Ask the Experts: Bibi and Conner Answer Your Questions About Collecting and More

Our recurring series takes questions from you, the readers!

Our experts, Conner Williams and Bibi Naz Zavieh. Photo by Hannah Nathans.

In “Ask the Experts,” our advice column, Artnet Auctions specialists Bibi Naz Zavieh and Conner Williams are back to assist in all your art-related needs. Whether you’re a pro on the auction circuit or an up-and-coming artist, chances are you have questions and queries about art and the art world—that’s where we come in.

On the agenda this week: Bibi and Conner discuss prints versus unique works, where to draw the line between collector and hoarder, and how to get noticed by curators.

If you’ve got any art-related questions, send them to us at [email protected] for a chance to be featured next time.

Do you think it is better to buy an original piece by an emerging artist, or a limited number print/edition from an established one?

Bibi: Prints can be a great investment—although it’s one that would require good knowledge about the different techniques and parameters of printmaking. I must say I am a big advocate of unique works, and in particular painting. There are so many talented artists out there, who are still very accessible, and selling their works at affordable prices. I have found a few little gems from graduate shows at good art schools for myself. For me, there is something to the quality of paint, the texture, the brushstrokes, the different layers and techniques that really captivates me. 

Conner: I’m biased, and I’ll recommend that you acquire a print. It’s a great misconception that prints are “less than” or somehow not as important as unique works when for so many artists, printmaking has been central to their practices. One of the greatest examples is Picasso. Picasso was very prolific in print and editions (especially ceramics) — and not necessarily because he wanted to offer affordable works to the masses. He genuinely found himself working out ideas, problems, forms, and materials in a way that he couldn’t accomplish otherwise. For these reasons, prints offer something unique about an artist and their work, which shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of the editioned nature.

Bibi: Both paintings and prints can gain value with time if we are talking about investment here, but really, at the end of the day, what matters is to buy what you fall in love with, regardless of the medium. 

I support my art-making with working a moving job in Philadelphia. Ninety-five percent of the homes I’ve worked in have the same picture from Target or Ikea. More often than I’d like, I hear people say “Please be careful with that painting!” How do you convince young collectors to purchase affordable art from emerging artists rather than wall-hangings from department stores?

Conner: You don’t. When people ask me what I do and I tell them I work in the art world, most reactions are quite animated: “Wow, that’s interesting,” or “Oh!” These responses always reminds me that education is very important. Helping people understand the value of art is a large part of what we do because many people simply don’t know enough about it. So, convincing someone to buy from one venue and not that one or this kind of art and not that is a process, and one that can’t be forced, but, I believe, learned with at least some initial interest or curiosity.  

As an emerging artist, how do I get my work seen by curators at contemporary art museums? Would sending curators a link to my Instagram page be considered acceptable? 

Bibi: It all comes down to two things: talent and network. Without talent, it’s hard to make it in this world. And equally, without the right connections, it is almost impossible to get to the forefront of the art world. Instagram has proven to be a very rich platform for artists, curators, and collectors alike. Many galleries find their artists by surfing social media. And many deals, even at record prices, have been made through Instagram. There’s no harm in connecting through people virtually and sharing your art with them, but many others might do the same, so you should find a way to connect with that curator in a different way so they remember you. And then step away from your phone, too, and try to meet them in person or at openings. That always helps. 

I’ve been collecting art for a long time, and now my family claims that my lifestyle is bordering on hoarding. I love each and every piece I own, and there is a story behind each one. It’s become an all-consuming activity to search for the next perfect piece. But I am of the firm belief that a true collector never sells. Do you have any advice on how I can control my impulses when collecting, and what are your thoughts on selling work? 

Conner: We’ve worked with many people who are very earnest collectors, and still able to sell art from their collection. I don’t believe selling makes them any less a collector, or any less connected or passionate about the artists, their work, and why they acquired the works in the first place. Eventually, the art will outlive us and it will be passed down or sold, and quite possibly to someone who loves it as much, or more. 

Bibi: In one of the first projects I worked on in 2009, I helped one of the most important Middle Eastern art collectors archive their entire collection. Over 2,500 works, spanning over centuries, and mostly works of great value. While we were going through their storage, I found myself in a room where there were different compartments—one was filled with zippo lighters, the other with different types of pens, another one with all types of musical boxes. I was stunned. Everything was very organized, and did not feel like hoarding. And that collector told me: “If you have the heart of a collector, you will always find new things to collect.” In fact, I found out later that he also owned one of the largest collections of vintage cars! So do collect, but buy wisely. 

Conner: As for trying to control your collecting impulses, all I can say is: I understand.

Is there a database of any kind where one could research in what gallery, museum, institution, or private collection a particular work may be? 

Editor’s note: Not to our knowledge, but you should check out the Artnet Price Database if you’re interested in learning more about the art market!  

Bibi: And we are always here to help if we can!

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