A black bust sculpture of a Grecian man set on a console home bar in an apartment. Photo by Pexels Sami Abdullah

Choosing an art piece is very much like falling in love. For some, it’s a tingle at first sight. For others, it might be a captivating painting you go back to visit again and again in a gallery because you can’t get it out of your mind. While artistic works can be subjective, they add plenty of character to a home.

So, whether you’re thinking about making your first art purchase or already own several artworks at home, here’s what to consider when choosing and buying art for your home. We sounded out a professional art editor, Deepika Shetty, for some tips for choosing and buying art for home for a beginner.

How do I buy art?

In my decade of writing about visual arts, I have had friends, and even strangers, ask me these questions: “What do you recommend? What should I buy?” “It is so confusing. There are so many paintings I don’t even know where to look.”

I hear them when they say it is confusing. Singapore’s visual arts scene has undergone a transformation in the past decade, and more people are not just looking at art but buying it as well.

Art fairs have grown in popularity in Singapore in the recent decade.

Art Fairs in Singapore

Along with the proliferation of art fairs, another good indicator of the change is the attendance at art openings. When I started on the beat, most galleries rarely ran out of bites and wine.

These days, if you show up after 8pm, you are better off bringing your own glass of wine. All of this is great. It means more people are showing up for art – generally before 8pm. It is not just art openings that are packed. Artist and curator talks are huge draws too.

A series of three pop art works hung on a wall of exposed white bricks in a home in Singapore. Interior design by Architology.
A series of three pop art works hung on a wall of exposed white bricks in a home in Singapore. Interior design by Architology.

10 Tips to choosing & buying art in Singapore

Singapore’s strategic location allows people to travel with ease and gives them access to museums, galleries, art fairs, artists and even world class art storage.

If you are thinking of journeying into the colourful world of art, you could not have asked for a better location to get started. But where exactly do you start?

1. Find an art style that you like

Before you buy, go to as many museums, galleries, art shows and art fairs to do research and familiarise yourself with different styles of art. Remember, it is not the size of the painting or sculpture but its year, medium and subject that matter.

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How To Buy Art: 6 Beginner's tips from a professional art editor

2. Visit art galleries, ask questions

Do not be afraid to ask questions. It does not matter if you think your questions do not sound smart enough or intelligent enough. Just ask the gallerist, curator, artist, or even all of them. Anything that helps you learn about the work, the artist and everything associated with art.

Gallery director of The Artling, Kim Tay

Gallery director of The Artling, Kim Tay. 

How to choose art?

According to Kim Tay, gallery director of art consultancy and online gallery The Artling, choosing an artwork is an incredibly subjective experience. Sometimes you can be drawn in to the piece because of the aesthetic, or sometimes it can be the artist’s concept or process behind the work. It’s always useful to find out more about the artwork and the artist, but ultimately, only you will know if it’s the piece for you.

Homeowner of a 4-room HDB, Mr Lee took home this print of the The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, after his trip to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Homeowner of a 4-room HDB, Mr Lee took home this print of the The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, after his trip to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

How to talk about art?

“Between the complicated language of ‘artspeak’ and the fact that most gallery staff seem to be better dressed than you, art galleries can be intimidating places to enter,” says Daniel Ord, founder of The Art Club Singapore, a gallery that holds educational events.

But don’t worry — he offers a tip on how to appreciate art and confidently engage in conversation on this seemingly highbrow subject.

Ask questions about the art work

The process of studying an artwork provokes questions, such as “Why is everyone dressed except the lady in the middle?” or “What’s the meaning of a can of Campbell’s Soup?”

Often, you have to first understand the context — factors that include when and where the work was created and the social or economic conditions at the time. It is this context and meaning, rather than superficial aspects, of the work that brings it to life.

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How To Buy Art: 6 Beginner's tips from a professional art editor

3. Choose a art region, or an artistic style

It is impossible to collect art from everywhere in the world. Once you have done your research and asked all the relevant questions to steer your art acquisition, focus on a region or an artistic style or the type of art you like and would like to collect.

Narrowing your focus helps you decide on what you want to buy. It is okay to make mistakes when you are starting.

Make mistakes while collecting art

Speak to any serious collectors and they will happily tell you about the mistakes they made in their collecting journey. The most often repeated one is trying to do too much. But it is the only way to learn.

Several collectors have told me this: “You have one life, you cannot collect all the art of the world. I was over-ambitious when I started and soon my collection started looking like a mixed fruit salad tossed all over.”

Find an art genre or period you like

It is fine to make these mistakes. It eventually helps you find the focus any collection needs. You need to find a period or the genre of art or a particular region you wish to centre your art collection on.

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How To Buy Art: 6 Beginner's tips from a professional art editor

4. Know your budget for art

Always have a clear budget in mind. That makes it easier for you to decide where you want to buy from and what type of artists you are seeking.

