As co-founder of Roberts Projects of Culver City, Bennett Roberts represents some of the world’s most in-demand artists, including Kehinde Wiley, Ghanaian sensation Amoako Boafo and iconic sculptor Betye Saar.
Few know more about the ins and outs of art collecting — a rarefied concern no longer the sole province of the wealthy and well-connected: anyone, Roberts says, is willing to research and Dedicated sleuths — on social media and local art spaces — can follow the trail of exciting new artists (ideally, just before they and their valuations go stratospheric). “Most people don’t because it takes some due diligence,” he says. “All the most successful art collectors are the most passionate and curious. Curiosity and passion make the greatest collectors.
Wondering if you have what it takes to discover the next great artist? Read some tips on how to do this below.
InsideHook: For potential collectors who are intimidated by the art world, how would you tell them to approach this world with confidence?
Bennett Roberts: All galleries are free to the public. They can look intimidating because you walk into this big white space and maybe there’s a person sitting there who doesn’t look up. But the galleries are actually there for you — they want people to come. Buyers represent only 10% of gallery visitors. There are not enough people. And artists really like people to come and see their art. They don’t care if someone buys their work. The more people participate in art – by visiting museums, galleries and alternative spaces, the stronger the life force of the art world becomes.
You can see a responsibility there, the responsibility of someone who is interested in culture: “I’m going to visit these galleries, see what I like there. Don’t be intimidated. No one will ask you to leave.
Part of the answer to this question is Google, but do you have any resources or strategies for city dwellers trying to figure out what hot galleries are?
These days are very different from the old days. You can perform many reconnaissance from your office or computer. There’s Artsy, which still covers different cities and shares the top 10 shows [there]. Artforum.com too – you can decide which galleries they recommend have stuff you like and go there.
I do the same thing. After 35 years in the business, I proceed in the same way: research, see which exhibitions take place in which gallery and determine what we might want to support or acquire.
Is there a difference between the mindset needed to invest and the mindset needed to collect?
I think everyone wants something to have value. Nobody wants their money to become nothing. But with art you have to start learning and just buying things.
I would never tell someone to start by “investing” unless they have a million dollars and want to go to the auction house and buy a little Picasso drawing, or whatever. else. It’s already an asset class. What we’re talking about is really mining for great work before the world knows it’s great.
Two-part question: what’s hot right now? And what are the dangers of running after the hot work of hot artists?
The problem is, if it’s hot and you’ve never supported this gallery with this hot artist before, the chances aren’t very good that you’ll even be able to buy it.
The second problem is that the price is already inflated beyond the average prices. If someone has unlimited money, there is a chance.
What people need to understand is that the art industry is about relationships. I actually think a new collector shouldn’t care at all. They need to do their due diligence, which means looking at the galleries they like. I hope there is a gallery that made you like one of their not so hot yet artists. An artist who remains at a reasonable price. And then, at a certain point, you have to pull the trigger. There are never wrong choices in acquiring a work of art, because it teaches you something about your work.
Are there places, styles, media that seem super interesting to you right now?
It started maybe 20 years ago, but [there are] very strong artists of color. African-American artists, women artists, Latin artists. No one is left out. And a collector can say, “You know what? I want to support a group that has not been supported in the past.
It’s also a way for someone to find a hook that can help. You can say, I only want to collect portraits, or abstraction. You can always expand later. But if you say “I’m going to find art that I like” and you have no parameters — there are so many good things, and different things, that it becomes very difficult to say “I” I’ll take my chances.
You really can buy something with just $1,000 or $1,500. You can walk into some of the best galleries – maybe not Pace or David Zwirner, but really solid galleries – and say, “I’ve got $3,000 to spend. What options would I have in your gallery? »
So where does everyone look for hot new talent – before they’re unaffordable?
You go to museums. You go to alternate spaces. You go to the Harlem Workshop Museum, which always exhibits the most interesting African-American or African Diaspora artists. You are going to White columns, in Manhattan, which always shows really interesting artists. You can go to charity auctions, which are events where a new collector can buy a piece very easily, at fair prices.
My main suggestion is to find the places that have the best work, then try to see if there is work that you find interesting, even if it is out of your price range. Then see what else [those artists] discover and find interesting. Look at their Instagram feed and see what they like, what they take pictures, who they follow. It’s the same thing I do. It costs nothing to do research.
What exactly do you do when you see an artist you like on Instagram? You would just send them a direct message, right? Start liking their posts, start a conversation?
Yeah. And if they don’t answer, you move on to the next person – but in most cases artists like it when they get answered. There are huge artists now, who are hugely, internationally important, who started their entire career with 50 or more pieces on Instagram – all before they even had a “real” international gallery. Amoako Boafo is the perfect example. Kehinde Wiley brought it to our attention after discovering it on Instagram. We not only respect Kehinde’s eye and talent, but also his recommendation. So we decided to try our luck with him. He is now one of the most desirable and influential African artists in the world.
Do you think this digital environment makes art “better”, since artists can perhaps follow their noses better, outside of academic art programs?
I actually think the greatest art can come from anywhere. The art world is a treasure hunt. That’s why you have to start. You have to start looking at all the things — you create your own map; you create your own kind of treasure map to find work that will enrich your life and enrich your view of the world. These are the most important reasons to collect. And then if you end up with a sexy performer, well, that’s great. Everyone likes it. And everyone loves finding someone the world deems important.
It’s hard to know where the next thing is. That’s my job — to keep an eye on the direction of the world’s interests. Our world always reflects what is happening in the real world, whether it is war, the Roaring Twenties or the machine age. All these different things. We now have the computer age and all these NFTs. [The art world] always reflects the world we live in.
What is your opinion on NFTs?
To me, it’s more of a cash grab. I think that will find its place and be very important for many years. For now, however, take Beeple – how can something that doesn’t even have a physical presence be worth $63 million? It’s a system I’m going to stay away from.
I think there are elements in NFTs that are really important to the art world. But selling a non-product – and then seeing that value increase? It really is a shell game.
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