Frédéric de Senarclens shares with Melissa Gail Sing his most valuable pointers on the fine art of buying. 

When it comes to purchasing art for our homes or offices, many of us are drawn to what is beautiful to us, whether it is the intricate, laboured carvings on an 18th century white jade Buddha or the provocative strokes on a contemporary painting that scream at you to question things you take for granted.

However, recent reports about fake artworks landing in the hands of unsuspecting buyers are a reminder of the importance of making informed decisions when it comes to buying art or you’ll end up feeling like a jilted lover. A serious collector would seek the services of a professionally trained art buyer who would be able to tell a genuine work of art apart from a fake and even suggest pieces that would complement an existing collection. But if you’re not a hardcore art connoisseur and simply want a few works of art to inject personality to your home and complement your lifestyle, take a tip or two from some prominent members of Singapore’s art circle. 


Frédéric de Senarclens, the Founder and Director of Art Plural Gallery is currently working on four solo exhibitions for Singapore Art Week 2015 including Nan Qi’s 50 Red Dots, which commemorates SG50. (Photo courtesy of Art Plural Gallery)

When it comes to buying art, what is your game plan?
As an art dealer, I regularly advise collectors on their acquisitions. The first advice that I would offer to new collectors is to buy what they love. They should always enjoy the artwork for itself. As opposed to stocks and commodities, art is a tangible investment that has a direct impact on the investor’s lifestyle, and is indeed a reflection of who they are. Art becomes a central part of the collector’s day-to-day life at home or at the workplace, so its worth far exceeds its appraisal.

When buying at important figures, however, I recommend that prospective buyers carefully research their artist. Serious collectors always keep themselves well-informed about the artist’s career progression, often out of passion but also to make a good investment. It is important that investors fully immerse themselves by reading as much as they can about the artist, visiting their exhibitions, attending art fairs, discussing the work with peers and approaching serious art advisors.

Where are the best places to shop for art?
Art galleries are ideal avenues to buy art, as they offer valuable and well-informed guidance within the context of today’s very overwhelming art world. The acquisition of an artwork is an exciting and encompassing process for all collectors, both new and experienced. Despite the convenience of art fairs or online sales platforms and auctions, art galleries continue to be the most secure environment for acquisitions. Combining the expertise offered by the art dealer, the guarantee of transparent information, and the promise of confidentiality, the art gallery remains a relevant source for collectors.

Our role as a gallery is to identify talents and to have an eye for quality, whether the artist is still unknown or very established. I am constantly looking out for interesting artists, meeting them in their studios, understanding their philosophies and mentoring them. At Art Plural Gallery we work hard to promote the work of artists that we believe in by organising exhibitions, publishing books, and raising the awareness of collectors and the media alike.

What's the biggest mistake people make when it comes to buying art?
In acquiring art there are not many big “mistakes” that collectors make in the short-term. Whether the collector is young or experienced, they most often buy according to their passion and taste rather than for pure investment. There are no real mistakes if you enjoy the work and have the pleasure of living with it on your walls.

However, if the prospective buyer is ready to seriously invest in art, the best way to avoid mistakes is to seek the advice of an experienced art dealer. Buying from an established gallery would prevent problems of authenticity, quality and privacy. The general public is often interested in big names, so inexperienced collectors may be inclined to buy a lesser-valued work by a famous artist rather than a very important work by a mid-career artist. I recommend that buyers always invest in the most significant work by their preferred artist that is within their budget. Investors must also be prepared to prioritise quality over price. Good art is not cheap, but it comes at a price worth paying in the long run.

What is your advice for someone buying art online?
First, when buying art online one must always source from the most established platforms, as these would display artworks that are directly linked to reputable galleries.

Secondly, buyers must always research their preferred artists. When looking to invest in young or emerging artists, I think that the buyer must set a limit to the amount of money that they are willing to pay as the careers of these artists’ are still uncertain. It is safer to buy works by renowned artists as they have records that make it easier to gain an understanding of their style and career. On the other hand, well-versed collectors would be more successful at buying the work of renowned artists online as they know the artist’s body of work and may have seen the works before in a museum, art fair or gallery show. With more knowledge of the market, they may also be more confident in gambling on young artists.

Finally, size and relief do not appear clearly on a screen or a picture, so one might not understand the texture of the work and its tri-dimensionality. Prospective buyers should check the dimensions of the work that they are acquiring to avoid bad surprises. The real thing can be smaller or bigger than they think.

List your top 3 artworks in your personal collection.
When we came to Singapore in 2008, our mission was to show only the best artists whether they are established or still on the rise. At Art Plural Gallery, our motto is excellence. Art is my passion and my gallery reflects my eye as a collector, too.

Fu Lei, Chicken #1, 2011, pencil on paper, 55 x 55cm 

Most of the artists that I collect myself are exhibited at the gallery, from painter Fabienne Verdier to Doug and Mike Starn, whose series “Structures of Thought” I saw so many years ago, to Chinese artist Fu Lei, whom I discovered in China and whose work I fell in love with, particularly his chicken drawings. Ian Davenport, Chun Kwang Young, Nan Qi and Qiu Jie are other excellent artists that I collect. But the list is not exhaustive.

Jedd Novatt exhibition

I am particularly drawn to contemporary art in all its forms. I am interested in living matter, and constantly seek to learn about contemporary artists and understand their creative process. My vision is actually reflected is our publication Art Plural: Voices of Contemporary Art featuring more than 27 artists from all over the world. From drawing to painting, sculpture or video, these contemporary artists embody the multi-cultural and global vision of the art today.I have always loved sculpture and we are planning in March a group exhibition featuring Jedd Novatt, Bernar Venet, Yves Dana and Armen Agop. I am also very interested in Pakistani art at the moment.

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