Belinda’s Art Collection Essentials

By: Belinda Labatte

Aug 4, 2021

Be Curious

I remember my first acquisition. I was actively studying what was on offer at the Toronto galleries for months. Trying to understand what was available, the differences among the galleries and artists, price points and perhaps most important and still to this day a challenging exercise: establishing exactly what was my taste respecting different mediums and styles. I was gravitating towards abstraction, where colour was a primary focus, fluidity of the brushstroke when it comes to painting (noting here two pieces by John Kennedy and two pieces by Cathy Daly) and eventually photography with distinct symmetry and composition (Ned Pratt, Jeffrey Millstein, Jessica Labatte). If you were to see all my pieces lined up it would be very clear to you that I was purchasing thematically. And so my first advice is this: it’s a wonderful place to start…however…evolve and change direction. Which is where I am today, thanks in part to Dahlia Labatte who has moved me into different directions with the kind of art I want around me. Pause on photography and into more challenging works that leave me beguiled and questioning.

The beginning of collection of contemporary art begins exactly where most adventures begin: with curiosity. A question seeking an answer. And in asking questions of ourselves, how we respond to art in time and in place we can recover our ability to sense before we see.

Take a tour

Ask questions both of yourself, and the artists and galleries you encounter. The simple way is to do a one-hour tour of your art museum followed by a visit into 2 or 3 galleries. This gives you both context into period works, and current work and both will guide your taste. For example, when Dahlia and I curated Stripped, we frequently drew comparisons of our artists works with pieces we had seen in museums (Francis Bacon for Dahlia, and for me I referenced Les Fauves, a small group of artists working with colour in the south of France, post impressionism).

Ask yourself

Prompts I use to help me determine what I want and what I’m looking for in a work of art. 

  1. What is missing from my current living experience?

    Colour, texture? Is there too much quiet and stillness or too much noise? Do I prefer my space contain many objects that express my personal aesthetic and life, or do I prefer a more open space with fewer, but curated items?

  2. When I view a work of art, what is my immediate reaction?

    Am I seeking to understand it? Am I taken by the colours and perspective? Size? Or its provenance and stature? The artist’s process? What interests me about what I’m seeing?

  3. When I leave a work of art, what was the lasting impression?

    Was it a visceral reaction? Confusion or curiosity? Potentially boredom or distaste? Note these feelings and use them to help determine your preferences and taste.

The acquisition of art is the possession of an experience that you want to take with you. In order to create the experience of art for your own collecting, it requires of you the diligence to ask questions like those above, again and again.

You may gravitate to a piece because you admire the artist and their body of work and so purchase in multiples. Alternatively, you may gravitate to a work because it punctuates the space with the kind of colour, mood and scale that will bring you pleasure, though the artist is unknown to you. 

You may, as occurred to me, acquire a photograph because it reminds you of something.

The point is the acquisition of art into a collection can become an essential aspect of your identity….if you take the time to make the connections between yourself/ your taste/ the artist’s process and how the work once released to you, can provide for your own unique experience.

5 ways to start collecting

1. Consider variety and juxtaposition throughout the evolution of your collection. While you may gravitate to photography, you may find over time that you have missed opportunities to add other mediums into your space for both visual interest and balance. This could be me. Photography, with mixed media and painting, charcoal or pencil adds visual interest and tremendous personal expression into your space. Sculpture in a gallery can appear precious and cold, whereas inside a home it brings gravitas and grounding. Sculpture can also rest on several plains making it more versatile than presumed; on a ledge off a wall, on the floor directly, on a pedestal or on a console.

2. Consider the benefit of disruption and culturally relevant art. The art collection you acquire should represent distinct aspects of your personality, your life direction and passions quirks. In so doing, inherent and long-term value is created beyond artistic merit, provenance and price. Often, the cultural significance contained within the art is hidden, or implied, noting Julie Mehretu showing at the Whitney. Sometimes it is clear and explicit, noting Dahlia Labatte’s series ‘Portraits of Protest’. These types of work move beyond aesthetics and form a conversation around a time or topic and can be dynamic and electric when situated within your living space.


3. Every collection is well served by a still life and a portrait. A still life, however expressed, in abstract or realist form, adds an element of quiet and contemplation to your living space. A portrait, regardless of its style or can uniquely express your personal aesthetic and serve to illuminate your living with quiet contemplation… or, disrupt it. A still life and portrait also adds immediate intimacy into a living space.

4. Acquire art in respect of how you feel about it. Acquire the art because it reflects a dimension of your own personality and existence, as well as cultural reference points. The work then takes on a new story, now in reference to yourself. Be confidant in choosing works of art based on your passion for it, they will indeed be revealed as such in your space. 

Ignore the temptation to select works based on whether they match the sofa.

5. If you are inclined towards an artist’s body of work and process, consider acquiring multiples. By having two, you create additional context and relationships between the works. It then becomes an artistic narrative. And if you love one, you will be in love with multiples! This approach is one I have taken without regret on several pieces, where they hang either side by side, or not.

 It is an absolute verifiable truth that a work of art will change your life and living. 

Allow it to permeate into your living, into your perceptions and your own identity.

How we can help

Dahlia and I are on the same journey of exploration as you. We come to every art piece with a sense of curiosity and adventure.

Contact us for a consultation and we can determine the best path forward for you to acquire art:

We look forward to having you join us on our own evolving journey.

Art Sources

Pratt, Ned. Black Shed, Port aux Port. 2016, chromogenic print. 

Cathy Daley. 

John Kennedy. 

Labatte, Dahlia. Faces of Protest #5 – Breonna Taylor. 2020, charcoal on paper.