Fixing the Contemporary Art Auction Crisis Pt. 2 – artmarketblog.com

Fixing the Contemporary Art Auction Crisis Pt. 2 – artmarketblog.com

In my last post I detailed two definitions of contemporary art from two different contemporary art museums that challenge the rather inadequate and misleading definition of contemporary art that many auction houses seem to abide by.  Even though I had found two good museum definitions of contemporary art, I continued my search to see what else I could find.  And I am glad I did continue searching because I came across a particularly interesting definition of contemporary art provided by the Tate Museum.  According to the Tate, contemporary art is a:

“Term loosely used to denote art of the present day and of the relatively recent past, of an innovatory or avant-garde nature. In relation to contemporary art museums, the date of origin for the term contemporary art varies. The Institute of Contemporary Art in London, founded in 1947, champions art from that year onwards. Whereas The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York chooses the later date of 1977. In the 1980s, Tate planned a Museum of Contemporary Art in which contemporary art was defined as art of the past ten years on a rolling basis”.

This definition is somewhat misleading because it lists the date range of two Contemporary art museums, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and the The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, as though these museums define contemporary art by these date ranges.  What I found was that the beginning of the date range of works in the collections of both these museums is in fact the year that each museum was founded.  So, the Museum is not defining contemporary art as work produced from the year each museum was founded, but is in fact just maintaining a collection that is partly historical and archival even though their focus is on work that is new and experimental.  What interested me most about the Tate definition of Contemporary art is the revelation that “In the 1980s, Tate planned a Museum of Contemporary Art in which contemporary art was defined as art of the past ten years on a rolling basis”.  I personally think that this definition of contemporary art is the most accurate and sensible that I have come across and is the definition of contemporary art that the art auction houses should be abiding by.  Continuing with the museum definition theme, I think that the Getty museum provides one of the most blunt and profound definitions of contemporary art on their website which states that “Strictly speaking, the term “contemporary art” refers to art made and produced by artists living today”.  Here, Here !!!.

So, what does this mean for the art market, I hear you ask.  Well, let’s take a look at the results of a recent contemporary art auction held by an auction house that I will not be naming.  The reason I am not going to name the auction house is that there is not just one auction house on which one can lay total blame for this problem.  I also have great respect for the major auction houses regardless of whether or not there are issues relating to the classification and categorisation of works of art.  Looking at the top ten prices paid for this auction, which was promoted as a contemporary art auction, there were eight artists whose work was included in this top ten. The eight artists were Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Out of those eight artists, seven are dead – the only surviving artist out of the eight being Gerhard Richter.  Even more interesting are the dates that each of the top ten works were created:  1962, 1955, 1962, 1985, 1966, 1992, 1969, 1962, 1986 and 1987.  Six of the works were created prior to 1970, three prior to 1990 and only one after 1990.  The most recent work in the top ten was a work by Gerhard Richter, the only living artist in the top ten, which was created in 1992.  Of all the works in the top ten, the Richter would be the only one that I would consider referring to as a work of contemporary art – only at a stretch, mind you.

Although the top ten prices paid were dominated by the work of deceased artists, I must acknowledge that the auction did include works by true living contemporary practising artists.  Unfortunately the auction house uses the ridiculous misnomer ‘recent contemporary artists’ when referring to the work of the true contemporary artists.  By definition, something that is ‘contemporary’ is recent so to make reference to ‘recent contemporary artists’ is just plain wrong.  The fact that this term has to be used at all is, in my opinion, evidence enough that there is something amiss with the way some auction houses are cataloguing, categorising and presenting the works of art that they are selling.  If you don’t think that this is a big problem in the scheme of things then I respect that and even admit that you may be right.  But for me, this is the straw the broke the camel’s back; just another seemingly small problem that when added to the other seemingly small problems equal a rather big problem.  I do have some plans to combat all these small problems but you will have to wait to find out what my plans are.

image: ‘The Art Crisis’ by Robert The

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

A New Sentimental Art Market Era Pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com

A New Sentimental Art Market Era Pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com

If you want some further examples of the sentimental and nostalgic direction that the art market is beginning to take then I shall provide you with two more. The first example is the direction that the Australian Aboriginal art market has taken recently in response to a severe drop in prices and a major change in perception caused by several factors that I will discuss shortly. Australian Aboriginal art experienced a huge boom roughly in conjunction with the global contemporary art market boom, which saw prices for Australian Aboriginal art skyrocket, and the market for said works expand at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, that boom turned to a spectacular bust for much the same reasons and at roughly the same time that the global contemporary art market took a massive hit.

