How to buy contemporary art

Curator Michael Doohan on how to get going on your art collection


Buying contemporary art can be a daunting process, particularly when you are a first-time buyer. It should be viewed as something of a journey, and one that takes time and patience.

As both an art advisor and curator, I firmly believe there are a few key steps that every person should take to ensure they fully maximise their experience in investing in their first piece of art. In my view there are three key questions every person should ask themselves before buying art.

Do I like it?

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First, it’s important to figure out which type of art is most appealing to you. Spending time viewing a range of art will help determine exactly the type of genre it is you really want to invest in.

Do I know my plan with this piece of art?

At Woodbury House, we always try to spend time with our clients to establish an understanding of what it is they want to buy and show them examples either at our studio, in a home or museum. In the digital world, it’s so easy to be flooded with images online so we feel its beneficial to view art in person if possible. By familiarising yourself with various genres, mediums and styles, you’ll be able to make investment you won’t regret.

Do I have enough knowledge on the artist and market?

For a first-time buyer, the art world can definitely be overwhelming, and sometimes people can feel like they will be out of place or unwelcome. I know there was a time when I started out in the business that I felt the only question anyone ever asked me was "Can you afford it?". I wanted to dispel the myth that art is only for one type of person, and open it up to the masses. One of my favourite aspects of my job is taking a client on a journey and helping them understand the background of an artist, the conceptual framework of what they make and the source of their inspiration. I find this ultimately helps to shape their response and feelings toward it.

Collaborative project by Dark Circle and Woodbury House exploring work by the ‘Godfather of Street Art’ Richard Hambleton

More than anything, the true investment when purchasing a piece of art however is the joy it brings you each day either in your home or at the office. This feeling will bring you ten times more satisfaction than buying a piece of art for any other reason. Go with your intuition when seriously contemplating a piece of art to purchase.

Throughout my work at Woodbury House, my own art awareness has grown. I always had a passion for art and knew I wanted to learn more. Consequently, I spent time developing an understanding of contemporary art and the many artists working in the space. Eventually, I found a niche in demystifying the process of buying and selling art and offering unique access to both established and emerging artists. With this approach, we try to bring art to the masses, by offering a bespoke experience to each one of our clients.

Ultimately, the contemporary art world continues to be regarded as one of the most challenging markets for investment, which means choosing which work to buy is no simple feat. While careful consideration, research and expert advice is key, the most important advice I can give is that you should always invest in a piece that you love and that you will continue to love for as long as you live with it.

There’s nothing like buying your first artwork, sourcing it and deciding where it should go. The feeling is so satisfying and one I would encourage anyone to experience it.

Michael Doohan is the co-founder of Woodbury House and acts as both an art advisor and curator for the business. For more, visit

Main image: ‘Don’t sweat it baby’ by Eve

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