How to Learn the Art of Collecting

Tips on snatching up work by tomorrow's art stars — today.

By Rachel Levitt | Boston Magazine |

IN THE 2008 DOCUMENTARY FILM Herb & Dorothy, a New York couple builds one of the world’s most impressive modern-art collections on a postal worker’s salary. Think about that, then consider the $75 you just blew on dinner: Instead of steak tartare, it could have been spent on a small print by an up-and-coming artist that would have brought you joy forever.

In fact, the Hub’s top-notch art school auctions, open studios, and student galleries offer budding art collectors plenty of opportunities to obtain wallet-friendly works. Check out the following can’t-miss venues, buy what you can afford, and proudly contemplate your position as Boston’s newest arts benefactor.

Founded in 1873, the only publicly funded freestanding art school in the United States hosts a number of events ideal for the nascent collector. Coming up on 4/10 is the school’s annual live and silent auctions, where hundreds of pieces by famous alums (including William Wegman), faculty, and select students will be on the block, ranging in price from $200 to $18,000. MassArt also holds two art sales, the first from 5/3 to 5/7, and the second in December. In addition, galleries have rotating exhibitions of provocative pieces from around the world, many of which are available to buy through the artists. 621 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-879-7000,

Cy Twombly and Ellsworth Kelly are two of this historic school’s most famous graduates, and each year more great talent emerges from itsBoston magazine: April 2010: How to Learn the Art of Collecting: Rachel Levitt: Massachusetts College of Art and Design: School of the Museum of Fine Arts: Rhode Island School of Design: The Photographic Resource Center: The Laconia Gallery Graham Gund–designed studios. Get in on the action by attending the increasingly popular InsideOut Sale, set for 11/17–11/21, showcasing prints, paintings, collages, and photos by students, faculty, and alumni and priced from $50 to several thousand dollars. Those in the know come early and often, as new work replaces sold pieces throughout the event. And at the school’s Grossman Gallery, you’ll find several unique exhibitions of internationally recognized artists and local talents; contact the gallery’s curator for purchasing information. 230 The Fenway, Boston, 617-267-6100,

The work of RISD’s faculty and alumni is available year round in the school’s store, RISD Works, where you can snap up prints, jewelry, housewares, and accessories at reasonable prices. For an outright bonanza of original work, try the outdoor Benefit Street Sale, scheduled this year for 5/1 and 10/9, or attend the annual December Sale at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Also worth the trip are the school’s art galleries, which display works throughout the year; prices are generally negotiated through the artists. 2 College St., Providence, RI, 401-454-6100,

Photography is great for entry-level collecting because it tends to be less expensive (shots are available in "multiples," rather than one-offs). Boston University’s PRC holds a live and silent benefit auction of top local and national photographers’ work every October. The PRC Gallery runs several exhibitions each year as well, among them a juried exhibition by a notable guest curator (this year’s opens on 4/23). 832 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-975-0600,

For the competitive collector, the once-a-year 150 x 150 event presents a race to the finish line: Queue up and grab the tags next to the pieces you want. Every piece (150 in all) sells for $150, and all sales support the Laconia Gallery, owned by a nonprofit artists group. This year’s event kicks off 5/8 at noon. 433 Harrison Ave., Boston, 857-222-0333, 

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