Let Toronto’s Coolest Gallery Owner Teach You How to Buy Art

Whether you’re looking to start a full-blown art collection or simply impress guests with a limited-edition print, buying art is a lot like riding a motorcycle: it’s intimidating, risky, full of twists, turns, blue skies and fog.

For outsiders, the art world can seem a little stiff around the edges, and it can be tough to learn the unspoken rules and break into the inner circle without a reputable, knowledgable guide. Lucky for you, we’ve got just the man to introduce you.

Meet Clint Roenisch, the smooth-talkin’, motorcycle-ridin’, completely badass owner of Clint Roenisch Gallery, one of Toronto’s finest purveyors of contemporary art. We asked Roenisch to give us a full rundown on everything you need to know about finding, appreciating and investing in works that are actually worth their salt. Here’s what he had to say.


“Don’t buy from galleries in hotel lobbies, on cruise ships, in cafes, or in Vegas. Another rule of thumb: Don’t buy from family members to encourage them, because statistically, they’re probably bad. Instead of spending $1,200 on a too-colourful, 5×4 acrylic abstract landscape (that you can’t take down…in case they visit), do yourself a favour and give them a bottle of wine with an inspirational note and a brush taped to it. Thank me later.

“The only exception is your grandmother. Then you should buy the watercolour she painted in 1952, because why not? She isn’t going to be around forever, and her generation wasn’t as distracted as ours so maybe there is some depth in there. But $250 max, okay? Otherwise, your grandmother is fleecing you. Same goes for friends, at least until you get more involved with the art world. And then, if you become friends with actual artists, who show regularly at reputable galleries, and have a CV to justify the price tag, then count yourself lucky to be part of the inner circle. You made it, pal.”

Where To Find The Good Stuff

“Visit key commercial galleries in your city. You can find those by flipping through art magazines like Artforum, Frieze, Mousse and Canadian Art or on Instagram, which I’ll get to later. Go to openings; they often have interesting people there.

“If you’re single, you’ve already made yourself more intriguing by being at an art opening instead of just sending over a lukewarm plate of wings like a creep at a sports bar. Try and be receptive to whatever you see. Having an open mind is better than “I know what I like.” Visiting galleries is a great, free, way to spend a Saturday afternoon with a date, before repairing to the nearest watering hole, like Bar Raval in Toronto, to recap.

“Plus, if you visit certain galleries often enough and seem curious, then most gallerists will happily explain the show to you and then, if you’re me, invite you into the back to chill with some bubbles, maybe meet the artist, and talk about the work. Often enough there are other, more seasoned collectors hanging around too, and you can talk with them about who they are looking at and why.”

What to look for

“There are lots of great prints and multiples, but focus on original, unique works if you can. Or, if it is a photograph, say, then opt for one with only a small edition, less than five. Many people start buying inexpensive works, under a grand for example, because they are uncomfortable spending more. But it is honestly better to say “no” five times and get a single, better work for $5,000. And if something is $5k then it should come from a reputable gallery, by an artist that has reviews and, at least, a little institutional recognition (meaning the museum world) and is in a few solid, corporate collections like RBC or TD Bank.

“And of course, there is a lot of speculative scrutiny in the art world but the real collector buys work because they believe in the artist, they respond to their work aesthetically instead of financially and they want to play a role in the lives of living artists, in the culture of our time.”

When to buy

“When purchasing a piece, it’s always good to challenge your taste; you’ll be rewarded down the road as you become savvier and critically engaged. Most people don’t start out intending to become collectors, but then they notice that the artworks they own have a dialogue with each other, and soon enough their collection becomes a revealing self-portrait of the collector and how they see the world.”


Before buying

“Collectors are often high-functioning types that are very good at what they do, and I think it’s fair to ask for the same in artists. What I mean is that it’s not really enough for an artist to just be into “expressing themselves.” Whatever they do, painting, sculpture, film, drawing, photography, performances, etc., there should be some evidence of an original line of inquiry, an interrogation of whichever medium is being employed and, definitely, definitely an awareness of art history and what has come before them.”

Questions to Ask Yourself

“Is the artist in this for real?”

“Do they approach their work with conviction? Even if they make funny and purposely dumb-looking work it should be made wisely, like the great British artist David Shrigley.”

“Is there something else there, beyond however sexy the work in question looks right now, in the moment?”

“Will this artwork continue to reveal itself to me over time? Because if it doesn’t, there’s a good chance it will die on the wall.”

How to Negotiate Prices

“The best way to negotiate pricing with a reputable gallery is not to negotiate. You will become a darling of the gallery world, be held in higher esteem, and be offered better works if you don’t. Pay right away, too. Most works in Canadian galleries have reasonable pricing, and if you ask a reputable gallerist how they arrived at a price, they should be able to corroborate it with a history of sales combined with the CV of the artist. But in truth, most people almost expect a discount, so 10% is standard. Alternately most galleries offer interest-free payment plans.”


Artists you should know

“In Canada, one of the most promising is Marvin Luvualu Antonio who has an ambitious show with me (images from which are featured throughout this post), on until April 30th. I would say that of him regardless of which gallery he is showing with, and I would try to steal him from that other gallery if I thought I could. Or the Brussels-based Alex Morrison, who has a show here in May and June. Jimmy Limit is another, and Maggie Groat, his partner. Nadia Belerique has a widely anticipated show coming up in May with Daniel Faria Gallery. Or any of the artists at the great Tomorrow Gallery in New York, or Night Gallery in LA.”

Who to follow on Instagram

“There are hundreds of great galleries around the world but a few to follow would be @davidzwirner, @gagosian, @davidkordanskygallery, @nightgallery, @tomorrow_gallery, @kurimanzutto, @mendeswooddm, @rodbartona and, of course, @clintroenisch, ahem…”

Portrait: Andrew Williamson
Art: Marvin Luvualu Antonio / Clint Roenisch Gallery