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Buying Narnia: The simple magic of owning a work of art

16 August 2011 Kathryn Havelock

The reason for buying my first piece of art was simple – I completely fell in love.

Opposite Fortnum and Mason’s, another great British institution and temple to beautiful things, stands Burlington House - once home to Lord Burlington, the archetypal neo-Palladian architect who remodelled the existing house into a manifesto for the fashionable style of the age. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, similarly antique in its origins, still today maintains this tradition of showcasing the great and the good of current artistic trends. The fashions may change year on year, hanging from the celebrities in attendance at The Summer Exhibition Preview Party, often seen gracing the society pages of Vanity Fair and Harpers Bazaar.

The exhibition itself however, endowed with considerable esteem being the world’s largest open submission contemporary art exhibition, is often visited by more humble folk, browsing the plethora of works hung as a summation of the state of the contemporary art world... or simply looking for the small landscape painted by great Uncle Barney.


I will always hold the Royal Academy of Arts as a place of personal firsts– in my early 20’s it was the place of my first job interview, then my first real job, and in my late 20’s it became the place where I took on an entirely new role, that of the art buyer. Being the gallery to give me my first shot in the world, it’s always seemed something of a world of opportunity, which is quite literally true when you consider the likes of Tracy Emin, Anselm Kiefer and David Hockney hanging in egalitarian harmony with the likes of good old Barney.

My reason for buying a piece was simple – I completely fell in love. Most years, I would wander the exhibition with works sporadically peaking my interest on the basis of ideas employed, use of materials, new works by familiar artists and so forth. My piece however, a black and white print of a small boy in a forest landscape walking towards the horizon, captivated me absolutely. Even the title, ‘Untitled (Narnia)’ captured my childhood sense of fantasy and endless possibility. I visited the exhibition several times, shaking with nervous anticipation as I headed straight for the print and checked how many editions had sold, knowing that I might have waited too long.

On leaving the exhibition for the last time that year, I knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t brave the unknown and buy it. I was about to become one of those people I’d always regarded with a certain scepticism, the somewhat mysterious and elusive ‘art buyer’ that I’d read about in Frieze and Modern Painters. In my mind, these were people who attended Buyer’s Days in the coveted position of perusing the galleries with an eye for investment pieces or enhancing their collections, however as prices at the Royal Academy start from a few hundred pounds, I found myself in their midst realising that the reality of buying art was a far cry from my naive impressions of it.

Besides having to actually working out how to afford it, buying the print itself was really very easy. I bought my print over the phone to the Summer Exhibition Office, putting down a 10% deposit and paying the balance once the artist agreed to sell me the work. As some of the proceeds of each sale go to the Royal Academy, I actually felt good to be supporting an age old establishment that once took a chance on me. Once I received my print, very carefully packed and rolled in the post direct from the artist, I chose to have it framed by the Royal Academy Framers. The framing would cost as much as the print, so the 15% discount for framing a work from the summer show would certainly come in very useful. The RA Framers gave me some great advice about the type of frame that would suit my print, down to the size of surround, type of wood and stain. A few weeks later I went to collect it, and true to form, their advice had been spot on and the print looked amazing.

So now my print rests beautifully on my mantelpiece,  and whist I haven’t bought any more works yet (being invited to the Buyer’s Day for the Summer Exhibition this year I was sorely tempted) this experience has opened up something of a new world for me. The role of the art buyer isn’t mysterious any more, and perhaps one day I might be finding a new home for an entire collection of pieces I just couldn’t leave behind.

 

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