Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director Todd Herman Offers Advice for Aspiring Collectors

What is the most important step one should take when beginning an art collection?

Collecting art is like most other endeavors, it takes time and effort. But the process is fun and the end result is extremely rewarding!

The first step is to look at as much art as you can. Visit your local museums and art galleries, as well as those you encounter on your travels. Read art books, magazines and scan online resources. You don’t have to purchase right away — in fact, I would advise against it. Take time to discover what you like and why you like it. Learn about artists, time periods, styles and media that you respond to. The more art you see, the more confident you will become in discerning not only what is right for you, but which works are better than others (not all Picassos are created equal!).

Where and how do you start?

A great place to start is at the Collectors Show and Sale at the AAC. Approximately 140 works from galleries across New York City have been selected by AAC curators to be in this exhibition. In essence, these works have already been vetted for quality and condition. It’s free to browse and see what you respond to. If you are a member of the AAC, our curators are happy to talk with you about building a collection that’s right for you and your budget. Members of our Collectors Group regularly visit private collections, galleries and museums to help educate both seasoned and novice collectors. It’s a great way to get started.

What tips can you share with novice art collectors as they seek pieces for their collections?

The condition of a work of art plays a significant role in its value. It’s important that, whenever possible, you should view the work you want to buy in person so that you can evaluate its condition — online images can be very misleading. Ask for condition reports if you’re not sure. Online platforms like Invaluable, Bidsquare, 1stdibs and others have brought the art world to our fingertips, which is incredibly convenient. However, one should always be careful regarding authenticity and condition. Again, this is where a good relationship with your local museum and its curatorial staff is helpful.

What advice do you have for those who might want to beautify their homes with an art collection but have to adhere to a budget?

It’s important to know that you don’t have to be a millionaire to build a collection of art. The Vogels built one of the most important collections of contemporary art on the salary of a postal worker and a librarian (a large part of their collection is in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and 50 works are in the AAC). There are wonderful, original works of art at all price points. It takes a little diligence to ferret out the gems, but it is certainly worthwhile (and fun!). A home that has an art collection reveals an extra level of care, warmth and sophistication. Plus, you will always cherish the memories and stories of how, where and why you purchased each work in your collection.

What was the first piece you bought and what drew you to it?

The first work of art I purchased was a small, 18th century panel painting of a cobbler by an anonymous Dutch artist. I’d just gotten my first job out of college as a researcher in a genetics lab at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. With my first paycheck, I purchased this charming little painting. Soon after, I realized that my passion was not in the realm of biological research and earned my master’s and doctorate in art history. You could say collecting changed my life!

The 49th annual Arkansas Arts Center Collectors Show and Sale is set for Nov. 10 – Jan. 7.
Info:, 501.372.4000.

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