If you've wandered the aisles of an art fair or attended the odd museum benefit, you've probably come across artist portfolios before—and, just as likely, you may have passed them by. Presenting pieces by a range of artists brought together by an institution or a cause, these groupings of art often seem intimidating, or simply more than the beginning collector is bargaining for. This, however, can be a mistake. Art portfolios are in fact one of the most affordable, low-risk ways to jumpstart a collection—bringing high-quality art into your home at a far better price than buying each work piecemeal.
The essential appeal of the portfolio is that it has been closely vetted, particularly when assembled by a museum or nonprofit—this ensures that an expert curatorial eye has been involved in assembling the works, often by critically acclaimed artists or stars in the making, and that the institution is willing to put its imprimatur on the art. This makes them candy for art-world insiders. "Portfolios are the perfect acquisition for both seasoned collectors and beginners to art collecting," art advisor and collector Kimberly Light says. "Often they are seminal groupings that display the best emerging artists of the time. I always recommend that my clients follow this model."
Since 2010, for instance, Artists Space has used its Annual Edition Portfolio to present specially commissioned work of five to six artists its curators deem important—creating a particularly useful starter kit for new collectors interested in engaging with avant-garde art. Produced in editions of 100, these have in the past included pieces by Calder Prize-winning sculptor Rachel Harrison, Hugo Boss Prize-winning artist Danh Vo, and in-demand sculptor Trisha Donnelly at a far more accesible price point than one typically encounters for their work.
"The format allows the opportunity to present a selection of editioned works within a grouping—much like an exhibition—functioning as a constellation of concerns rather than isolated statements," says Artists Space's Liz Hirsch. The 2013 Artists Space edition comes in a handmade archival box designed by Karl Holmqvist and has a silkscreen print by Angela Bulloch, a pigment print by Richard Hawkins, an inkjet print by Klara Lidén, and a gouche-on-paper work by Nick Mauss.
Portfolios can also center on the exploration of a single idea by a single artist—such as Tal R’s 2010 color etchings in 3D Portfolio or Daniel Gordon’s Flowers and Shadows (2011), which takes on the still-life tradition in 12 unique photographs. In other cases, a portfolio can provide context for works that cannot be realized in a white-cube space. For example, Ragnar Kjartansson’s acclaimed performance piece The End–Venezia from the 2009 Venice Biennale can be experienced through 13 black-and-white photographs from the project, offered in his Performance Sketches Portfolio.
The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation put together a portfolio as a way to benefit the foundation, which provides arts exposure to inner-city students as well as exhibition opportunities for minority artists. The 75 editions of 15 photographs mark the 15th anniversary of its founding. Meanwhile, SculptureCenter’s selection interprets and explores sculpture through the lens of photography, with artists Leslie Hewitt, Marlo Pascual, Erin Shirreff, Kathrin Sonntag, and Sara VanDerBeek all contributing to the set.
"I find that some collectors and patrons, especially those new to collecting, have a hard time understanding the value of something like a portfolio of photographs or prints," says SculptureCenter associate director Frederick Janka. "I always like to point out that what they are purchasing is a curated—read: professionally vetted—collection. It's a total no-brainer, and if you only like one, well then just frame that one. One day you'll revisit the rest of portfolio and be pleased you made the purchase."