A primer on collecting Taos art

Robert Cafazzo, owner of Two Graces Gallery in Ranchos Plaza holds a historic photo of the St. Francis de Assisi Church. Katharine Egli

Taos art is unique. There are very definite periods, influences, and styles. When a buyer decides to collect Taos art, they are making bold personal statements about their appreciation for history, culture, and talent.

Gallery Guide sat down with Robert Cafazzo in the open room of Two Graces Plaza Gallery (68 St. Francis Plaza, Ranchos de Taos), of which he is co-proprietor with his wife Holly. As sunlight poured into the rooms, highlighting the collectible artwork, furniture, and décor, Cafazzo shared his experience as an artist, a collector, a gallery owner, and an art repairer/restorer. We asked him questions across the spectrum of collecting: from beginning to divesting.

Where does the beginning collector even start?

RC: Being interested in art is where you start. For many, it’s one of the first things: you’re into Surrealism with Salvador Dali; or you like Modernism with Georgia O’Keeffe. A framed poster is a great way to start. And all of the major art museums here in Taos sell posters in their gift shops –– the Harwood Museum of Art, the Millicent Rogers Museum, and the Taos Art Museum/Fechin House, for example. Similarly, a framed postcard can look quite beautiful, especially a bunch of them.

Why is buying a poster or a postcard a great place to start?

RC: Because now on a daily basis, you’re actually looking at art in your home. You’re really thinking about it.

What’s a good next step for a beginning collector?

RC: The next step is to buy a signed, numbered edition print.

What about the normal desire to purchase an ‘original’ piece of art?

RC: Small artwork is easy to live with. Here in Taos, we’ve seen a big uptick in sales of small work. This is not just for beginning collectors, but for mid-tier collectors too. Many collectors say: ‘I don’t have any wall space left.’ We artists and gallery owners can move things around for you.

How is Taos art different?

There are collectors who will rearrange their entire homes. They come to Taos with art collections, but there’s all this great Taos art and they start decorating with Taos art. In Taos, a collector wants a connection with the art. People often want to meet the artists. They want to know your thought process: Where did you come up with this idea?

What should collectors know about art prices?

Collectors can buy art today in any price range. If you walk into a gallery and ask yourself: Can I afford this? –– then talk to the gallery about payments. As a gallery owner, I’m never going to take a person’s last dollar. I also advise them that this piece is much more affordable than you think. This is when you start to move into owning real art instead of posters.

What should collectors look for?

I buy art that I can live with. We like work that we respond to; and it’s not the kind of art that we make. I go to shows before they open. In that way you get first pick. You can send a photo to your partner and ask: ‘What do you think about this piece?’ And suddenly you have a great piece of art. You plunk down a payment and a little red dot goes up. You typically get the piece in 30 days after the show ends. You’re already thinking: ‘Where will it go?’ You rearrange things. Maybe you’ll think it’s going to look great near the door, where you can see it when you come and go from the house.

How do collectors know they’re getting the real thing?

For a piece that is highly collectible and has been resold on the market, collectors want a provenance to protect themselves. This could include a certificate of authentication. Some collectors really do the research to back it up. They look at old catalogues, compare it with other paintings, and they ask around. Many artists don’t sign their paintings.

What are some final thoughts on collecting?

With a work of art, it is living with me and I am living with it. I am its caretaker and I don’t want to get it ruined. Also, buying art is actually much easier and less costly than what people’s expectations are.

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