Once you have sorted out your budget and decided on the work, ensure the artwork you buy is from an established gallerist, dealer or auction house, and that it comes with a valid certificate of authenticity.

How much money you should spend on art?

According to Kim Tay, gallery director of art consultancy and online gallery The Artling, everyone’s budget is different. Think about how much you can afford to spend on art – starting an art collection shouldn’t drain your bank account. Start small and see where your tastes take you, as you begin building your collection.

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Two persons sitting on a round bench in a minimalist art gallery. Photo by Pexels Adrien Olichon.

5. Don’t just buy hyped art

New collectors priced out of the over-heated art markets such as China and India should look to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. South-east Asia has a lot to offer, and travelling to these countries from Singapore is easy.

Buy art from emerging artists

According to Kim Tay, gallery director of art consultancy and online gallery The Artling, it is always good to buy and collect art from emerging artists. Collecting artworks by emerging artists means supporting their career and allowing them to grow in their artistic practice, and often means the artworks are at a more accessible price point.

Look at which art schools the artist attended, what exhibitions they have been present in, and if they’re represented by any commercial art galleries. This all affects the pricing and value of the artworks.

Emerging artists at art fairs

Several art fairs, art weeks and biennales are organised where you can find works by emerging artists, often selling for under $5,000 or $10,000.

Artwork 'BE86Sen' by artist Yan Sen hanging on a wall above a sofa in a living room. Photo from The Artling.

Artwork ‘BE86Sen’ by artist Yan Sen hanging on a wall above a sofa in a living room.

Photo from The Artling

Art fairs in Indonesia

A good starting point in the region is Indonesia’s undisputed art capital Jogjakarta, or Yogyakarta, which hosts the Jogja Biennale as well as Art Jog – a fantastic platform to spot works by emerging artists as well as more established ones.

Patrons viewing displayed art mounted on walls at the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore in 2016.
Patrons viewing displayed art mounted on walls at the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore in 2016.

Art fairs in Singapore

In Singapore, you will find the annual Singapore Art Week and ART SG at Marina Bay Sands’ exhibition halls.

According to Kim Tay, gallery director of art consultancy and online gallery The Artling, if you’re looking to dip your toes in the art scene, start visiting your local museums and galleries. “In Singapore, we have the Singapore Art Museum, the National Gallery, and the ArtScience Museum. Visit independent art spaces like STPI, the Substation and Objectifs, and your best bet for galleries would be to go to Gillman Barracks,” says Kim Tay.

There are various art fairs in Singapore and the region which can give you a good overview of what’s current in the art market, and gives you a chance to talk to artists and galleries directly. And of course, year-round, you can visit online galleries like The Artling, where we have artworks listed from emerging and established artists all over Asia.

Art fairs in Philippines

In Manila, you have Art Fair Philippines. Founded in 2013, Art Fair Philippines has won nods for its well-curated presentation.

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Woman at an art gallery taking a photograph of an art work with her mobile phone. Photo from Pexels Masa Multimedia.

6. Buy art that you love!

However, beyond all the advice you could possibly hear from friends, read from social media, or learn from online articles and art guides (like ours!), collecting art boils down to one simple thing – enjoyment. Buy what you love and learn to trust your instinct!

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7. Consider size of your room and wall

The first practical consideration should be the dimensions of the artwork and whether it is proportionate to the furniture and walls.

If you have a spacious living room with a statement sofa, for instance, an even larger painting will balance the look. Paintings that are too small may be lost in the space of a wide wall.

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Artwork 'YHPTG#00001008' by artist Yao Hai hanging on a wall above a console. Photo from The Artling.
Artwork ‘YHPTG#00001008’ by artist Yao Hai hanging on a wall above a console. Photo from The Artling.

8. Match the art work’s colours to your home’s colours

What are you hoping to achieve? Bold colours and oversized pieces will dominate a space, so it’s best to display such statement pieces by themselves.

If you’re looking to purchase an addition to an existing gallery wall, evaluate its size and colours so that it doesn’t overwhelm the other pieces. Also, if the other artworks are mostly in pastels, it’s best to purchase a similarly light-hued painting so everything is in harmony.

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9. When should I stop buying and collecting art?

Is there ever an end to collecting art? Or perhaps, will there be a point when my art collection is truly big enough?

According to Kim Tay, gallery director of art consultancy and online gallery The Artling, there isn’t ever a point where someone should stop collecting. This completely depends on the individual.

“Personally, I would say that if you have more artworks than can fit in your home, it means you’re no longer able to appreciate the artworks on a daily basis, and that’s a big part of the art buying process for me. But this is just my opinion. If you’re starting out, go with what you’re comfortable with and don’t overspend your budget,” says Kim Tay.

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10. How to collect art for beginners?

“The journey of growing your art collection is a learning experience for all, no matter if you’re a beginner or seasoned collector. Art enriches your life, and collecting should be enjoyable to you. Stick with your gut feeling when considering an artwork purchase, it’s usually right and avoids you getting buyer’s remorse,” says Kim Tay.

