August 24, 2018

Identifying the ‘unicorns’ of the art world

If you think it’s hard to spot the next big digital start-up, imagine picking the next big thing in the art world.

Serendipity can play as large a role as hard work, talent can dry up and fashions come and go.

Yet as an alternative asset class, art as an investment can be a diversification for a portfolio.

One strategy is to look for young artists whose way of exploring ideas resonates with you and appeals to your aesthetics – after all, you may well be living with the work you buy – while others include looking at established galleries or pop-ups, and going digital.

If unicorns in the business world are start-ups valued at more than a billion dollars, here are seven tips for finding your own possible artistic unicorns and having some fun along the way.


1. Back to where it all begins

Take a leaf out of Charles Saatchi’s book: go to art school end-of-year and graduation shows. You don’t have to buy up the whole show, but art schools have very different approaches – some put a premium on concept, others technique and craft or new media, for example. Visiting these shows will give you an idea of the schools likely to produce artists that interest you. The works are usually for sale at very reasonable prices, too.


2. Winners and runners up

Look out for artists who win scholarships, prizes and even coveted studio spaces. Former Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship winners include Ben Quilty, Lucy O’Doherty and Tom Polo. Artists selected for competitive and group shows such as Sculpture by the Sea in Sydney or Perth (even if they’re not winners) are also worth checking out.


3. Side gigs galore

Artists love collaborating. Video and media artists often moonlight as music clip makers or video and virtual reality game designers.

Internationally renowned Australian video artist Shaun Gladwell made videos for a Wagner opera, directed TV series episodes and still creates virtual reality experiences as well as his official artworks. Sculptor Antony Gormley designed sets for Flemish choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the Shaolin Monks. So, if you see something you like, find out who made it.

In Melbourne, fortyfivedownstairs brings artists from multiple disciplines together in one cultural space. You never know, you could discover a handful of artists or performers whose work you love.


4. Pop down to a pop-up

One of the joys of buying art is talking to the artists and even visiting their studios. Today’s young artists don’t necessarily wait to be picked up by a gallery. Instead, many band together to start their own artist-run galleries. Some, such as ALASKA Projects and firstdraft in Sydney or No Vacancy and BLINDSIDE in Melbourne, have a track record of showing artists who go on to make a name for themselves.


5. Pick the brains of established galleries

Established galleries like to keep an eye out for up-and-coming artists. If you have a relationship with one, ask for the names of young artists whose work you might like. Many have emerging artists on their books. Try Roslyn Oxley9King Street Gallery on William and White Rabbit in Sydney, Tolarno GalleriesNeon Parc in Melbourne and the Jan Murphy Gallery in Brisbane for artists to watch.

It’s also a good idea to check out specialist contemporary galleries, such as The Commercial in Sydney’s Chippendale and Gertrude Contemporary’s Melbourne spaces.

Public galleries run exhibitions such as the MCA’s Primavera specifically to showcase emerging talent.


6. Read and get digital

Even more traditional artists have gone digital these days. Explore digital galleries and artist websites, Instagram and Twitter accounts to find work that interests you. If you like what you see, it’s usually easy to organise a physical viewing.

Artists still love a good printed or digital ’zine and there are lots available – public and private gallery bookshops often stock them. Google ‘digital art magazines’ and ‘art blogs’ for articles on artists whose style you like.


7. Have fun

Finding your ‘unicorn’ artist should be exciting and enjoyable. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons as well as start your own art collection.

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