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How to Manage your Contemporary Art Collection: The Essential 2024 Guide

Display of contemporary art collection in a white space wallery

Creating a contemporary art collection is one thing; managing it is another task altogether.

Creating a modern art collection completes the first stage, but then comes stage two; how to manage it? How to organise it? What do with it? This process is a logistical but essential one, pinpointing how to store and frame artworks, how to catalogue them, how to display them, and where or when to sell them at the right time in future economies. If you’re unfamiliar with the stage one essentials, refresh your knowledge with Artelier’s industry-leading article 'Expert’s Guide to Art Investment'.

In this article, learn in 8 minutes Artelier’s 8 essential criteria on managing art collections in 2024.

Jump to:

a. Definition

a. Light & Humidity

b. Dust, Dirt & Acid

a. Consider Replacement Appraisals

b. Be Aware of Risk Factors

c. Leaving Information for Future Generations

d. Best 3 Art Inventory Software to Catalogue your Art Collection (Free & Paid)

a. Choose the Right Frame

b. Choose the Right Mount

c. Preserve Artworks in Frames

d. Framing a Type of Artwork (Canvas, Print, Photography & Painting)

a. A Home Collection

b. The White Cube

c. Salon Style

d. Artefact Displays with Historical Significance

a. Know the Primary Market: Economic Trends and Art History

b. Know the Secondary Market: Negotiating or Donating

a. Artsy

b. Christies

c. Sotheby’s

man looking at artwork in a contemporary art exhibition

1. What makes a Contemporary Art Collection?

Contemporary art is a diverse and innovative collection of art forms that challenge traditional boundaries and lack any uniform ideology or "-ism".

It includes movements like Pop Art, Photorealism, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Performance Art, Installation Art, Earth Art, and Street Art. Produced by culturally diverse and technologically advancing artists, contemporary art combines materials, methods, concepts, and subjects in avant-garde ways. The date of origin for the term 'contemporary art' varies among museums, with some defining it as the art of the past ten years on a rolling basis, while others choose 1947 or 1977. A contemporary art collection reflects a cultural dialogue on personal and cultural identity, family, community, and nationality.

close up of textile artwork commissioned by artelier

2. How to Store your Art Collection

The best methods to store and package any artwork (paintings, sculptures, prints) at home or in storage units.

2a. Light & Humidity

Proper art storage is crucial to preserve your artwork, protecting it from light and humidity. Direct sunlight and UV radiation can damage painting mediums such as oil and acrylics. Watercolours and paper-based works are especially sensitive and can fade easily. Maintaining a humidity level of 40-50% with a temperature of 70-75°F (21-24°C) is essential. Use a hygrometer and humidifier to control humidity, and air blowers to improve ventilation. Store your art in a cool, dry, dark place with minimal temperature fluctuations for optimal storage conditions. Blackout curtains and a solander box can help protect artwork from light and environmental factors.

2b. Dust, Dirt & Acid

Prevent damage to your artwork from dust, dirt, and acid by taking precautions. Dust glass and acrylic cases regularly and use a gentle glass cleaner and a soft microfibre cloth. Don't store unframed pieces rolled inside a tube, as it can cause permanent creasing and cracking. Instead, store them flat with a conservation board that is at least two inches bigger on each side. Wear cotton gloves when handling art to avoid leaving fingerprints or scratches. Avoid storing artwork in attics or basements with mould, dust, and musty smells. Use acid-free materials when framing and storing art to prevent aging and dyeing.

mid century interior deco design home

3. How to Catalogue your Art Collection

Practical tips on insurance, cataloguing, and inventory up-keeping for your Art Collection

3a. Consider Replacement Appraisals

It’s important to keep updated appraisals for your art collection. Replacement appraisals will provide you with a value that you can use to replace a work of art if it is lost or damaged. This is especially important for insurance purposes. Keep in mind that the value of a work of art may change over time, so it’s a good idea to have your collection appraised every few years.

3b. Be Aware of Risk Factors

There are inherent risks associated with owning and displaying works of art, such as theft, damage, and natural disasters. Be sure to take steps to protect your collection, such as installing security systems, having proper insurance coverage, and storing your art in a safe and secure location.