Much like the global contemporary art market, the Australian Aboriginal art market boom saturated the market with a plethora of rubbish, which in turn diluted the overall quality and relevance of the works of Australian Aboriginal art that were available on the market. Although it may seem that such a situation would serve to increase the value and desirability of the top quality works, it is just as likely (if not more likely) to make people question the value of the entire market and become rather disillusioned with the whole sector or genre – which is exactly what happened. Rampant fakery, forgery and mimicry, combined with obstructive and useless attempts at regulating the Australian Aboriginal art market, caused collectors and investors to fly the white flag of defeat in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstructions. As an indication of how far the Aboriginal art market has fallen as result of the problems associated with the market, the Australian Art Sales Digest has calculated that the value of Aboriginal art put up for auction has fallen from a high of just under $24 million in 2007 to just under $11 million in 2009. 2010 is shaping up to be yet another disappointing year for Australian Aboriginal art with total auction offerings likely to be even less than last 2009.

In response to the rather dire situation that the Australian Aboriginal art market is facing, the market and cultural sector has begun to focus on the Aboriginal master artists of the past who were the real reason that Aboriginal art became so popular. With most art movements and styles there are a small group of artists who pioneer the movement/style and whose work is considered to be the most legitimate and authentic. As a new movement/style progresses it is inevitable that other artists will begin to imitate the characteristics of the work of the pioneering artists in the hope of reproducing their success. In conjunction with the progression of that movement/style there is a tendency for the original purpose and intent of that movement/style to become severely diluted as more and more artists join the procession. The further the movement/style progresses, the more disconnected the movement/style becomes from the original purpose and intention. This is what happened with the Aboriginal art market and also with the global contemporary art market. Fixing such a problem means regaining the integrity, legitimacy and validity that the movement /style once had. To regain the integrity and legitimacy of the beginnings of a movement/style one must return to the roots of that movement/style – a process that is happening with the Australian Aboriginal art market and the global contemporary art market. Australian Aboriginal art dealers and other interested parties have begun to “rediscover ” the work of the early pioneers and disassociate themselves with the work of the plethora of imitators. Because most of the original Aboriginal master artists are either dead or very elderly so focussing on this sector of the market is a very sentimental affair indeed – especially for the families of the deceased artists.

The other example I want to use is the recent reconnection that the French have made with Monet – one of their most famous sons. Although the western world has embraced Monet and made him one of the most valued and respected artists to have ever laid paint to canvas, the French have long considered his work to be far too commercial for their sophisticated tastes. The Paris’ Galleries Nationales recently launched the first retrospective of Monet’s work since 1980 in the hope of reviving interest in the work of one of the world’s most highly valued artists. What makes this exhibition so significant is the reasoning behind the decision to hold this exhibition at this particular time. Guy Cogeval was appointed to the Presidency of the Musee d’Orsay in 2008 and is the curator of the Monet exhibition which is currently on show at the Grand Palais in Paris. When Cogeval was asked by Juliette Soulez of ARTINFO France (fr.artinfo.com): Why have a Claude Monet retrospective today?, Cogeval replied “Fifteen years ago, I personally felt that everything had been said about Monet and that people talked about him too much. I lived in North America for eight years and there were many Monet shows — it was almost a craze”. Then when asked if he was happy with the retrospective, Cogeval said “Overwhelmingly, visitors walking through this exhibition — including Impressionist specialists and college professors and my fellow curators — feel that they’re seeing a Monet they didn’t know before”. Both these statements suggest to me that a similar thing happened to Monet to what happened to the Australian Aboriginal art market and the global contemporary art market. It seems that a long period of western commercialisation of Monet’s work combined with what was essentially an overabundance of Monet focused scholarship effected a gradual diversion away from the “real” Monet.

The French, who were on the outside looking in, obviously cottoned on to what was happening to people’s perception of Monet’s work and were quite rightly disgusted by what was happening. I recently read a review of a book called The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings by Grace Seiberling of the University of Rochester who I think summed up the situation perfectly when she said about the book that: “Their focus on Monet as an artistic genius is in accord with the demands of a particular kind of inquiry into Impressionism, connected with museum exhibitions, and focused on the formal achievements of the sort of artistic superstars who attract paying visitors”. What Guy Cogeval is doing is taking a sentimental and nostalgic approach to Monet’s work in the hope that it will fix the damage that has been done.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Portraits as Art Market Currency pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com

Portraits as Art Market Currency pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com

The last installment of “Portraits as Art Market Currency” received an interesting comment from a reader who said: “Is that why we have portraits on our banknotes? hehe! Maybe that’s what they thought when they designed them….”. All jokes aside, this comment is actually a good introduction to the concept of the portrait as a historical document – a concept that I want to explore with this post. Although we tend to think of paper money as merely a means of acquiring goods, the coins and notes that we use everyday are in fact historical documents of great value. The fact that there is such a vibrant and growing market in old and obsolete coins and notes confirms the fact that we place a considerable level of value on the historical value of money. I constantly hear of coins and currency notes being sold for astronomical amounts of money, thousands of times beyond their face value, because of their rarity and historical significance. There is no doubt in my mind that bank currency often has an intrinsic historical value and that most forms of bank currency could be considered to be historical documents in themselves. Considering that one of the most recognisable and common features of paper money is a portrait of some sort, it would be reasonable to assume that those portraits which appear on notes and coins also have a significantly high level of historical value. And if you think that people don’t care what the portraits on money look like then think again. When Australia changed over to decimal currency in 1966 a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth appeared on the one dollar bill . The new decimal currency bills were designed by Gordon Andrews who was widely criticised for portraying the Queen with what some people thought was a look of unhappiness, and for giving the Queen what some people saw as a slight scowl. Mr. Andrews defended the portrait by pointing out that “if you have someone grinning at you on a bank note, which you have to look at over and over again, you get to hate the sight of it”. A fair point I think. Another example of the extent to which the portraits on paper money are assigned value is a newspaper article from 1962 about counterfeit currency in which a US Secret Service Chief advised people to look at the portrait. According to Chief James J. Rowley “Counterfeit currency has a lifeless portrait, the fine cross-lines are not clear or distinct”. Sounds more like the musings of an art critic than a secret service agency.

