The art world can seem overwhelming to many collectors, and especially to those just starting out. That’s why it’s best to take advice from experts, including dealers and other collectors. While you might not have direct access to them, luckily there are plenty of great books out there. So, I’ve rounded up 15 of the best books on art collecting today by leading artists, curators, auction house specialists, collectors and dealers. As they share their knowledge of working within and investing in this fascinating world, you can learn invaluable tips. Topics range from where to search for artworks to understanding the market and buying at auction.
Many of these books also make a great addition to your coffee table, and will undoubtedly be the best titles on your bookshelf!
1. Breakfast at Sotheby’s: An A-Z of the Art World by Philip Hook
I loved this intelligently written and funny book by Philip Hook, who is a senior Director at Sotheby’s. He explores how and why art gains its value, drawing on over 35 years of experience working in the international art world – first as an art dealer and then an auctioneer. I particularly enjoyed the comparison of the art market to the football transfer market.
2. The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty by Michael Findlay
In his inside guide, prominent art dealer and market expert Michael Findlay offers a close up and personal view of almost a half century in the business of art. He argues that buying for investment alone is seldom smart. A genuine love of art and the ways it may enrich one’s social life also play important roles. Enhancing his narrative are wise advice, insider anecdotes, and tales of scoundrels and scams, celebrity collectors, and remarkable discoveries.
3. Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market by Noah Horowitz
Art today is defined by its relationship to money as never before. Prices have been driven to unprecedented heights, conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed, and artists think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. Art is no longer simply made, but packaged, sold, and branded. In Art of the Deal, Noah Horowitz exposes the inner workings of the contemporary art market, explaining how this unique economy came to be, how it works, and where it’s headed.
4. Collecting Art for Love, Money and More by Ethan and Thea Wagner
This book is suitable for both the novice and experienced buyer. It reveals the motivations and secrets of successful collectors as well as providing an historical overview of the greatest collectors and their superb collections. Written by renowned art advisor Thea Westreich Wagner and her husband Ethan Wagner, this book offers clear advice on how to build and maintain a distinctive collection, from discovering new talent and accessing the best work to getting the highest returns on investment. Each chapter is then summarised to guide the collector.
5. A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art by Die Gestalten Verlag
Die Gestalten Verlag isn’t exactly poor, and the minimum amount of money he starts with is $5,000 when collecting art. However, this is still a great insight into starting an art collection with advice on how to do a targeted search for pieces, how to learn to appraise prices, and how to find trustworthy partners.
6. Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate about Art by Doug Woodham
This book is both clear and concise in its discussion of the art market. Doug Woodham is a trained economist, who served as president of the Americas for Christie’s, the international auction house.
He brings together his lifelong interest in art, business, and collecting to talk about how the art world works and is changing. Good for both new and established collectors.
7. Selling Contemporary Art: How to Navigate the Evolving Market by Edward Winkleman
Art dealer Edward Winkleman focuses on recent changes in the quickly evolving contemporary art market. Sections cover what dealers can and can’t control, including the rise of the art fair, the rise of the mega gallery and new online competition.
8. Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to Be Understood by Grayson Perry
Who decides what art is worth? Curators? Dealers? Museums? In this brilliant book famous and award-winning artist Grayson Perry takes a look inside the art establishment. He takes questions which you might be embarrassed to ask, such as ‘Is this really art’ and answers them with wit and insight. This book’s not so much about collecting art as understanding it but as it’s one of my favourites I had to include it.
9. Collect Contemporary Photography by Jocelyn Phillips
This is a brilliant guide to collecting contemporary photography. Experts answer questions such as: ‘When collecting contemporary arts and crafts, how can one be certain the pieces that appeal to current tastes also have the stamp of timeless collectible?’. Hundreds of illustrations and profiles of essential artists, designers, and photographers make it one for the coffee table. At the same time, the concise reference section, including contact information and where to shop, make it super useful.
10. Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton
Art writer (for the Economist) Sarah Thornton spends 7 days in the art world. She visits an auction and a biennale, a prize giving, an art fair and an artist’s studio. She also hangs out at Artforum, a New York art magazine, and attends a student seminar at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. She meets big names, including Sir Nicholas Serota, and the owner of Christie’s. It’s a juicy account of who and what makes up the art world.
11. The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson
This book is told from the point of view of Don Thompson, an economist and Professor of business specialising in art. He takes a look at the economics of the modern art world and the strategies which power the market to produce such astronomical prices, such as twelve million dollars for a stuffed shark. He talks to auction houses, dealers, and collectors to find out the source of Charles Saatchi’s Midas touch, and how far a gallery like White Cube has contributed to Damien Hirst becoming the highest-earning artist in the world. He explores how, today, brand is everything.
12. The Orange Balloon Dog: Bubbles, Turmoil and Avarice in the Contemporary Art Market by Don Thompson
From the author of The $12 Million Stuffed Shark (above) comes a fresh and provocative look at the high-end art market. Don Thompson analyses the behaviours of buyers and sellers and delves into the competitions that define and alter the value of art in today’s international market, from New York to London, Singapore to Beijing. Take heed if your fortunes are tied up in stainless steel balloon dogs – Thompson warns of a looming bust of the contemporary art price balloon.
13. Collect Contemporary Jewellery by Joanna Hardy
How do you identify the antiques of tomorrow in the contemporary jewellery market? Those pieces that appeal to modern taste but also have the stamp of timeless collectible? Joanna Hardy’s selection of truly imaginative makers and pieces includes works to suit all tastes, from the more traditional to the adventurous, providing authoritative answers and expert direction in this hugely exciting and fast-developing market.
14. How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery by Edward Winkleman
If you’re thinking of turning your art collection into a gallery, then this is the guide for you. Art dealer Edward Winkleman, author of Selling Contemporary Art (above) talks you through setting up a gallery step by step. Chapters detail how to: write a business plan, find start-up capital, promote and grow your new business attract and retain artists and clients, hire and manage staff, and represent your artists.
15. Understanding Art Markets: Inside the world of art and business by Iain Robertson Page
This textbook has been written by Iain Robertson, who is Head of Arts Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. It updates his earlier books on art markets and art business. Topics covered include: Emerging markets in China, East Asian, South East Asian, Brazilian, Russian, Islamic and Indian art, Art valuation and investment, Museums and the cultural sector. It’s best for students on courses such as arts management, arts marketing, arts business, cultural economics, the sociology of arts, and cultural policy.
Looking for a novel about art and art history instead? Head over to my favourite fiction books for art lovers.