3c. Leaving Information for Future Generations

To ensure your art collection is passed down to future generations, leave information about the collection, including its worth, care, and how to sell or donate it. Save receipts, certificates of authenticity, and other relevant materials. Get written statements from artists, galleries, or sellers when buying art. Record or video them if they won't write something down. Save and file books, exhibit catalogues, gallery brochures, reviews, web pages, etc. Photograph the artists and have them sign or inscribe catalogues, receipts, or gallery invitations.

3d. Best 3 Art Inventory Software to Catalogue & Manage your Art Collection (Free & Paid)

  • CollecOnline (Basic Subscription Free) CollecOnline enables users to categorise and search items in an online database, create and share their own gallery, and securely manage their collections. They can exchange duplicates and find missing pieces for their collection and store high-quality images, purchase information, and insurance documents. Additionally, it assists with succession planning and maximising tax benefits when selling items.

  • Artfundi (from $49 USD/mo) Artfundi is an inventory management solution for collectors, artists, and galleries. Users can create a database of artworks with details like artist, images, location, status, and more. Artfundi enables collectors to maintain records of invoices, authenticity certificates, provenance notes, and more.

  • My Art Collection (from $329 USD upfront) My Art Collection is an art gallery management software that records and tracks sales, lending, and donations. It stores detailed information such as artist details, reviews, sales history, and authentication on a central platform. The software also allows collectors to upload multiple images as visual references and generates insurance reports that summarise the collection, list art, provide labels and portfolios, and include appraisal and authentication details. The platform facilitates internal collaboration and data sharing with stakeholders.

person handling different framing examples with different colours

4. How to Frame your Art Collection

The best methods on how to frame canvas, printed or painted artworks

4a. Choose the Right Frame

Selecting the ideal frame is vital in displaying and safeguarding your artwork. The frame's material, thickness, colour, aesthetics, and environment are all important factors to consider. Popular options include classic wood frames like oak, mahogany, and rustic reclaimed barn wood, as well as sleeker metal frames in colours such as black, gold, and silver.

4b. Choose the Right Mount

When framing artwork, mounting can add depth, with float mounting creating visual impact. Choose a mount made from acid-free cotton to ensure durability, especially for expensive pieces. The core should be white or black to prevent fading and a thicker board can create a more professional appearance. The texture, bevelled edges, patterns, and colours can also be varied to complement the artwork.

4c. Preserve Artworks in Frames

Choose high-quality, acid-free frames that protect your art from temperature fluctuations and harmful UV rays. Watercolour paintings, charcoal work, and ink drawings are typically displayed behind glass due to their delicate nature, so use UV protection or Museum Glass. Non-reflective glass prevents fading and unwanted reflections.

4d. Framing a Type of Artwork (Canvas, Print, Photography & Painting)

Contemporary canvases are often unframed, with a shadow gap providing a minimalistic way to showcase the edge of the canvas and prevent moisture damage. This approach allows the object to speak for itself and is a confident, sellable way to present a collectible piece.

For paperworks, UV protection, Museum Glass, and conservation materials, such as acid-free options, should be used. Collector's pieces can be float-mounted to showcase the edge of the paper, adding to its uniqueness and integrity. The use of window mounts tends to sterilise and date the artwork, making it more commercial-looking. With photography, new media can be embraced by remounting on acrylic or aluminium prints.

example of artelier framed artwork in a residential setting

5. How to Display your Artwork Collection

Most effective and creative ways to display your art collection, whether in your home or in public

5a. A Home Collection

Artelier's CEO David Knowles advises applying the principle of "less is more" and strategically placing pieces to maximise impact. Consider key locations and avoid using artwork as a filler. Evaluate if other decorative elements are present and a corner may be a suitable location for sculptures. Consider which wall provides the most appreciation and visibility from different angles. Multiple pieces can be displayed to create a relationship and tell a story, with breathing space between to avoid a cluttered look. It's important to evaluate whether a space already has other decorative elements such as shelves, mirrors, or windows. If there is no wall space available, a corner may be a suitable location for a sculpture.