Some may disagree with the concept of historical value as a type of intrinsic value but I think there is more than enough proof to suggest that the historical value that many portraits have can be considered to be intrinsic. The sort of value I am talking about is the value of what a portrait can tell us about various areas of history, not the value we place on a portrait because of the positive opinion we have for the person depicted – an opinion that could change depending on the information we have about that person. The US National Archives conducted an investigation into the Intrinsic Value In Archival Material in 1982 which came up with some useful definitions and information that is relevant to this post. According to the ‘Report of the Committee on Intrinsic Value’ it was determined that “Intrinsic value is the archival term that is applied to permanently valuable records that have qualities and characteristics that make the records in their original physical form the only archivally acceptable form for preservation. Although all records in their original physical form have qualities and characteristics that would not be preserved in copies, records with intrinsic value have them to such a significant degree that the originals must be saved.The qualities or characteristics that determine intrinsic value may be physical or intellectual; that is, they may relate to the physical base of the record and the means by which information is recorded on it or they may relate to the information contained in the record.” It is also worth noting that the committee determined that one of the characteristics of records with intrinsic value is “General and substantial public interest because of direct association with famous or historically significant people, places, things, issues, or events”. The findings of this committee confirm that historical documents can have intrinsic value.

One of the best sources of evidence that supports the idea that a portrait can have value as a historical document is the fact that the National Library of Australia has Guidelines for the acquisition of portraits that are acquired to “provide a documentary record of Australian life and achievement”. According to the guidelines “The National Library collects portraits of Australians of national significance as well as portraits of individuals and groups who are not necessarily known but who are representative of different occupations or of various social, racial or cultural aspects of Australian life. Portraits are acquired to provide a documentary record of Australian life and achievement”. Even more revealing is one of the selection criteria that the library uses to determine whether a portrait is worth acquiring. The following is one of the selection criteria:

2.2.2 The documentary value of the portrait

Portraits acquired must provide an authentic record of the physical appearance of the subject. In addition, some suggestion of the field of achievement of the subject is looked for in background details, dress or any objects shown in the portrait.

The extent to which the portrait offers insights into the personality and character of the sitter, and the originality of the portrayal, are also considered important. For some individuals an original portrait as well as a photographic portrait may be acquired if it is considered that they provide differing insights. However, for an original portrait to be preferred to a photographic portrait when both are available, the original work should display this quality to a much greater degree (see 2.2.1).

In the case of original works, a portrait painted from life is preferred to one painted from a photograph, as being more likely to provide the added dimension of character insight. The relationship of the artist to the sitter may also be of relevance here.
From a really young age, we learn to read faces. They have a language and can articulate themselves with nuance in a way that nothing else in the world around us can quite reach. The way an artist paints a face is highly distinctive, and portraiture tells you far more about the artist than it does about the subject. Get to know the vernacular of one artist’s face compared to another, and you can use that knowledge to hunt down other examples.

Non-representational works of subjects are not collected as generally these do not convey documentary information about the subject’s appearance.

Cartoons that offer insights to personality and character will be considered for acquisition.

As far as I can see the value that can be placed on portraits because of their status as historical documents is the sort of future proof intrinsic value that will always remain with the portrait and cannot be disassociated from the portrait.  It is this sort of intrinsic value that makes the portrait a good candidate for use as currency – a concept that I will continue to explore.

To be continued……………….

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 2 – artmarketblog.com

Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 2 – artmarketblog.com

Welcome to part 2 of my series on the concept of portraits as an art market currency.  Before I continue, I would like to explain exactly what I mean by an art market currency for those that are perhaps slightly perplexed by the concept. Obviously, fine art is never going to replace paper money as the dominant form of currency.   My research focuses less on the actual use of currency as a medium of exchange, and more on the concept of currency as an indicator and a benchmark.  It is important to understand that my concept of an art market currency is merely a theoretical concept – the analysis of which I believe can provide valuable information and knowledge for investors and collectors.

