Build an art collection like a pro by Barbara Able

Houston artist Barbara Able creates original work. | Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery

In a special 8-part, fortnightly series created in partnership with artist members of the Archway Gallery in Montrose, we are delighted to present a selection of artist advice, recommendations and perspectives on connecting with art, how starting your own collection, where to find affordable art, and more. In the fifth entry in the series, Houston artist Barbara Able offers a step-by-step guide to collecting art like a pro.


Passion… Not the first word that comes to mind when you think of collecting art. Most serious collectors surveyed said they did it for the love of the genre, not for financial reasons. Most started collecting early in life.

“They say collecting is a disease; I think I’ve had it since I was a kid,” Ima Hogg said in 1973. “In Austin, the streets weren’t paved and they were covered with beautiful cobblestones. When wet they sparkled like jewels… stones and flowers formed my first collection.”

Dive in and get started

Obviously, the best way to learn any business is to go into it. You may not want to enter by opening a gallery, but you have countless choices in Houston, the third largest art market in the US

Do your homework. Talk to everyone and find out everything you can. Go to galleries and join their mailing lists. Attend artist talks in galleries and museums. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has a lively docent group, so sign up for a tour.

The Greek Goddess by Barbara Able | Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery

Find a focus that speaks to you

Second, establish a focus on your art. Concentrate on a few artists or a genre such as landscape or photography. Use your personal preferences as a guide. Think like an artist. This will be your unique collection and it should reflect you. Create and read a library of books about the type of work that interests you. Buy only what you love, what moves you.

In the beginning, it helps to narrow your focus. For example, my collection is about 75% paintings and 25% photography. In my painting collection I have mostly figurative work and in my photography collection I have landscapes.

Create a budget

Set an annual budget or decide how much you will pay for an individual piece. But know that even the most diligent collectors admit to going over budget. According to one who owns a large collection of Texas art, “Everything I bought required a sacrifice.”

But fear not, some very wealthy collectors are bargain hunters too. Joseph H. Hirschhorn, a uranium magnate whose collection formed the basis of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., liked to buy groups of objects at deep discounts.

Many galleries offer at least a 10% discount just on request – this is called a ‘collector’s discount’.

Pioneer Pass by photographer Larry Garmesi from the personal collection of Barbara Able | Photo courtesy of Barbara Able

Make a purchase

Your next step is actually buying a piece of art. Know what to look for. The visual and emotional impact that the work has on you, as well as the composition, quality and condition of the work, as well as the artist’s reputation, should be taken into account when assessing the price.

Buy from a reputable gallery. Houston has dozens of excellent galleries: Moody, Inman, Hooks-Epstein, Anya Tish, Barbara Davis, McClain, David Shelton, Archway Gallery and many more have been around for decades!

Join the Houston Art Gallery mailing list. Visit Glasstire’s list of exhibitions and search for the ones that interest you. When you visit a gallery, sign the guestbook and ask to be on their mailing list – most will email you details of their upcoming exhibitions. Like their pages and social media accounts.

And if you find something you like, keep in mind that most galleries will allow you to make payments over time. Some will even let you take the work home to see how it looks on your wall.

Document your collection

Save your art collection. Include all relevant details about the work, including title, date, medium, size, place of purchase and price. This is for insurance purposes, but is useful over time. Look for a participant in your homeowner’s insurance to cover your art collection.

It is also important to maintain your collection. Research art restorers in case a piece is damaged. Sarah Balinskas Fine Framing and Art Preservation is an excellent resource.

Note that it is very difficult to resell artwork unless the artist is nationally or internationally known. There are very few galleries that resell art (known as the secondary market); Heidi Vaughn’s fine art is respected.

Flood by John Slaby From the Personal Collection of Barbara Able | Photo courtesy of Barbara Able

Take your time and have fun

Finally, take the time to build the collection. A good goal would be to have a certain number of pieces in five years. Then, after five years, you might want to change your direction or increase the amount you’re willing to spend.

Enjoy the process! Regular contact with artists, art dealers and fellow collectors often leads to friendships with people of different characters and backgrounds.

Most collectors still own the first piece of art they bought and can remember the circumstances of that purchase – such is the emotion associated with collecting. So congratulations are in order.

You are taking the first step on a lifelong journey that will enrich your home and life. Follow a few basic guidelines and you’ll be on your way to building your collection.

Elevating local art and supporting the Houston art scene for 46 years, Archway Gallery is the longest-running artist-owned gallery in Texas. Stop by the Montrose Gallery, meet an artist and learn about owning original local art. Schedule a gallery visit or learn more.

Barbara Able holds a BA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin. She owned a gallery in Santa Fe and is currently a member of Archway Gallery. Her show Venus is rising is on display there until Thursday, December 1, 2022. You can also see her work at Barbara Able Fine Art.

Learn more about Archway Gallery and view its current and upcoming exhibitions.

Houston artist Barbara Able creates original work. | Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery

This series is produced in partnership with and sponsored by Archway Gallery. In accordance with our advertising and sponsorship policy, we only accept sponsored content from organizations that meet our editorial standards and truly represent a valuable activity, event, resource or destination for residents and visitors to the greater Houston area. Advertising revenue helps support 365 Things to Do in Houston and our partners, allowing us to expand the reach of activities and events in the Houston area. Learn more about promoting your event or business.

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