How to buy art and still avoid the gallery girls

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Indy Lifestyle Online
If I had to choose between walking into the cool, sharp whiteness of a private gallery and an abattoir's fridge, I would choose the latter. It's no less unwelcoming and there is no chance of withering looks from the carcasses. For it's the disparaging glances and head-to-toe wealth checks from gallery owners the second you walk in the door that makes buying art such a masochistic business.

Everything about a private gallery is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. You never know how much anything costs. You could of course dare to ask for a price list. But what's to be done once you've got a list starting in treble zeros in your suddenly sweaty hand? Nothing, save to whistle, blush, nod knowingly.

As a confirmed armchair art afficionado, my advice to those who fancy an art-buying spree is this: don't even think about exchanging the comfort of the couch for the gauntlet of the gallery. There are several galleries up and down the country, from print dealers to tapestry makers, who are selling art works via catalogues. This way you can blush at the prices unspotted, fantasise about a house full of Picassos and Pipers, and ask endless naive questions to your heart's content.

Imagine the thrill of buying Patrick Heron's oil painting "Indigo Bay" (pounds 28,000 - CCA Galleries) over the phone. The very thought is enough to make you slither off your couch and see the thing in the flesh, a wise measure given that colour reproduction in catalogues obviously doesn't match the real thing, nor do they give a sense of scale. A less heart- stopping purchase is Moore's charming lithograph, "Sheep Grazing" 1974 (CCA - pounds 850), particularly tempting, given the interest-free credit if you spend over pounds 350.

If you have only a vague notion of what you may be looking for, then the Alan Cristea Gallery is worth a call. But take a deep breath. They have a huge range of original prints, from Braque to Lichtenstein, so you might want to pinpoint likes and dislikes. The gallery will then send you an appropriate batch of slides and catalogues to choose from, with prices ranging from pounds 150 to pounds 150,000.

If it's crafts you crave, a Kuba cloth from Zaire (pounds 125, Royal Academy's Africa: Art of the Continent exhibition, September) would score many points in the indigenous art stakes. Handwoven from grass into exuberant geometric patterns, they are well worth collecting and older samples have found their way into private collections of African art. Or, for something homespun, Edinburgh Tapestries maketapestries to commission as well as selling them "off the peg".

Anderson O'Day's print selection is a perfect example of why one should buy art by post. They have more than 2,000 images by contemporary artists ranging from etchings to mixed media, with prices starting at pounds 95. They won't send you 2,000 reproductions, but if you call up and say what you are interested in, they will send you a selection. If it's something calming and inspiring you're after, a set of four limited edition prints by Donald Wilkinson based on Monet's garden in Giverny could be just what the doctor ordered.

I myself am not calm here in Mail Order HQ. I have just seen that, courtesy of the contemporary print publishers Flowers Graphics, I could scoop up one of Nicola Hicks' etchings' of animals for a mere pounds 150 and, more exciting still, "Running Men" by the brilliant John Kirby for pounds 300. Who needs the Tate?

CCA Galleries 0171-499 6701; Alan Cristea 0171-439 1866; Royal Academy 0151-708 0555 (catalogue from mid-August); Edinburgh Tapestries 0131 334 4118; Anderson O'Day 0171-221 7592; Flowers Graphics 0181-985 332

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