In the currency world, the US dollar is used as a benchmark (world reserve currency) for all other currencies because of the political and military strength of the US, as well as the very strong gold reserves that the US held when the Bretton Woods system was introduced after World War II. Although the art market doesn’t have an official genre, period or style that acts as a benchmark for the rest of the market, the popularity and visibility of the contemporary art market means that it tends to be used as a de-facto barometer for the state of the art market.  Unfortunately, the contemporary sector of the art market would have to be the worst sector to use as an indicator for the health of the entire art market.  As we all know, the contemporary sector of the art market is a highly volatile and unstable market that is constantly at the mercy of cultural and social trends – and is often assigned a value that has very little to do with the actual art object.  So, if the contemporary art market is not a suitable indicator of the status of the art market, is there a category of art that is?  This is just one of the questions that I hope to answer with this series of posts.

Let me throw a scenario your way that will hopefully help make the reasoning behind the concept of portraits as an art market currency much clearer.  If I were to give someone who knew nothing about art 100 works of art consisting of: 20 cubist paintings, 20 conceptual  works, 20 figurative landscape paintings, 20 religious icons and 20 figurative portrait paintings – and asked that person to look at each category separately and rank the works in each category according to how much they thought each work was worth based purely on the physical characteristics of the art object (without knowing anything about who the artist is, when they were painted, who the portraits are of, the location of the landscapes etc.) – which category do you think they would find the easiest to rank?  I think that conceptual art would be the hardest, because with conceptual art the main component of the work is the concept, not the art object.   Because abstract art is so nonrepresentational, it is extremely difficult to assess unless the purpose or motivation of the artist is known, which rules out the cubist paintings as the easiest to rank.   Religious icons could be compared to portraits – however, the symbolic nature of religious icons means that their value is closely tied to the cultural, religious, social and art historical context in which they were created, which makes valuing such works difficult for experts, and virtually impossible for anyone who does not have a thorough knowledge of the genre.  Figurative landscape paintings would seem like a good candidate for the most easy to rank because of the representational nature of such works, the general familiarity people have with the way nature should be depicted, and also because the skill and talent of the artist are so easy to determine from the way the picture is presented.  What lets the figurative landscape paintings down is the lack of consistency in terms of setting, location, season, angle etc. which means making a comparison between two landscape paintings is likely to be very difficult.  Finally, we come to portraiture.  There are several factors that make the physical characteristics of portraits so easy to compare and rank, including:

– the consistency of the subject (human face)

– the universal nature of the face

– the common goal of figurative portrait painters (to accurately depict the human face)

– the ease with which virtually anyone can determine how skilled or talented the artist is at accurately depicting the human face

In my opinion the physical characteristics of figurative portraiture are the most comparable and easily ranked of all the genres and types of fine art.  I cannot think of another genre or type of fine art that has such consistent characteristics and is so universally decipherable.  The fact that the physical characteristics of figurative portraits are so comparable across the whole genre, and so easy to rank, means that they are also easier to value when compared to other genres.  It is the characteristics of figurative portraiture that I have discussed above which give figurative portraiture an edge over other genres when it comes to the concept of fine art as currency.

Stay tuned for part 3……….

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

The popularity of figurative art took a real dive post WWII when abstraction began to really hold take, which meant that portraiture, one of the purest forms of figurative art, suffered considerably along with the other forms of representational art.  More recently, conceptual art captured the imagination of the art world and, like the abstract movement, overshadowed the less glitzy world of the classical and the traditional.  The contraction of the art market that took hold in 2008 – primarily a result of the severely overheated market for contemporary art –  did, however, cause the art market to re-evaluate the value it placed on contemporary art as well question the reasoning behind the justification of the phenomenal prices being paid for contemporary art. Because the value of much of the contemporary art being produced is dependent upon the culture of the market in which the art is being sold, any major changes to the dynamic of that market are bound to have a severe effect on the value people put on contemporary art.  As is always the case, when the latest short term fashion driven trend begins to crumble, people turn to the safety and assurance of the traditional and the classical.  It is during or after major art market corrections that the difference between a short term fad and a particular style or movement temporarily going out of fashion becomes clear.  By definition, a fad is a temporary state of affairs that, once the novelty fades, is gone forever.  A considerable percentage of the contemporary art that enters the market will only retain the value it is given for as long as the fad it is associated with lasts.  Because the fads that drive the contemporary art market rarely get the sort of scholarly attention, cultural patronage or art historical recognition that ensure longevity of an artist and their work, many contemporary artists fail to survive the demise of a trend or the onset of an art market contraction.  Although portraiture fell out of fashion, as it has done on several occasions, the fact that there is so much scholarly, academic and art historical support for the genre means that there will always be a market for portraits – a market that can only continue to get stronger each time the genre comes back into fashion.

