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Web Extra: How to buy art

Jul 1, 2014

by Alberta Venture Staff

Interested in buying a piece or two, but don’t know where to start?

Doug MacLean, a Canmore-based dealer with 30-plus years of experience, suggests looking to the past for some ideas and inspiration. That’s because, he says, a lot of the artists that plied their trade back then never quite got the recognition they deserved – or the recognition they may still get. “In Canada, and here in Alberta especially, there were many, many artists who got kind of left behind because of the lack of a commercial gallery system,” he says. “They got forgotten about, and by the time they did get picked up and shown it was pretty well boom time in the 1980s and 1990s. Their work sold for far too little.” Some of his favourite names include Maxwell Bates, Illingsworth Kerr, Marion Nicoll and W.L. Stevens, and while you won’t be able to scoop up one of their pieces for the same prices you could a decade or two ago, he thinks there’s still value there. “We’re finally seeing them get to a level where they are getting close to what I’d consider retail – but they’re still not there.”

In terms of a more contemporary name, he likes David Janzen, an Alberta artist that MacLean says is hitting his stride. “I don’t want to say mature, because he changes frequently, but he’s a brilliant painter, and the show is a great classical kind of examination of art making with contemporary subjects.” But, he cautions, buying what’s trendy – or, worse still, what’s popular – isn’t the way to go. “Commercial art is commercial art, and if that’s what you love then go ahead. But it’s not going to go anywhere. All you have to do is watch the secondary auctions – not the first run auctions, because they won’t even touch it any more – and you’ll see tons of it popping up over and over again. Art should be about more than just a pretty picture.”

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An Education

Not sure just yet what kind of art suits your particular tastes? Well, you’re in luck.

This summer, there are two exhibitions that offer a perfect opportunity to deepen your knowledge of locally-produced art, see dozens of different pieces by different artist and eyeball the collection of one of Canada’s greatest collectors ever. The Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton is presenting “90X90: Celebrating Art in Alberta”, an exhibition covering the 90 years of art produced by 90 different artists in this province between 1924 and 2014. Indeed, it’s so big that they have to break it up into two separate exhibitions, with one opening to the public in May and the other in late October.

The second is “Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery,” which features the collection of Lord Beaverbrook and is on at the Glenbow Museum until August 24.  “It’s probably one of the most important exhibitions of collected art that one can ever see in Canada,” MacLean says, noting that it features everything from Canadian art to works by Salvador Dali and shows, in the aggregate, what a collector with a sharp eye, a clear sense of artistic purpose and deep pockets can do.  “I’d highly, highly recommend that for an art education,” he says.

Back to: Art Works

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