is more rewarding than ever. Yet, I still have to consider the two fundamental questions all collectors face:

• What should I acquire?
• How will I live with it?


What should I acquire?


This is a question that we all answer uniquely, motivated by different tastes and intentions. Every collector begins with one piece, starting a journey of discovery and education that constantly evolves. My path took unexpected detours, with artistic epiphanies and unanticipated costs along the way. My years of collecting also brought many moments of “could have, should have, would have.” These always educated me, occasionally taught me hard lessons, and helped me decide to trust my intuition.

Like many other collectors, I was attracted to works on paper: prints, drawings, watercolors, due to the generous range of affordability. Three digits for a graduate student selling her work at a senior thesis show, to six figures on the higher price range for a Robert Rauschenberg print.

Because my early purchases were modestly priced, they also tended to be modest in size, which made framing costs affordable. Yet as my art tastes expanded into sculptures, paintings and installation art, I came across more complex art ownership issues, such as  transit, installation, insurance and conservation.


How should I live with it?


Like owning a pet, being a custodian of a collection comes with both delights and challenges. Everyone enjoys the thrill of discovering a new artist or designer, of being able to live with an object that inspires us. Yet to preserve the aesthetic pleasure of an artwork and the financial investment we’ve made, we need to be judicious in its care. But we don’t always map out the details of logistics beforehand. When I reflect on the works I’ve acquired over the years, I think not only of the “ooohh and ahhh” moments, but also of the lessons I learned.


Make sure it all measures up


Once I hired an art installer to install a 14-foot-long sculpture into my 12-foot-high ceiling (yes, I know the math doesn’t compute, but the sculpture was in storage at the time I was looking for a new apartment, and I hadn’t measured its exact length). Because of my misstep in planning, the sculpture’s extra two feet are, to this day, coiled into a bowl on the floor. My housekeeper and houseguests have explicit instructions not to touch it. Besides getting taller ceilings in my next apartment, which lesson did I learn?

• In general, measure out the space you have to work with, both for hanging and display, as well as the points of entrance to confirm works can actually enter your home. Measure the height and width of your door. If a framed work of art—or wine refrigerator or sofa—exceeds those dimensions, it won’t make it into your home. The same applies to your ceiling height, or the distance between the top of your sofa and the ceiling.


How you frame it matters


In graduate school, I bought a black and white architectural photograph, and was especially pleased to find a very affordable frame at IKEA that matched perfectly—until a year later, when a black blob spontaneously bloomed on the photograph’s surface. The cardboard backing inside the frame was cheap, and the chemicals had leached into the photo, discoloring it and offering another lesson:

• Always use acid-free materials when displaying and storing artwork. Professional framers can create custom mats and backing for use with older frames. An online resource for ‘museum quality’ materials is


On the move but protected


The first large contemporary painting I purchased was from a gallerist in San Francisco, and I lived in New York City at the time. The art dealer and I discussed packing and shipping, and I double-checked my insurance policy to make certain the painting would be covered in case something went wrong during transit between the coasts. I had my existing artwork scheduled on a “valuable articles floater” on my renter’s insurance with a direct writer. I called the agent, only to confirm that there was no coverage of the artwork during transit, and that coverage would not apply until the artwork actually was inside my home. I was distraught and annoyed. Collectors acquire, and it’s not atypical to purchase a piece that needs to be shipped cross-country to your residence. Yet here I was, vulnerable to a potential financial loss if—due to someone else’s negligence—my artwork was damaged.

Thankfully, the dealer agreed to insure the painting during its transport, so the piece was protected. I used a professional art shipper and it arrived safely, on time. Once it was in my home, I called the agent again to add the painting to my policy. I had submitted the invoice, the signed bill of lading and taken pictures. Alas, this wasn’t enough: the insurance agent needed to come to my home in person to verify the painting’s existence. Indeed, the agent came out a few days later to verify the painting was at my home, and a week later, I moved my insurance policy to a carrier that provided comprehensive arts insurance coverage.

• Not all insurance is equal. Coverage for works in transit and across the globe is important, as well as a provision for covering newly acquired items. It makes sense to work with an insurance broker who understands what is important to you, and can offer access to insurance coverage and services tailored to your lifestyle, hobbies and collecting passions.


The latest logistics puzzle


These days, whether I’m visiting a studio in Austin, TX, or discovering a new gallery in Chicago, I need to know that if I make a spur of the moment acquisition, my work is covered. That will let me pursue my collecting with peace of mind and help me focus on more pressing issues at hand, such as how to install my newest acquisition—a photograph printed on a five pound slab of marble. That’s my next logistics challenge, which I’ll be writing about here soon. I look forward to sharing tips and best practices from experts across many collecting fields, reflections on the market, and insights I hope will help you enjoy the objects that bring you aesthetic and intellectual pleasure for years to come.


Katja Zigerlig is Vice President of Art, Wine and Collectibles Advisory at Berkley One.