Philip Mould is a world renowned expert on historical British portraiture and, as well as regular appearances on the British version of Antiques Roadshow, has written several books that regale the reader with thrilling tales of the serial sleuther’s many quests to unearth the true identity of an artist or their subject.  Although he started dealing in portraits because they were cheap, Mould developed an infectious passion for British portraiture that even made me want to start dealing in portraits.  The great poet Charles Baudelaire once said that “A good portrait always appears to me like a dramatized biography, or rather like the natural drama inherent in every man” – a statement that I totally agree with.  Although the classical portrait may have a certain stigma attached to it, and may seem to many to be a rather boring category of art – once one begins to discover the biographical, socio-historical and cultural associations that a portrait is likely to have, the portrait can quickly go from being a humble representational picture to an extremely interesting and important historical document that can reveal fascinating historical, cultural and social information.  Uncovering the often hidden delights of a portrait is usually a time consuming project but is also an extremely rewarding and fascinating journey which more people are beginning to see the benefits of.  Uncovering the secrets of a portrait can not only be an exciting and educational experience, it can also be financially rewarding in cases where the information uncovered adds historical, cultural or provenencial value to the portrait in question.

Portraits have featured heavily in many of the most successful art auctions that have taken place over the last few months.  Asa an example of what I am talking about, check out the top results (from mutualart.com) of the July 14th Deweatt-Neate Old Masters and 19th Century Pictures auction.

Top lots sold above high estimate

Old Masters & 19th Century Pictures

Jul 14, 2010 10:00 AM
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The flower girl
By Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
3,840 GBP
Green Arrow380% above estimate
Angelica Kauffmann, Immortality: A Nymph Presiding in the Temple of Immortality
By Angelica Kauffmann
79,200 GBP
Green Arrow340% above estimate
British School, 18th Century, Portrait of a lady Half length seated
By British School, 18th Century
2,160 GBP
Green Arrow209% above estimate
Titian, Head study of a man (fragment)
By Titian
1,560 GBP
Green Arrow160% above estimate

Stay tuned for part 2 for a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind my portraits as art market currency theory.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Art Market Hedge Trends – artmarketblog.com

Art Market Hedge Trends – artmarketblog.com

Although investing in fine art is considered to be a hedge more mainstream investment markets, a new trend has emerged that has seen numerous attempts to launch projects that aim to introduce alternative methods of investing in art as a hedge against the traditional method of investing in art – purchasing a work of art and taking physical ownership. One such project is the collaboration between artist Tom Saunders and art collective Idefix Bloc which with an exhibition of Saunders’ work titled SHOP + OFFICE held at murmurART gallery East London. What makes the SHOP + OFFICE exhibition so unique is that Saunders was not offering his work for sale in the traditional sense. Instead of collectors and investors purchasing physical ownership of an art object that Saunders had produced, as would normally be the case, Saunders offered potential clients the opportunity to purchase the right to buy his art in 10 years’ time for £1 for an immediately payable fee of £2000 pounds, the price that Ferguson Solicitors, the UK law firm, believes is the correct price for an “option” contract, which is essentially what Saunders is offering. Basically, you can pay £2000 now for the right to purchase any piece of the artist’s work in 10 years time for only £1. The lure for investors is the potential to earn huge profits if Saunders becomes a highly successful artist whose work sells for large sums of money, or at least significantly more than the £2000 investment. Saunders’ work could, of course, turn out to be worth less than the £2000, but that is the risk investors take. There are, however, contract provisions that cover premature death or non-production.

Over in India, another innovative art investment project has been started by an Indian entrepreneur. Indian investor Arun Rangachari, chairman of venture capital firm DAR Capital, has purchased the rights to the entire life’s work of a reclusive Italian artist by the name of Montanari, who has lived in seclusion for the past 18 years. Rangachari is building up an art collection, of which the work of Montanari will play a significant part, with the intention of setting up an art fund in the future. Before selling any of the paintings, Rangachari plans to increase the value of Montanari’s work by holding exhibitions and building a foundation dedicated to the artist’s work. According to artnewspaper.com ‘His (Rangachari’s) first art investment consists of 40 paintings by the Italian artist Americo Montanari, with the option to buy many more……..When asked why his art fund would succeed when other ventures, including Indian-based funds, had recently failed he said: “Our entry level will be affordable, we’ll be focusing on artists who have not yet built a reputation and we will have no hidden costs, everything will be up front, so we’ll be quite different from everyone else.”’

The Chinese are also getting in on the act with Chinese financial corporation Shenzhen Artvip Cultural Corporation recently going public with China’s first openly traded art portfolio. The portfolio, which comprises of 12 paintings by contemporary artist Yang Peijing, is being traded on the Shenzhen Cultural Assets and Equity Exchange (SZCAEE) in the form of 1000 shares. All 1000 shares sold out on the first day of trading for a total of US$354480 with profits from trading the works of art to be dispersed by Artvip as the works are traded. According to artinfo.com: ‘Established in 2009 by the Chinese government, SZCAEE functions as an alternative platform for the trading of a wide range of cultural assets — including artworks, luxury goods, and films — as part of the Chinese government’s attempt to commercialize, diversify, and regulate the public exchange of such cultural properties. SZCAEE plans to offer a second 1000-share portfolio, featuring 40 works by Yang Peijiang, sometime in the future.’