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Martin Gerlier, resident art advisor at S Gallery in Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit
Martin Gerlier, resident art advisor at S Gallery in Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit

6 Best Places to Buy Art in the World

Finding that perfect statement art piece amid a sea of both original creations and replicas can be befuddling.

Martin Gerlier, resident art advisor at S Gallery in Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, shares his insider tips on purchasing art overseas and where to bag some cool finds.

1. Quartier Saint Germain

Country: Paris, France

During the summertime, I like to visit the galleries of Quartier Saint Germain with my clients. There are so many art and antiques galleries where you can purchase artwork of different styles at various budgets.

In the Rue Saint Andre des Arts, you will find the Kamel Menour Gallery, which is one of the most prestigious galleries in Paris, featuring pieces by Anish Kapoor and Daniel Buren.

This district is, in my opinion, one of the most charming places in Paris. After visiting the galleries, I always go to Restaurant La Librarie (2 Rue Duban, Tel: 33 14 520 5023) to reflect and enjoy how time seems to stop while observing Parisian life.

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2. Flea Market of Saint-Ouen

Country: Paris, France

This open-air market is such a beautiful representation of Paris. It opened around 1885 and over the years has become one of the biggest flea markets in the world.

Off the main street of Rue des Rosiers, runs Marche Malassis (for toys, vintage cameras and furniture), Marche Dauphine (for furniture and ceramics), Marche Biron (for expensive lighting, furniture and curios) and Marche Vernaison (for fashion, books, prints and kitchenware).

The open-air Marche Paul Bert, one of the two markets owned by the Duke of Westminster, has some beautiful 19th- and 20th-century furniture, though you’ll need to drive a hard bargain.

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Photo of a hanging suspended artwork at the Art Basel Miami in 2017.
Hanging suspended artwork at the Art Basel Miami in 2017.

3. Art Basel Fair

Country: Miami, USA

The Art Basel Fair is the most prestigious art fair in the world, appealing to top collectors.

It takes place in three locations annually: Basel, Switzerland (June); Hong Kong (March) and Miami (December). Due to the pleasant weather, the Miami edition has become the most frequented of the three fairs.

Since the opening of Art Basel Miami in 2001, the Wynwood neighbourhood has been transformed into an art destination with galleries, private foundations, museums and restaurants. It is filled with murals and artists’ studios that you can visit – the perfect opportunity to meet the artists, build relationships, and purchase art directly from them.

Two of my favorite galleries in those districts are Unix Gallery and Markowicz Fine Arts Gallery. They both offer quality art from emerging and established artists.

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4. OP Garden

Country: Bangkok, Thailand

The art community in Bangkok is growing very fast. Many galleries are opening and the prices are still affordable. It is easy to find quality art at very good prices.

The area near the Chao Praya River – which I predict will become the epicenter of art in Bangkok in a few years – is a place called OP Garden. There are many art galleries within walking distance of each other. One of my favorites is Serindia Gallery.

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Gold tone Buddha statue sculpture at the Chatuchak market on display.

5. Chatuchak Weekend Market

Country: Bangkok, Thailand

This is another one of my favorite places in Bangkok for art and antiques, and I have sourced for many materials for design projects here. It is one of the best places to buy affordable and original artwork.

Section 7, at the far end of the market, is where you’ll find booths and small galleries owned by local artists. Art pieces run the gamut from traditional local images, to contemporary pop art or abstract pieces, and everything in between. Pieces include everything from tiny miniatures to massive wall-sized paintings.

One wonderful thing about buying original artwork at Chatuchak is that many artists here work on commission, painting specifically what you want.

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Country: Bangkok, Thailand

Located in the heart of vibrant downtown Bangkok, S Gallery presents an art programme designed to enhance the experience of each visitor, from the casual observer to the most sophisticated connoisseur or critic. New exhibitions are hosted every two months and include works by Thai and French painters, photographers, sculptors, as well as installation artists.

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Visit art fairs, museums, galleries often

Art is personal and intimate, but is also an experience that you can share with others. Knowledge is key, and to acquire this knowledge, one has to visit museums, art fairs, galleries and artist’s studios. The more art you see, the more you will understand what you like and ultimately, be comfortable with what you purchase. There are also numerous publications online that can help you better understand the world of art and art history.

Do extensive research about your art

It is critical to know exactly what you purchase, who the artist is, who he has exhibited with, who he is represented by, and the collectors of his work. There is no harm in asking the seller as many questions as necessary. There are also many ways to check the price; by attending several auctions or doing online research. Most importantly, you must obtain all the relevant documentation and paperwork pertaining to the artwork. These include certificates of authenticity and provenance, and the bill of sale.

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Part of this article was contributed by Cara Yap for The Straits Times, Silverkris, and The Artling.