Peter Nahum on collecting

I was an art dealer for over twenty-five years, prior to which I was head of the Victorian and Modern British Paintings departments at Sotheby’s. I have been in “the business” since I was 19. Dealers, as are their clients, are glorified collectors and I can assure you there are a myriad of other ways for an entrepreneur to make money more easily.

The only difference between a dealer and a traditional collector is that a dealer’s collection is, in principle, faster moving – their motto must be “Sell and Regret”; so why do collectors and dealers do what they do? – Well, we can be philosophical and say it is a desire to return to the womb by surrounding oneself with endless objects, or more practically, it is an overriding desire to acquire knowledge.

There are many basic reasons for collecting and I will discard one of the more obvious: investment; whilst qualifying that with the fervent, if bleak hope that it may lead to a better knowledge of the “product”. More importantly, it is an instinct in a few, but must be learnt by the majority, that the best art is part of a human being, someone just like you, who had, just as you have, to negotiate the pitfalls of life whilst creating from the depths of their being, a part of themselves – a visual diary, if you like. And what appeals to those collectors is the oft unexplainable emotional attachment they feel to the work.

But, of course, artists produce for as many varied reasons as buyers buy. They also produce to sell – to suit the market’s desires at that point in time. And when the new market matches the market that the painter painted for, then the works’ values will soar as collectors buy not just for investment, but also for egotistical and decorative value. The more the price of an artist’s work is published, the more likely it will be bought to be instantly recognisable to their friends and acquaintances; not just by the celebrity artist, but its price tag as well.

My advice to collectors is: buy with you heart and emotions (whilst always keeping a watch on the asking price). This being said, “Only the Brave Deserve the Fair”, so cheap-jacking will mean a lack of quality and a poor return. To buy is to learn – curiosity may have killed the cat, but will not you.

Peter Nahum is an art dealer, author, lecturer and journalist. His gallery is Peter Nahum at The Leicester Galleries.