Interestingly, each of the above projects are focused entirely on the work of a single living artist, which is comparable to investing in a single business. The benefit of focusing on the work of a single living artist is that the future output of the artist can be controlled by a certain degree by those with a vested interest. There is also the potential for a much larger return from the work of a living artist as a result of the progression of the artist’s career. In terms of downsides, the most obvious downside of investing in the future of a living artist is the uncertainty. Whether the rewards are worth the risk is yet to be seen……..

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

2010 Art Market Status Report – 2nd half – artmarketblog.com

2010 Art Market Status Report – 2nd half – artmarketblog.com

The art market has found its self in a rather interesting predicament.  On the one hand, confidence in the art market has increased considerably since the beginning of the year.  On the other hand, the ever increasing likelihood of a major financial crisis has seen more cautious and selective buying.  Adding to the drama is the increasingly obvious lack of top quality paintings by the Old Masters, which the market is currently showing a very healthy appetite for.

On the 13th of July an impression of Edvard Munch’s controversial work Madonna sold for an amazing £1,252,000 at Bonhams – twice its lower estimate of £500,000. This makes it the most expensive print ever sold in the UK and the second most expensive print in the world. At Bonham’s 19th Century Paintings sale held on the 22nd Apr 2010, ‘Female figure study’ , a drawing on paper by John Constable with a hidden history, sold for four times it pre-sale estimate to make £24,000. Also achieving success was an interesting  ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’ by George Dawe (British 1781-1829) which was the subject of fiercely competitive bidding and finally sold for £43,200 against a pre-sale estimate of £4,000-6,000.

At Christie’s Victorian & British Impressionist Pictures Including Drawings & Watercolours sale on the 16th of June,  Sir George Clausen’s ‘Head of a young girl (Rose Grimsdale)’ made £505,250 against an estimate of 250,000 – 350,000 setting a new world auction record for a work on paper by the artist. The same sale also saw a new record for Archibald Thorburn with yet another work on paper titled ‘Grouse in flight’ which made £217,250 against an estimate of 60,000 – 80,000

At Christie’s 23 June 2010 auction of Impressionist and Modern Art the top price was achieved by ‘Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto’, 1903, a Blue Period masterpiece by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), which sold for £34,761,250 against an estimate of 30,000,000 – 40,000,000.  Another portrait titled ‘Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III)’, one of the last great female portraits painted by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), sold for £18,801,250 against an estimate of £14 million to £18 million.

Yet more portraits achieved high prices at Christie’s Old Masters & 19th Century Art sale held on the 9th of July at their South Kensington saleroom. Margaret Sarah Carpenter’s ‘Portrait of a young girl’, who is thought to be Henrietta Carpenter, reached £32,450 against an estimate of 7,000-10,000 and achieved a new world record price for the artist at auction. A work from the Studio of Sir Peter Lely titled ‘Portrait of King Charles II’ also fetched £32,450 against an estimate of 6,000-8,000.

Over at Sotheby’s the ‘An Exceptional Eye: A Private British Collection’ sale held on the 14th of July saw a watercolour over pencil by John Robert Cozens titled ‘The Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo’ reach £2,393,250 against an estimate of 500,000 ‐ 700,000 –  the top price of the sale and a new record for the artist at auction.  The portrait miniatures performed particularly well with the Sotheby’s press release stating that “a very high price achieved for an early work by John Smart (lot 17, £56,450), and a record for a work by Bernard Lens (lot 10, Portrait of King Charles I, sold for £58,850)”

At Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale held on the 22nd of June, the top price paid was again for a portrait.  Edouard Manet’s ‘Portrait de Manet par lui-même, en buste (Manet à la palette)’ fetched £22,441,250 against an estimate of £20,000,000-30,000,000 –  a record for the artist at auction. The top-selling lot of the June Russian Paintings Day Sale was Boris Grigoriev’s oil on canvas Portrait of the artist’s son, Kirill, which sold for the sum of £253,250, above its high estimate of £200,000.  Another portrait, Alexander Evgenievich Yakovlev’s ‘Titi and Naranghe, Daughters of Chief Eki Bondo’, took top spot at the 7 June Important Russian Art Sale selling for £2,505,250 – more than triple the £700,000 – 900,000 estimate .  Sotheby’s sale of the long-lost art trove of Ambroise Vollard saw more records set for works on paper held in Paris on the 29th of June. According to the Sotheby’s press release from the sale: “Key works among the highlights of the group were an extremely fine impression of Picasso’s celebrated 1904 etching ‘Le Repas frugal’ (another portrait), which more than doubled its high estimate of €300,000 to bring €720,750 (£584,078), the highest price of the sale. A monotype by Edgar Degas, ‘La Fête de la patronne’, circa 1878-79 soared past pre-sale estimates (€200,000-300,000) to bring €516,750. Paul Gauguin’s ‘Trois Têtes Tahitiennes ‘sold for €312,750 (£253,445) well above the estimate of €100,000 to €150,000 and a record was set for a print by Pierre-Auguste Renoir when ‘Le Chapeau Epinglé, Deuxième Planche’ more than tripled its high estimate of €80,000 to bring €252,750 (£204,822). Man Ray’s ‘Autoportrait solarié’ fetched €168,750 ($206,138)”

On the 2nd of June at Sotheby’s in London, in the sale of 19th Century European Paintings, one of the finest figure paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot ever to have appeared on the market was purchased by the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva for £1,609,250, exceeding its pre-sale high estimate of £1.2 million.  According to Sotheby’s “‘Jeune femme à la fontaine’ enjoyed an exceptional early provenance before it was requisitioned during the Nazi period, and was recently restituted to the heirs of its erstwhile owners.”