5b. The White Cube

The White Cube is a gallery style characterised by a square or oblong shape, white walls, and bright, even lighting from the ceiling, developed in the latter half of the 20th century alongside abstract expressionism and minimalism. The walls are flat white, wall text is functional, and each artwork is isolated to give it proper attention. To achieve this style, paint walls white and use spotlights or track lighting to highlight artwork.

5c. Salon Style

Salon style is a traditional display method where artworks are grouped on the same wall, with ornate framing and larger pieces hung at eye level. This style originated from the grand Parisian Salon, allowing more works to be featured at one time. Today, it is often associated with neoclassical collections or spaces with a traditional feeling but can be imitated in the domestic space too. To create a salon style display, arrange your artwork on one or more walls, with larger pieces hung at eye level and smaller ones above or below.

5d. Artefact Displays with Historical Significance

To display cultural artefacts, sketches, or contextual documents, they are usually enclosed in glass to emphasise their value and fragility. These items are typically displayed against muted or darker-coloured walls, indicating their historical or cultural significance.

contemporary art exhibition

6. When to sell your Art Collection

When to know if your collection is worth selling, where and at what time of year.

6a. Know the Primary Market: Economic Trends and Art History

Timing is crucial when consigning art for sale. To avoid devaluing your artwork, have a good understanding of its history and current market trends. Consider the artist's career and market history, including past sales and community support. Primary market context is also important for gauging demand on the secondary market. When consigning, consider upcoming institutional shows and macroeconomic factors. While a recession doesn't necessarily mean a bad time to sell, be mindful of market saturation.

6b. Know the Secondary Market: Negotiating or Donating

When selling artwork on the secondary market, it’s important to know how to negotiate and take precautions to ensure payment. Getting your piece appraised is crucial and knowing how to read the appraisal can be beneficial in complex and high-risk transactions. Auction houses are common, but there's a risk of not getting the desired price. Working with a professional art dealer or gallery can offer extensive knowledge and connections, increasing your chances of a successful sale. Donating your artwork to a non-profit institution can provide a lasting educational legacy and a significant tax deduction. The fewer transactions that take place between you and the next owner, the better off you'll be.

people visiting a contemporary art exhibition with multiple artworks

7. Where to Sell your Art Collection

Explore where to sell curated or inherited collections on the secondary market, whether online or in person

7a. Artsy

Artsy helps sellers sell their art through their consignment program, which includes curated auctions, private sales, and an online marketplace. Their team provides sale proposals with pricing and terms, and sellers can consider offers with expert guidance. Artwork is exposed to a global audience of 3M+ registered users across 190+ countries.

Christie's is a global art and luxury business in 46 countries. They offer art appraisal, financing, and education services, hold auctions in 80+ categories, and set record-breaking sales, including the most valuable collection ever auctioned. Christie's accepts cryptocurrency and employs new technologies in the art world. They prioritise responsible culture and sustainability.

Sotheby's is a leading global marketplace for art and luxury, established in 1744. Their network of specialists in 40 countries offer a range of services such as art appraisal, financing, and consignment. Sotheby's hosts over 600 auctions annually and offers a cross-category selection of items available for immediate purchase through digital and physical shopping experiences, as well as private sales.

example of artelier commissioned artwork in a hotel lobby

8. Use a Professional Service for your Art Collection

For new and existing collectors, use a professional concierge service to start, curate or manage your art collection

Artelier is a professional concierge service that helps both new and existing collectors with art collection management. It has 20 years of experience in delivering art projects for various sectors, including residences, hotels, yachts, and public spaces. Their curatorial team is experienced in the logistical aspects of art presentation, preservation, handling, and installation, working on an international scale. Artelier's services also include drawing from their extensive database of 15,000 hand-selected artists and conducting fresh research for every client, working with diverse budgets, commissioning new works from diverse sources, and overseeing the commissioning process.

Need to do more research? Visit Artelier’s curated list on the Top 40 Recommended Art Advisors by Genre.


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