How to Buy Art Abroad

Interior Designer, Kimberley Seldon shares her tips for buying art when travelling.

C.A. 109/Couleur Additive, by Carlos Cruz-Díez

With Art Basel Miami Beach only a week away (it runs from December 6-9), it got us thinking about buying art abroad. As art lovers, it’s not unusual for us to spot something impressive on our travels, be it a painting, antique or even sculpture.

But buying — well that’s another story. Maybe we haven’t yet found a piece we couldn’t bare to part with or like many of you, unsure how to get it home, how to negotiate a price or what to do with it once it’s home!

To give us the ins and outs of buying art abroad, we turned to Interior Designer, Kimberley Seldon, of Kimberley Seldon Design Group, who is also a Design Editor at Chatelaine, and Editor-in-Chief of Dabble Magazine. Between her design skills and frequent travels (she hosts design-meets-travel trips throughout the year — next up is Los Angeles), we couldn’t think of a better person to give us the scoop.

Love at First Sight

Think you’ve found ‘the one.’ Well, be sure it can leave its country of origin. “Always verify that the country you are visiting allows items to be removed from the country. In most cases, there is no issue,” says Seldon. “However, if something looks old or valuable you may have an issue getting through customs in countries such as Russia or Hungary.”

When it comes to bringing the work back into Canada, most original artwork coming from the U.S. and Mexico is covered under NAFTA, meaning you can bring it back and will only have to pay the applicable taxes. When it comes to antiques or certain artwork, it may be deemed cultural and come hand-in-hand with export fees. If you’re uncertain, contact the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Who to Buy From

You may have found a charming piece done by a street artist or spotted something incredible at a local gallery — whatever the case, know that not every seller is created equal. “I always ask myself if I am willing to part with the asked for amount for that item. If so, then buy it. But absolutely know it is buyer beware,” warns Seldon. For large purchases, your best bet is to buy from a reputable gallery or art fair (like Art Basel), which ensures the process is smooth and work is authentic. Art dealers at fairs are properly vetted and in the unlikely case that there’s a hiccup, you will be covered.

Seldon has seen the flip-side of a deal gone awry too and recommends getting anything that is said to be valuable checked out first. “If something is being described to you as ‘valuable’ then by all means, do the research first to verify,” says Seldon. “I had a client purchase a painting for $20,000 only to discover it was not the original that she was promised.”

Getting the Best Price

Whether it’s negotiating with an art dealer or bargaining at the flea market, getting the best price for the piece is an important part of the purchase. “If you are shopping flea markets or shops, remember the owners are typically proud of the items they sell. Never insult as a means to get a better price,” recommends Seldon. Her suggestion? “Always greet the owner and admire multiple items in the shop. Negotiate for something you are not interested in and then, hone in on the item you actually want.”

One of Seldon’s favourite pieces is a painting (done on board, not canvas) she purchased from an elderly gentleman at the Esceri flea market in Budapest. “It is such a fine landscape that I was embarrassed to haggle over the $100 asking price,” she reminisces. “It’s hanging in my country house as a reminder that I need to go back one day soon!”

How to Transport

Unlike a pair of earrings or box of chocolates, transporting art can be tricky. “If you intend to carry the item through customs, know that the conveyor screening belts are typically 36″ wide. Anything larger and you may not be allowed to take it on the plane,” shares Seldon, who suggests removing the frame and rolling up the painting as an alternative option to bringing it on board.

If your piece is too large, shipping may be the only way to get your purchase home. Reputable galleries often work with specialized shipping and packing companies to ensure your art is transported safely. Theft, though a possibility is probably not as likely as damage, often due to improper packing. With this in mind, it’s not a bad idea to get insurance (if your home insurance doesn’t cover it) and be ready to fork over a hefty amount — proper shipping doesn’t come cheap!