Getting real about collecting artwork

Getting real about collecting artwork

Debbie Hagan

Gabriela Shultz groans when someone calls her an art collector. Sure, she shops in trendy art galleries and haunts Bonhams and Butterfields’ auctions. She looks at art everywhere she goes, even in restaurants and magazines. When an illustration in The New Yorker catches her eye, she writes down the artist’s name and does a Google search. She may call the artist later and try to buy a painting, if the price is right. But call her an art collector, and her tone turns icy.

“‘Collecting’ is a big word,” said the 38-year-old clothing representative. Single and living in a rented apartment in San Francisco, Shultz said, “I like pretty things.”

It’s not that she takes art buying lightly. She methodically keeps a spreadsheet of the pieces she owns. On it she lists information about each of her paintings: artist, title, price, framing costs and current value.

Shultz explained that her philosophy may be different than those held by earlier generations: “I find the word ‘collecting’ refers to a means to an end,” she said. Her goal isn’t to build a significant art collection that will later double in value. Rather, she wants to surround herself with nice things.

Shultz buys abstract oil paintings that range from a few hundred dollars to $5,000. She even considered paying as much as $10,000 for a Squeak Carnwath painting (which would have meant months of macaroni and cheese dinners), but the gallery didn’t have anything in her price range. She did manage to buy a very small, yet affordable, Carnwath painting later at a silent auction.

Seven years ago, Shultz purchased her first painting after she spotted a large red canvas in a Los Angeles art gallery and couldn’t stop thinking about it. “I had never bought anything like that in my life,” said Shultz, “but I just had to have it. It was an emotional buy.”

Now, she regards it as “just a big red painting with some color on it.” Shultz has trained herself to be more discerning. “You can tell if the artist has put a lot of energy into it,” Shultz said.

Her favorite paintings are those by Livia Stein and Bob Stang–well-known San Francisco Bay painters. Both are contemporary abstract painters who work with familiar symbols, such as birds, flowers and homes. Shultz described them as sophisticated, yet happy paintings.

“I’ve grown because I’m always looking,” Shultz said. She likes open studio events where she can meet the artists and buy directly from them. “I love that, but you have to be pro-active,” she said. “Fortunately, I know what I like.”

One of Shultz’s favorite places to buy art is HANG ART. That’s where she purchased her Bob Stang painting, “The Feast.” “It’s a new concept in galleries. There are no high-pressure salespeople there,” she said. “They’re very approachable and affordable.” Also, HANG offers a 90-day rental program, giving buyers time to try out the art.

“I’d rather give them my business than someone else,” said Shultz. She avoids galleries that hint at pretension and attract art collectors. “Collecting sounds so serious,” she said. “To me, it’s shopping.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group