ArtMan: What sort of art collector are you?


When it comes to collecting, are you a Dragonfly, a Baby Vole or a Squirrel? Asks Kevin Wilson

“What the hell is that?” I asked, wide eyed and speechless. Hanging on the wall of a very well-to-do friend’s house was a splodge of a painting which jarred with the other art on his walls.

My neighbour’s baby once did the same shade of vomit over my trousers. I recognised the masterpiece instantly as Cow and Gate Carrot, Potato and Lamb hotpot.

“That, Kevin, is £100,000,” he beamed, stroking the side of the vomit pizza special.

And therein lies the collector’s conundrum. To collect or not to collect, based solely on monetary value and projected increase, or only buy what you like?

I am generalising, but active collectors (as opposed to those who have inherited collections) fit into five types of creature.

The Dragonfly

Impulsive, skittish, can turn on a pinhead


I know a very sedate titled collector who has a passion for the male nude in all of its forms. She keeps them all under lock and key in a room called her Fantasy Parlour. This antidote to her formal, quite miserable, dutiful, life makes sense. She doesn’t care about the value of her collection; it’s all about the phwoar. She is a secret Dragonfly, looks, likes and buys, having been steered by something deep inside.

So ask yourself if you are the type of person who is going to get more pleasure out of collecting exactly what you want and sod the value or the investment. Choosing on impulse works well for some people and, for those types, it’s important to trust your immediate eye – not your thoughtful eye. Develop your gut instinct. Dragonflies know within a gnat’s burp of a second if they like something. If you are The Dragonfly, then be impulsive and make the most of your immediate eye. Just make sure you write your credit limit inside your eyelids.

The Squirrel

Competitive, hoards, plans


You collect mainly with the need or desire to make money. For you, all you can see in baby vomit pictures and sculptures that look like a table leg is your child’s inheritance or a pension cruise. You may convince visitors that you love what you have bought, either because you are embarrassed by your blatant altruism or that you have really brainwashed yourself into believing that you have grown to love it. Do grow up; we can all see that you are pulling the same face you pulled when you said you liked Bruce Forsyth. Be honest, always, about the return you expect, be honest (at least to yourself) about the status of the artist and if it is a good time to sell on. Squirrels don’t bury their heads in the sand, they bury their nuts.

Be a thoroughly scientific Squirrel and get off on studying art markets, who’s who and who’s not and why not. Study auction sales figures, read this and other columns (though this one is better). Do your sums properly and please write down the current figures for your collection. This is especially important if you have bought and stored art. It’s easy to forget that you have something. This applies whether you have spent £100 or £1m. Obviously, as your collection grows you may need to enlist the services of an art accountant, valuer or market checker. Insist on regular reports. Read the art papers and take an interest in your artists – you have invested in them as people. You need to know if they have just jumped off a bridge or have recently discovered heroin. This can affect a Squirrel’s investment and make your teeth chatter.

 The Peacock

Vulgar, obvious, in your face


You are seen, or want to be seen, in Hello! magazine. You  always smile. The Peacock collects everything and anything bright, zeitgeist or something that Katie Price has. You need to impress your guests and your neighbours. Your collection could consist of a vase, a painting, or a house full of vulgarity. But your psychological desire to show off overrides sensible financial planning or consideration for what you may like. Mr or Mrs Peacock, admit your desire to buy to impress is all that matters, then life becomes much easier. Be proud of being a Peacock and never deny it.

The Hedgehog

Homely, considered, safe (unless crossing the road)


As a Hedgehog, you will have a corner of your room that needs “brightening up”. You may decide that one artwork a year is what would suit and budget accordingly. Hedgehogs can work their colour scheme around their artwork and sometimes will move something around to make room for it. If you are a hedgehog and you don’t buy often or have a space to fill, do take a long time to think. Ponder, pace around it and curl up into a ball if the price is too much. It suits you to know that you haven’t overextended yourself creatively or financially. Hedgehogs with a bit of Squirrel in them will invest for the long term and only on art that has a decent 5% annual increase and go with the curtains.

The Baby Vole

New, wide eyed, knows very little

Baby vole looking at art

Baby Voles love everything; they rush around galleries ooing and ahhing. Start simple and small Baby Vole. Buy prints; buy for fun, keep the magic going. If you have a burning desire to only make money at all costs then get affordable editions of prints or large multiple editions to start you off.  Look at everything and swat up on your favourite artists, get to know them if possible and follow their careers.

OK – now we have made you think about who you are, next time we will look at where to go in London to start your collection.  

Watch this space

Over the coming weeks I will be looking deeper at the role London plays on the world art stage – the finances, structure, dealers, collectors and, of course, the artists themselves. I will be zooming into fine detail – introducing the rising art-world stars, predicting new trends, interviewing key players and looking at all other aspects of the London art scene.

I will also be examining and guiding you through the world of personal and corporate collecting at all levels: How to start out; and how to make safe, strategic and speculative investments.

ROCKETING: Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman (b 1965) A New Yorker who challenges the perception and role women play in society. She is best known for her large body of self portraits depicting herself in disguise.

A self-portrait by New York artist Cindy Sherman (b 1965) Cindy Sherman ( b 1965) A New Yorker that challenges the perception and role women play in society. She is best known for her large body of self portraits depicting herself in disguise.

Average Price Index * £
2007 100
2008 77
2009 35
2010 205

*Based on an investment unit of £100 – how your investment would have performed per year, figures are estimates and should be used as a guide.

Cindy Sherman is represented in London by Spreuth Magers

Kevin Wilson is an international arts consultant, curator and collector. He advises on collections, investments and projects worldwide. His clients range from the Historical Royal Palaces, international corporations and private individuals and collections worldwide: www.kwart.co.uk