The results that I have highlighted above give a good indication of the current market sentiment and the market trends that are likely to define the market for the near future.  To start with, the popularity of portraits is a major indication that buyers are seeking the safety of the academic and the scholarly.  With portraits in particular, the level of skill and talent of the artist is pretty much immediately obvious to even the most untrained eye. When it comes to fine art, and portraits in particular, I do not think that people use the term craftsmanship to describe the work carried out by some artists.  To accurately portray the physical attributes and the personality of the sitter is, in my opinion, a craft that requires skill, training and a healthy dose of talent.  When one adds the historical value and importance of portraiture, the appeal of a famous (or not so famous) face from history to an investor becomes even more apparent.

I have spoken about the concept of fine art as a form of currency in previous posts.  If ever there was a type of art that was more suited to being used as a form of currency, it would have to be portraiture.   The number of common features that most portraits share, combined with the ease with which one can judge and value a portrait based on intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics, makes the portrait a prime candidate for an art world currency.  As I have said before, scholarship is the key to successful art investment, and successful wealth preservation using art for that matter.  Portraits are usually afforded the honour of in depth scrutiny and attention by scholars and academics because of the information that portraits can provide about various branches of history.  For this reason, among others, portraits are given the sort of long term continued attention that constantly adds value.

The second trend that I have alluded to is a greater interest in works on paper – in particular original drawings and watercolours.  I personally of the opinion that the increased popularity of watercolour paintings, particularly those by British artists, is due to the greater interest in the art of the Victorian era which was the golden age of British watercolour painting. Although original works on paper, such as drawings and watercolours, are often looked upon as the less valuable mediums in the scheme of things, the tide can change very quickly as it has recently.  As well as the revival of interest in Victorian art, a shortage of major works by the Old Masters and the Impressionists has driven buyers to seek the qualities that they are looking for in other mediums and periods. An article titled ‘Young masters in an old game’ from The Guardian newspaper written by John Windsor in November 2009 sums up the situation surrounding works on paper perfectly with the following statement: “Taste is shifting from new, ill-conceived conceptual art of the Brit-pack variety – costing thousands but faltering at auction, towards old, traditional skill-based art……. but you do need to develop an eye for quality – the easy, confident line of a master draughtsman, the luminosity of a watercolourist’s washes.” It is a shame that the watercolour painting is considered the poorer cousin of the oil painting because there are so many amazing watercolours by some of the world’s greatest artists that do not receive the exposure that they deserve.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Art Investment: The Cold Hard Truth pt. 2 (Time Will Tell) – artmarketblog.com

Art Investment: The Cold Hard Truth pt. 2 (Time Will Tell) – artmarketblog.com

Is art a long term investment?

Yes, art is definitely a long term investment.  In fact, art is really only a good investment if it is able to be held for long periods of time. As an indication of how long an investment in fine art should be held, most fine art funds require a ten year commitment  – the same length of time that I would recommend anyone investing in art should be prepared to hold on to their investment for.   Although it is quite old, a study completed in 1985 by Michael F. Bryan on behalf of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland titled ‘Beauty and the Bulls: The Investment Characteristics of Paintings’ provides a good insight into the characteristics of the art market.  According to Bryan:  ‘Over the 15-year period (1970-1984), the rate of appreciation in paintings typically outpaced the rate of increase in the general price index (consumer price index). However, within short intervals (1973-1977and 1980-1982), painting’s price appreciation did not keep pace with inflation. During one year of inflationary pressure (1980-1981) paintings actually depreciated in value. In short, while the rate of appreciation in paintings is positively related to the general price level, and moreover has outpaced inflation over the full period of analysis, its year-to-year performance has been considerably volatile.’

Dr Rachel Campbell, an Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Maastricht , came to a similar conclusion as Bryan in her paper ‘The Art of Portfolio Diversification’.  According to Campbell:  ‘High volatility stems from the whimsical nature of the Art market to current trends and fads in society’s taste for Art. The nature of Art shall always be subject to such trends and as such results in a higher volatility portrayed in the prices and returns found in the Art market. A more prudent investor can alleviate the peaks and troughs from the returns on the Art market by focussing on the longer-term investment. Moreover, the high transaction costs involved with investing in Art result in the benefits tending to be reaped on the longer term.’

