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The art of buying art

Galleries, estate sales, antique shops, consignment stores, even thrift shops and garage sales all sometimes offer great art at great deals

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

‘You Gotta Have Art” was the Detroit Institute of Arts’ catchy jingle in the mid-1970s. And while few would disagree that art adds individuality and interest to a home or apartment, too many admit to feeling intimidated or think of art as an expensive luxury, turning to cookie-cutter catalogs or big box stores to decorate their walls.

That’s a shame, says longtime interior designer Bob Endres, who collects a variety of mediums and price points. “Art is and always has been a passion for me,” he explains. “My mom would take me to museums and expose me to all sorts of art. She was an artist (a potter and silversmith), so it was something that was always close to me.”

He bought his first adult purchase – a $75 print – at the now-closed Artspace II in Birmingham. “The owner, Lois Cohn, and I were kindred spirits,” he remembers fondly. “There were always many things I loved.” Today, he collects abstract graphic works, figurative pieces, bronze sculpture and vintage pottery, using them to decorate and distinguish his Southfield home.

Great galleries

Metro Detroit galleries have long been a top source, Endres says. His favorites include the David Klein Gallery (“David and Christine are real educators and can show you the world of art,” he says) to the midtown Detroit Artist’s Market, founded in 1930s to sell the work of local artists and the oldest not-for-profit gallery in the Midwest.

And while he frequents his favorites, he also enjoys discovering new galleries in and around the city. “The art scene in Detroit is and always has been full of talent,” he insists. “There’s so much out there, including great new galleries around Eastern Market.”

Wasserman Projects, which opened in the fall of 2015, is one of the newest, he says. Founder and Detroit native Gary Wasserman had been living in Florida but came home to work on a project about five years ago and decided to stay and, ultimately, to open the gallery. “I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, I took a deep dive,” he says about his decision to return to Motown. The gallery hopes to be a 5,000-square-foot venue for exhibitions, events, educational series, workshops, performance art, storytelling and more. “We want people to come and be engaged and interact,” adds director Alison Wong. “Our mission is to be inclusive and inviting.”

“Summer Selections,” on view through Aug. 20, is a preview of artists the gallery will spotlight in coming days. Highlights include original Cass Corridor painter Nancy Mitchnick, who taught at Harvard and returned to paint a series that is a homage to the local families and neighborhoods she loves; Cranbrook grad Josh Bolin, whose spray-painted images have a graphic, graffiti-like appeal, and Jason Yates, creator of “Smile Everyone,” an assemblage made of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. Hung across from the gallery entrance, “it’s the perfect piece to welcome you,” Wasserman says. “Right now I’m trying to figure out how I can rearrange my house to fit it in.”

Visiting museums and galleries will help you narrow your choices and figure out what you like. With so many new and established galleries in the city and suburbs, as well as museums and arts organizations, you’re sure to find something that speaks to you. The key is to enjoy the process. “Poke around and have some fun,” advises Endres. “There’s definitely something out there for everyone.”

Wong also recommends sites such as to keep help you keep up with the metro Detroit’s quick-changing gallery scene (another new addition: Simone DeSousa Gallery’s Edition, adjacent to her Midtown gallery, features more affordable smaller pieces and limited editions). “Art is not just walking into a gallery,” Wong asserts. “It’s every time you walk down the street, eat a meal. It’s a way of looking at life.” Once you learn to look and find what appeals to you, she says, you can start translating that into building a collection. Her best advice? ”Buy art you love and can’t imagine your life without.”

Up and coming artists

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Mary Beth Nicholson is one of the many metro Detroiters who look forward to the College for Creative Studies annual spring student exhibition. She happily pays a premium to have first dibs at opening night on hundreds of original student works on sale, picking up everything from jewelry and ceramics to large canvases and even takes her three daughters. “It’s become one of our favorite family events.”

This year, their 15-year-old steered her dad to a beautiful wood and metal table he intends to use for as a desk. While it was a bit pricey, Mary Beth says she’s often attracted to the less-crowded and less-expensive floors featuring illustration, photography or works by younger students. Following talented students and their evolving work is one of the many pleasures of the show, she says, citing a work by a 2014 graduate Lauren Romanowski, who started with early encaustic pieces but went on to produce “really amazing photo realist pieces of cars.”

This year she also picked up an intricate calendar featuring Michigan flora and fauna by Esther Licata, which joined a total of more than 20 pieces by current and former students in her home. “Some days I feel like I have CCS all around me,” she says. “They produce so many fantastic artists, it’s really a community treasure, one I’m proud to support and display in our home.”

Some pieces are avant-garde, but that’s part of what makes it interesting. She finds the show’s variety both intriguing and eye-opening, even if she doesn’t ultimately bring it home. “It’s art,” she says. “It’s supposed to make you react.”

Other options

Art fairs, art schools, art programs and artists associations are all good bets for well-priced works. Estate, consignment and auction houses such as DuMouchelles can also be great resources.

You don’t have to buy a Rembrandt to hang original art on your walls, says Bob DuMouchelle. But you could – and that’s one of the things that makes shopping at auction houses like his so appealing. “We have had Rembrandts, Picassos, Miros, Monet, and just about everyone in between,” says DuMouchelle. He estimates the family firm, now in its fourth generation in downtown Detroit, has sold approximately a million items of all types and prices since opening.

While a Monet or Miro may not be in the budget, you can get great deals on past and present Michigan or Detroit artists, he says, including people like potter John Glick. “Some Cranbrook pottery is very reasonable.” Constantly changing stock keeps merchandise fresh. The upcoming August auction includes a colorful print by Alexander Calder ($75-$150) to an awe-inspiring black-and-white photography collection, including works by masters Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Julia Margaret Cameron and Edward Curtis.

Starting small? Estate sales, antique shops, consignment stores, even thrift shops and garage sales all sometimes offer great art at great deals. The key to curating your own collection, DuMouchelle says, is doing your homework and trusting your taste, no matter the price point. He advises against buying art just as an investment.

“While the work may ultimately prove go up in value,” he says, “always choose what you like. Even if the piece doesn’t go up in value, you have the pleasure of living with it. If you buy art because you love it, you’ll never lose.”

Top Tips

■Look and learn before buying. Trust your taste.

■Identify and buy what speaks to you

■Set a budget and stick to it. Negotiate if you can.

■Seek bargains off the beaten path. Be open to a variety of mediums.

■Start small – pottery, jewelry, works on paper and photographs often cost less than works on canvas.

■Have fun. The thrill of the hunt and the joy of collecting doesn’t have to have a big price tag.