Art Market History – Looking at the Big Picture

Art Market History – Looking at the Big Picture

The art market correction of the early 1990’s that followed the great art market boom of the late 1980’s sparked a fear of art investment that still prevents many people from puzzle_pieces_id150248_size500o.jpginvesting in art to this day. What many people don’t realise is that over the long term, fine art is in fact a very stable investment with an extremely positive history. To give you some idea of how the art market has performed in recent times I have compiled some facts and figures which are summarised below.

Contrary to popular belief, the art market does not crumble during times of stock market weakness or war, in fact fine art experienced a 256% rise in the last great bear market during the Vietnam War (1966-1975) while stocks fell 27%. Further evidence of the long term stability of the art market was revealed in an exhaustive study by NYU professors Jianping Mei and Michael Moses using figures from the 27 recessions dating all the way back to 1875 which showed that the fine art holds up very well in bad times and is a good store of value.

In 2002 Zurich Financial Services published figures showing art and antiques to be one of the most lucrative investments with their research revealing that over the previous 25 years, high-grade collections had risen in value by more than 785%. Another study which was completed in 2006 was conducted to find out more about investment opportunities in the world of art, with a focus on contemporary art. Entitled “Contemporary Art: An Asset Class for Portfolio Diversification” (Contemporary Art – eine Assetklasse zur Portfoliodiversifikation), the study was commissioned by Hamburger Art Estate AG and conducted by the F.A.Z.-Institut für Management-, Markt- und Medieninformation. The two most important conclusions from this study were:
-that art prices have been on a long-term upward trend since the second world war, resulting in returns that are comparable with shares and other investments.
-that art prices develop completely or largely independently of the stock markets or other investments such as bonds or commodities.

There is no denying the severity of the art market correction of the early 90’s but I think it is far more important to look at the big picture, especially considering that art is a long term investment.

Nick**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

4 Responses

  1. How would you define “high-grade collections” which you say have “risen in value by more than 785%.”
    Art markets vary greatly, often defined by cultural and economic and even sometime regional paremeters that are not immediately apparent to the novice. As a market analyst how do you define an “art market” or better the various “art markets”? Not all markets fair evenly in a recession.

  2. HI Judith,
    Thanks for the comment. High grade collections refers to collections that have been professionally put together using the advice of consultants and curators. It is true that not all markets fair evenly in a recession but in order to produce figures representative of the world art market it would make sense to only include figures from regional markets that effect and therefore are effected by world markets.

    nicholas forrest

  3. Don’t forget the ‘undermarket’. All those galleries that support the big guys and keep art available to the majority of the population, a platform for our work to be seen, a great motivator for the artist.

  4. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for the comment, it is indeed extremely important to make sure that those often overlooked galleries that aren’t pre-occupied with the dollar and nurture the talent that is the backbone of the world art market.

    nicholas forrest

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