12 Books on the Ins and Outs of Collecting Contemporary Art

Whether a beginner or a seasoned pro, there is something of interest on this list that will offer revelation into the inner workings of the art world, helping to keep the acquisition process about excitement, rather than the stress of negotiation.
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Navigating the art world as a collector can have its share of frustration and confusion. With passion as a driving force, successful collectors need to temper their love and enthusiasm with knowledge of the landscape and the development of some personal strategy. We’ve collected a roster of helpful books from experts and art world insiders to not only help build a collection of meaning and value, but also to help unmask the somewhat unorthodox processes and practices that buying, selling and pricing art can entail. An educated collector makes for a happy collector, who can focus on enjoying that ecstatic adrenaline rush of adding a new piece to their collection. Whether a beginner or a seasoned pro, there is something of interest on this list that will offer revelation into the inner workings of the art world, helping to keep the acquisition process about excitement, rather than the stress of negotiation.
Collecting Contemporary Art
By Adam Lindemann
From the pen of a top collector, Lindemann’s book is not only a great insider’s guide to building your own collection, but also doubles as a small coffee table book, chock full gorgeous imagery from leading artists. Lindemann explains the essentials of collecting, from best times to buy and how to navigate art fairs, to tips on buying in the primary and secondary markets. As a bonus, the book also features exclusive insider interviews with major gallerists like Marian Boesky, Jeffrey Deitch, Larry Gagosian, as well as critics, collectors, auction houses, private consultants and museum curators.
Collecting Art for Love, Money and More
By Ethan Wagner & Thea Westreich Wagner
Penned by husband and wife, Ethan Wagner and art advisor Thea Westreich, this book is written with a focus on the love and passion of collecting art from an insider’s perspective. The advice, insight and tips imparted by the Wagners’ allows collectors to add a layer of business-smarts to the sheer pleasure of buying art, giving educated tips for making the most out of the buying experience. For use as inspiration for your own collection the book also outlines some of history’s most important collectors.
The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty
By Michael Findlay
Understanding the value placed on art work helps to not only build a collection, but also to assess and enjoy what you have in a deeper way. Art Dealer, Michael Findlay’s book breaks down the contributing elements, including commercial, social and essential qualities that determine the value of an art work. Written in a straight forward manner, the book provides armor for new collectors against scams and overpricing by reminding them that the true value of art lies outside of its commercial value.
The Art of Buying Art: An Insider's Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art
By Paige West
Collecting and pricing contemporary art can be confusing, with issues like hype and controversy that can inexplicably inflate prices for newer artists. West’s informative guide breaks down the process of appreciating and collecting contemporary art for varying budgets, addressing such issues as price negotiation and how to display the art you buy in your home. Geared toward a slightly more decorative skew, West helps her readers live with art, foregoing mass-produced decorative objects for fine art pieces that will appreciate in value.
Collecting Contemporary Art
Edited by Andrea Bellini, Lillian Davies and Cecilia Alemani
Collecting Contemporary Art puts the collector’s role in the art market into the spotlight, highlighting the importance of the patron as a public figure and commentator on the shape of the art market. Featured are interviews with forty collectors from around the world who discuss their motivations and strategies for collecting, each answering a similar series of questions including “When and why did you start collecting contemporary art?” “Who do you trust?” “When do you sell?” and “How important is it to be part of a social network?”
Collect Contemporary: Photography
By Jocelyn Phillips
The market of buying photography varies somewhat from fine art, as printing and editioning are other facets to consider when pricing work. Phillips shares valuable information about the medium along with collecting tips from her experience as a photography specialist at Sotheby’s. Also included is a guide featuring 40 of the most important contemporary photographers working today, as well as advice by other experts in the field.
Seven Days in the Art World
By Sarah Thornton
Behind every coveted piece of fine art are the mechanics of the acquisition itself. Seven Days in the Art World delves further, beyond tips for buying and collecting and spins an illuminating narrative of situations collectors might face when navigating the various avenues for buying art. Thornton highlights such venues as a Christie’s auction, a studio visit with artist Takashi Murakami, the inner workings of the Art Basel art fair, and a behind the scenes look at Artforum magazine. Her book gives colorful first-hand accounts revealing the complicated and unorthodox rules that make up the art world.
Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market
By Noah Horowitz
If the process of pricing living artists’ work seems erratic and confusing, then Horowitz’ book may shed light on the unconventional-sounding market. In the Art of the Deal, the author discusses changes in the contemporary art market since the so-called bubble burst in 2008 including in-depth analysis of new markets that have developed around Video Art and Experiential Art. The third section takes a look at the history of Art Investment Funds and analyses the cold hard facts about their financial returns and their impact on the larger market.
Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art
By Olav Velthuis
Relating art and economics when pricing work can sometimes seem like a balancing act. In this book Velthuis investigates the processes of gallerists and dealers as they combine elusive properties like sociological factors, commerce, provenance and artist’s reputation when coming up with the magic number. Talking Prices demystifies the complicated formula that reduces art to a monetary value.
I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)
By Richard Polsky
When a collector should sell a picture is a major decision with a laundry list of factors to take into consideration, like the strength of the market, trends in the art world, time of year, and personal financial need. Art dealer Richard Polsky shares a personal story of when selling a work can go wrong in his tale about letting go of Andy Warhol’s Fright Wig in 2005, only to have the picture soar in value exponentially over the following two years. Polsky offers this missive as an illustration of the explosive pricing that the art market has experienced since the mid 2000s.
Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
By Laney Salisbury
Many collectors are surprised at the effect illustrious, or villainous, owners can have on the pricing of an artwork. But beyond the “who” of provenance, the detailed history of whose hands a picture has passed through also brings validity of a work’s authenticity. Salisbury recounts the importance of provenance by telling the juicy tale of art forgers John Drewe and John Myatt, laying out the architecture of their fraud and capture, written as a page-turning, true-crime drama.
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
By Donald N. Thompson
Taking its name from the sale of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living for $12 million to collector Steven A. Cohen, Don Thompson’s book relates the economics, marketing strategies and ego that are often behind the sometimes astronomical prices paid for art. Three years old, but still relevant considering the record breaking auction week earlier this November, Thompson relates his firsthand experience with different points of purchase in the art world, from the private dealer up to the auction house, leaving the reader with a detailed explanation of how work is bought and sold on the secondary market.

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