Personal preference

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 October, 2008, 12:00am

If you're looking to buy a piece for your home, follow your heart and get something you like and want to live with for a few years

The number of art galleries along Hollywood Road alone has grown by 20 per cent in the past year, providing residents with more choice - and more room for error - when selecting art for their homes. After consulting with local gallery owners and experts, here is an overview of what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.

Buying art for your home in Hong Kong comes with a special set of challenges, the most prevalent being space constraints. Frances Leung Ching-yan, gallery manager of Design Gallery in the Convention Centre, says: 'My shop is 4,200 sqft and we have to display 5,000 items per year, so I pay attention to the size of the products selected to be sure they are size-appropriate to a Hong Kong home.'

The same cannot be said of the scale of contemporary art on offer in the leading galleries. Artists choose to work in their preferred medium, in the size deemed best for each piece. While one might fall in love with a painting that is 3 square metres, it is not suited to a small studio apartment.

That said, the experts speak in a single voice when asked how to decide on a purchase. 'Buy art that you love,' they agree. Mandy d'Abo, owner of The Cat Street Gallery on Hollywood Road, believes personal value ahead of all other concerns is essential. 'With art, it's more important that you get an emotional dividend from it rather than financial,' she says. 'Buy something you like and want to live with for a few years.'

And she sees no problem with hanging a painting next to photos, with a sculpture on the floor below them. 'Don't worry about the decorative aspect of what you're buying and how it fits with other pieces. You're the one who has to live with it.'

Christopher Bailey, owner of Picture This gallery on Queen's Road Central, compares buying art to investing in a property. 'If you are buying investment property, it doesn't matter if it is something you wouldn't want to live in,' he says. 'You'd be thinking about rentability, yield, ease of resale and expected capital gain. If you're living in the home, investment potential is a consideration, but primarily you're concerned with whether you want to live there, is it big enough, close to schools and family members.

'Buying art, in my opinion, is similar,' Mr Bailey says.

Ms d'Abo admits that buying art as an investment can be a tricky business. 'It's not as easy to buy and sell artworks as it is to trade shares, for example, because the art market is pretty illiquid,' she says.

The seemingly subjective value of art to the uninitiated can be laughable or intimidating, which is why a little knowledge goes a long way. Art goes in and out of fashion just like clothes, 'and prices can move up and down as quickly as hemlines'.

'Talk to gallery owners and staff,' Mr Bailey says. If you are genuinely interested, you'll find rather quickly that you've gained quite a bit of knowledge. 'Equipped with this new information and confidence, one will have more fun and success in buying art. And you are less likely to make mistakes.'

Some contemporary art, mostly by a handful of artists who do well at auctions, has proven to be a good investment. 'But not all art,' Mr Bailey adds. 'Just ask collectors of 19th-century English watercolour paintings.'

If your goal is to acquire art as an investment, experts urge caution and research. 'Buy the wrong art or misjudge the market and you'll get your fingers burnt. If it is a painting you really didn't like in the first place, you'll wonder why you've hung your loss-making investment on the wall of your home for you to see every day.'

Whether your goal is to learn to be a serious collector or simply to buy a piece that you will enjoy for years to come, the expert advice is the same: research, research, research.

Buy books on artists that catch your eye or types of art that you are attracted to, and learn about major art trends and movements. Train your eye by visiting art fairs, museums, galleries and auctions in Hong Kong and wherever you travel. 'Student shows are a good place for novice collectors to start,' Ms d'Abo says. The internet continues to be a popular resource for those curious about art, since nearly all galleries have a website. 'But make sure you're dealing with a reputable gallery or dealer,' she says.

A reputable dealer is behind the work 100 per cent and will give you your money back if the piece is not exactly as described in the invoice. Most reputable dealers are happy to educate, explain and teach. They have a passion for the art they sell, and they want to communicate it. They will also give full condition reports, and will document fading, foxing (discolouration) or other condition problems of a work on paper, or older canvases.

Overall, experts agree: don't buy art purely as a financial investment. Make sure it's something you love. Don't fly blind, educate yourself on the type of art you like and develop a real appreciation for the work. And don't buy from a dodgy dealer. Take steps to ensure that the gallery or dealer stands behind their work.