Art collecting: A trend worth exploring

Art collecting: A trend worth exploring

Art collecting sounds intimidating and daunting to many. We gathered some insights from art collectors Lee Khai and Suleyman Azhari on the benefits of art collecting and how to get started.

By Clara Ling

Historically speaking, an art collector is known to embody grandiose wealth, connoisseurship, and (frankly debatable) taste. Alongside the birth of literature and science, art has played a significant role since the earliest epochs of human history. During the days of Ancient Egypt and Greece where the practice of collecting art took root, art was seen as a means of storytelling and a symbol of luxury. But why should you start collecting art even if you’re not an expert in this field? 

A Form of Lifestyle Investment

When it comes to art collecting as a form of investment, people generally remember American business barons Henry Frick and J.P. Morgan. Beyond the money talk, collecting art is a lifestyle investment according to local private art collector, Lee Khai, who explains, ‘It is a good feeling knowing that by collecting art, especially your local art, you are contributing to the preservation of art and culture for your community, for your country.’

Sir Gerald Kelly (1879–1972), Portrait of Mr. Frick in the West Gallery, 1925. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh.
Image source: The Frick Collection

Improves Your Knowledge & Expands Your Worldview

Collecting art enables you to learn more about the artist and the environment that entailed the production of such artworks—war, socio-political conditions, identity, revolution, and more. It helps you gain understanding of incidents around the world. For instance, Carrie Mae Weems reckoned with the history of her nation in “From Here I Saw What Happened And I Cried” (1995-1996). Speaking with artists, galleries, and industry professionals expands your worldview and understanding of surrounding communities. 

Carrie Mae Weems, From Here I Saw What Happened And I Cried, 1995-1996. Chromogenic colour prints with sand-blasted text on glass. Installation view, Center of Contemporary Art, Seville, Spain, 2010.
Image Source:

Artistic Stewardship Creates A Connection to the Community

Having a collection of artworks by a specific artist means supporting the artist’s work that you strongly believe in. Some art collectors have specific collections that support certain cultures and movements. Lee Khai adds, ‘(As a collector) I am participating in the art ecosystem of my community. This gives me the satisfaction of having a role in preserving the art and culture of my community, my country, my civilisation.’ Such philanthropy increases the chances of art, community, and cultural preservation. 

Builds the Art Scene

The initial growth of modern Malaysian art was dependent on the national modernisation process that took place before, during, and after the independence of Malaya, including the appearance of visual arts, cartoon illustrations, literature, and other significant forms of arts. Art collecting continues to define and build the art scene—and the cultural development of Malaysiawhich is one of the pillars of society. Lee Khai explains that buying good art will steer the art industry towards the right direction which ‘reflects the maturity and sophistication of our community and our civilisation.’

Khiddir Mohd Baharuddin, Kampung Life in Kuala Pilah during the 1960s and 1970s, undated.
Photo by Choo Choy May via
Malay Mail

A Form of Individual Expression

An art collector may have a certain taste and eye for specific pieces. For instance, paintings with bold colours speak of the collector’s personality or rekindle a memory that helps the collector feel like himself. Art collector Suleyman Azhari who is currently with The Artling explains that certain artworks help the collector communicate his or her values, interests and individual personality—his own collection mainly comprises works that rekindle childhood memories such as Beverly Buchanan’s Untitled, 1997 and Farida El Gazzar’s Monument, 2019. 

Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015), Ruins and Rituals. Exhibition view, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2016-2017.
Photo by
Contemporary Art Daily

One must also understand that the act of collecting art pieces is more than just buying the artworks for the sake of it. Beyond that, art collecting requires a lot of hard work, research and understanding of art. 

Here’s what you have to know to start your journey as an art collector.

1. The Reason Why You’re Collecting
Knowing the difference between short- and long-term assets will help you if you’re interested in art collecting. Suleyman suggests that new art collectors distinguish between collecting for investment purposes and personal interest. ‘The things you buy for investment should fund what you buy for a personal collection. What you buy for investment is because you actually want to sell it so you can make some money out of it. This should be non-emotional.’

2. Do Your Research
Art collecting involves a whole process of having full information about the artist’s future and trajectory. Depending on how much you believe in the artist and how far you would go to support his or her career, Suleyman explains that art collecting involves a process of researching the artist’s background and to what extent his or her artworks are worth collecting. Learning about the art global market and being clear about what kind of artworks appreciate or depreciate is vital. Lee Khai also suggests new collectors ‘See more art, read, and get to know about art—not just the art you can collect, but also art history and the art world globally. Finding out more about the art and the artists you collect will add to the enjoyment of collecting art.’

3. Consider Your Motive for Supporting the Artist
Savvy art collectors usually have a framework in mind when it comes to collecting art. Highlighting the reason why you choose to support the artist is crucial. For instance, some points to consider include whether the artwork clicks with you, the piece regional, and whether the artwork communicates certain themes or movements you agree with or a social impact you support.

Ali Nurazmal Yusoff, Ralik 2, 2015, Oil on canvas. This piece is a personal reflection of the artist, of his hopes for his country in the near future, his Malaysian identity, and Muslim beliefs.
Image by
Malaysian Contemporary Art Gallery

4. Build A Relationship with A Gallery
When collecting art, you may want to consider what programmes the gallery offers to support the artist whose artworks you choose to collect. ‘You want to recognise if this gallery has the potential to push artists forward. Understand what the gallery has been doing for the artist. See a lot more art. Talk to all kinds to galleries—the more you see, the more you know what you like,’ Suleyman adds. 

Though in general, art collecting is perceived as a million-dollar-buy-in business, the brilliance of today’s online art market has opened doors and encouraged many emerging young collectors to indulge in such practice because of the easier access and ability to explore different artwork options. This allows novice collectors to try the waters before taking a major financial plunge. 

Interestingly, the reason for art collecting today remains little changed over generations. New and seasoned collectors continue to make acquisitions and view their showcases as a symbol of affinity towards the beauty of art. Collecting art cultivates a community of art appreciators to join in the legacy of art collecting through the ages, connecting us as humans. 

Cover Image Source: Keeyahtay Lewis on Unsplash

Clara Ling is a writer by day and a creator by night. She has been involved in art writing, research, and publishing after finishing her Masters in Fine Arts.