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Black Art Can be a Great Investment: Here’s How to Start Collecting

While the world knows Muhammad Ali as the GOAT of boxers, many people would be surprised to know the late heavyweight champion was a gifted artist as well. On Tuesday, Oct. 5, 24 pieces of his artwork went up for auction in New York City, and some pieces sold for nearly $1 million. While you may have missed the opportunity to snap up a painting by Ali, you can start your own art collection.

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Photo by Max Vakhtbovych from Pexels

Ali’s work was auctioned off by international auction house Bonhams. It included self-portraits from the collection of art collector Rodney Hilton Brown, author of the recently published book “Muhammad Ali The Untold Story: Painter, Poet & Prophet.” Brown personally knew Ali and often collaborated with the legendary boxer on his artwork. Some of Ali’s drawings illustrate his devotion to his Islamic faith as well as his commitment to social justice. One drawing, aptly called “Sting Like a Bee,” depicts Ali knocking out an opponent in the boxing ring. A cartoon bubble shows the opponent saying, “Ref, he did float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” Bidding for that painting started at $40,000.

Muhammad Ali’s auction shows the variety and beauty of Black art. While it may seem intimidating, becoming an art collector isn’t as complicated as you might think. And art is a a good long-term investment.

How to Build Your Own Black Art Collection

If you couldn’t take an Ali original home, there’s still a way to build your Black art collection.

  • Start researching. Read up on the type of art that you want to collect. If you want professional help, some companies will help you find art. KIISA Art, for example, is an art Investment and advisory company focused on the modern and contemporary African and Diaspora art market.
  • Decide how much you want to invest. Make sure you have a set budget so you only invest what you can afford. You may be able to pay up to 90 percent of the retail price of the artwork if you can negotiate with the gallery. While figures may vary, you ideally want to start with $1,000 to buy an artist’s work.
  • Focus on buying prints first. They are often the most affordable artwork to purchase and original prints are a good gateway into buying artwork, according to the Art League, an art education nonprofit.
  • If it’s an option, you can pay for art on time. If an art gallery or the artist is willing to negotiate, ask about a payment plan. Some art establishments like Black Art in America suggest a down payment of 30 to 50 percent. After the initial down payment on the artwork, you can pay the rest over a few months.
  • Get receipts. Make sure you save any receipts or documentation that shows your purchase is authentic.

How To Build Your Black Art Network

In order to learn more about art, you will have to start socializing in art circles.

  • Reach out to Black-owned galleries and Black art curators. While many Black artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kehinde Wiley are celebrated, there are sadly few Black artists in museums. Only 15 percent of artists in 18 art museums are African-American. To combat that scarcity, it’s important to find Black-owned galleries that highlight the works of Black artists. You can also look for African-American art curators to learn where to purchase Black art. They can point you in the direction of art fairs and auction houses in your area or online that are selling art to add to your collection.
  • Host an artist’s show in your home. If you build a relationship with local emerging artists, you may be able to purchase artwork by hosting a COVID-safe show in your home. You’ll not only get beautiful artwork, but you’ll help raise an artist’s profile and increase your art buying network as well, according to the Art League.
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