How to Build a Great Art Collection on a Budget

Insider tips to help you train your eye and curate a collection you're proud of.

Painting with various red and pink shades by Nadia Liz Estela

Check out local galleries to see the work of emerging artists, such as this one by Nadia Liz Estela. Photo courtesy of Nadia Liz Estela


To outsiders, art collecting can seem mystifying, an unfamiliar terrain inhabited exclusively by the uber-wealthy and those to the manor born.

But being an art collector need not require deep pockets. Here are some strategies to get started.

Visit galleries, museums and auction houses. Train your eye, and learn about different media and what you like about them. Discover your tastes and be guided by your instincts and your passion. (A good place to start? New Jersey Monthly’s ultimate guide to under-the-radar museums.)

Be selective. In the vetting process, each work should fit within specific guidelines and fulfill particular needs like genre (abstract or representational), medium (painting, photography, sculpture, etc.), even size.

Know that research is essential when building a collection. Without it, you are operating in the dark. When a work catches your eye, make a note. Then do your homework. Auction houses are great resources for research—and for art that can be snapped up for nominal sums. Rago Auctions in Lambertville holds a yearly auction of unreserved (meaning that no minimum dollar amount must be met) decorative and fine art. This means the items must sell if someone bids on them. Frequently, items sell for a few hundred dollars. With estimates from $100 to $10,000, the auction is a lollapalooza for art enthusiasts.

Be fiscally minded. Everyone has a budget; work within yours. Consider emerging artists. Universities like Rowan, Rutgers and Montclair State have master of fine arts programs and are a great place to discover new art talent in which to invest.

Be aware of—but not beholden to—trends. Although digital art has been in existence since the 1980s, crypto art, NFTs, web3 art, and digital art created on block-chain technology are among the newer trends in collecting. When considering crypto-art, be mindful that desirability, resale and demand are directly linked to the platform where the works are minted (published/sold). Edition number, smart contract, (terms of sale, reassignments of any resale), and the artists and digital creators also inform the value and price.

Since 2016, great attention has been focused on artists of color, female artists, and artists under 35 years old.

When building your collection, don’t limit yourself to what’s trendy. Seek out quality, which is defined by how a work is made and how it looks. Quality is the only true barometer of fine art.

Want more ways to live the luxe life for less in New Jersey? Check out more tips and tricks for saving on everything from entertainment to your taxes in the Garden State.

Ron Shipmon is an art collector, curator, art advisor, arts contributor and certified art appraiser, with more than three decades of expertise in the contemporary, emerging and digital art markets amassed from working with both corporate and private clients across the United States and around the globe.

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