Expert Tips for Buying and Commissioning Art with SCAD’s Paula Wallace

Text: Paula Wallace, President and Founder of SCAD
Photos: Courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design

SH: What is your guiding principle when buying a work of art?

Art should be a revelation, an extension of your personality. When buying art, my guiding principle is: Make it major! Too often, I see collectors install art scaled disproportionate to their space. A major piece, depending on your space, could take up one-third of your wall vertically—or more! Consider panoramic works, too—like a mural you commission for your own home. That’s something that will truly transform your space and make your home the true work of art.

SH: What are the most important considerations when buying art as a gift for your family or for a friend? What are your steps for success?  

Taste is personal, so consider the work’s destination and seek options that pique your loved one’s interests. A curator, like the experts we have at SCAD Art Sales, will catalyze the artist-collector connection. The next time you’re visiting your friend, or connecting with them virtually, take note of their home’s aesthetics. For example, do they have a specific color palette they decorate with? Do they tend to decorate with photography or abstract art? Do they have a fondness for history? Is their furniture modern or antique? Do they like to fill space or keep their decor to a minimum? Are they particularly fond of indoor houseplants? All these details are the keys to finding the perfect piece.

SH: Should you seek out emerging talent or try to acquire works by well-known artists? 

Yes and yes—and at SCAD, we’re proud to promote not only renowned artists but early career artists making their name in the industry! Whether you prize immediate accessibility or opt to save up for a major acquisition over time, your support of artists—established or emerging—matters. Take heart in preserving a renowned work for posterity or welcoming something new into the canon, helping tomorrow’s luminaries solidify their careers.

SH: What is the most important consideration when commissioning an artist to create a unique work?

Two necessities, actually: Ensure that the artist understands the subject and that they will deliver. Be sure that the artist adheres to the highest professional standards and becomes intimate with the meaning behind the artwork you’re commissioning. Whatever your vision, empathetic artists will treat every commission like a creative embrace.

SH: Can you share a story about a work that you’ve commissioned and love—and why? And what can first-time buyers learn from your experience?

Personally, I’m forever fond of the work of Michael Porten, a SCAD alum who captures the individuality of his subjects—like Olive, my beloved French bulldog!

Here’s what first-time buyers should know: Take the opportunity to explore works in other media, as well as painting. For example, printmaker Sauda Mitchell’s captivating relief prints explore her own stories and the African American experience, and her art truly enthralls me. Think outside the frame. A custom mural or sculpture could just as easily transform your home and enliven any space.

SH: Who are three established artists whose works you find particularly exciting?

I’m riveted by the relevant, culturally connected paintings of Hasani Sahlehe. His creations are as gestural as abstractions yet filled with meaning. Tobia Makover works in encaustics—a classical technique that blends colored pigments with wax—to create ethereal, dreamlike photographs that resonate with emotion and depth. Kent Knowles’ acrylic-on-canvas allegorical portraits reflect quintessential combinations of the familiar and surreal; each work is an encyclopedia of intimacy.

SH: How—and where—do new collectors find top-quality works to begin their collections or make new acquisitions?

Be curious and adventurous: Journey beyond the confines of traditional media to explore furniture, textiles, sculptures, metalwork, and more. Consider this: a natural-dye silk quilt by Maura Ambrose became a color-field abstract wall hanging here at SCAD. Study every artistic medium for unexpected gems. Be a sleuth: Exceptional art sometimes hides in plain sight at rummage sales and estate auctions.

SH: Since some museums are closed, and many galleries are shuttered, how can collectors acquire bold, new works during the pandemic?

New York mega-gallerist Marc Glimcher said, “Art finds a way.” Collectors can still work with curators to grow their collection during this time. For example, with SCAD Art Sales’ curbside delivery, clients can pick up their artwork to go—a feast for the senses, nourishment for the soul. Additionally, many museums are offering virtual tours of their exhibitions until they can once again welcome their beloved visitors back inside. Though SCAD’s museums have since reopened, we loved showing the world our impressive collective works of student, alumni, and world-renowned artists through our #MuseumFromHome virtual features! Technology is a wonderful tool to uncover the endless art world, waiting right at your fingertips.

SH: What have you added to your collection recently?

At SCAD, every corridor is a gallery wall—and it’s not just my collection; it’s for all SCAD Bees to enjoy! Recent additions include the mixed-media Bee Painting 1 by Amiri Farris and Emily Metzguer’s humorous photo series, Disco. I was eager to place them within the ever-evolving SCAD-built environment for the start of a new academic year.


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