What the two studies above show is that although the average yearly return is quite high over a long period of time, those paintings that did increase in value often did not do so in a linear fashion.  In fact, the year to year change in value can be considerably volatile.  What the two studies also show is that just because you hold your investment in art for a long period of time, you are by means guaranteed to end up with a painting worth more than when you purchased it.  Due to the changing tastes and fashions of the art world, as well as the various economic factors that play a role in what people are willing to pay for fine art, the rate of return over the short term can undergo major and rapid changes.

The key to successful art investment is being able to know when the best time to sell is which may mean utilising the services of an advisor or consultant.  It is also extremely important to know how much you need to sell your art investment for to cover the selling costs, and to make a percentage profit that you are happy with.  Because of the nature of the art market it is important not only expect to have to hold your art investment for a long period of time, but also to expect to have to sell your investment at any time if the opportunity comes along to make a considerable profit.  A particular event or occurrence could potentially have an extremely positive effect on the value of your art investment which would be too good to ignore, but could also eventuate at any time with short notice.  Therefore, I cannot stress enough how important it is to know how much you need to sell your art investment for to cover the selling costs, and to make a percentage profit that you are happy with, so that if an opportunity comes up to sell your investment you are able to make an informed and quick decision.  In short, be prepared to hold your art investment for a long period of time, and also be prepared to sell at any time.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Fine Art for Wealth Preservation – artmarketblog.com

Fine Art for Wealth Preservation – artmarketblog.com

Due to popular demand, I have posted the entire ‘What Art Investors Can Learn from Gold Investors’ series from start to finish, and have also added a further conclusion. I also changed the title to better reflect the subject matter. Hope you enjoy !!!!

What Art Investors Can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

If am sure that everyone who is reading this post will be aware that the price of gold has increased significantly in recent times, and is poised to increase even more over the coming months. The long bull run that gold has been able to sustain has made the gold market one of the most watched and analysed markets on the planet, and has given people even more reason to consider acquiring a physical position in gold. As an art market analyst and art investment expert I try and keep an eye on as many different investment markets as I can in an effort to acquire knowledge and skills that I can apply to the art market. Although the art market is a unique market that appears to have very little in common with other investment markets, I often come across small yet very important similarities when comparing the art market to other markets that usually turn out to be very useful. In fact, even analysing small differences between the art market and other markets can prove to be beneficial when assessing the art market as a whole or when assessing a particular sector/event. For this reason I always find it interesting and useful to make comparisons between what is happening in the art market and what is happening with other investment markets.

One investment market that I have paid particularly close attention to recently is the gold market. I am not only keeping an eye on the gold market because of the progress it is making, but also because one can learn a lot about the art market and art investment from what many people consider to be the ultimate safe haven investment. Gold has been used as a store of value/wealth and a form of currency for thousands of years, and continues to remain the ultimate universal representation of wealth and value. To understand what the gold market has to teach us about the art market and art investment one must first know a few important things about gold and the gold market. One of the most significant reasons that gold is such a highly prized metal is that is a very rare and finite resource. In fact, it is estimated that if all the gold that has been mined on earth to date were put together, it would not quite even fill a 20mx20m cube. Add to this the fact that the amount of gold mined every year would only add 12cm to this cube and one can see exactly how rare gold is. Not only is gold rare, but it also has particular physical properties that make it even more desirable and more suitable as an investment. It is partly because gold does not corrode, rust or tarnish, and cannot be counterfeited, that it is such a suitable store of value and such a popular investment. By purchasing physical positions in gold one can feel pretty confident in the knowledge that it is extremely unlikely that their gold will ever be destroyed.

An article in the National Geographic magazine from January 2009 said that: “Gold is not vital to human existence; it has, in fact, relatively few practical uses. Yet its chief virtues—its unusual density and malleability along with its imperishable shine—have made it one of the world’s most coveted commodities, a transcendent symbol of beauty, wealth, and immortality.” Although the physical properties and rarity of gold contribute significantly to the value bestowed upon the precious metal, there is one other extremely important characteristic of gold that makes it so attractive and that characteristic is beauty. As the National Geographic article says, gold has an imperishable shine as well as a lovely lustre and beautiful gold glow that seems to make most human beings weak at the knees. The website gold.org sums up the attractiveness has this to say about the attractiveness of gold: “Since the beginning of time, the intrinsic beauty, warmth, sensuality and spiritual richness of gold has earned it pride of place as the favourite metal of jewellers. Gold has inspired craftsmen to create objects of desire that unite us with our emotions. In the Middle Ages, alchemists attempted to use their magic to make gold from other metals. They believed that gold was a source of immortality, and so it was used in medicines designed to fight old age and prolong life.”

What does all this have to do with art I hear you ask? Stay tuned for part 2 !!!

What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors Part 2 – artmarketblog.com

All one has to do is look at the jewellery people are wearing to realise that gold is considered by most people to be a substance of great beauty.  Since gold has very few uses other than as a material for making jewellery and other precious objects, were gold not physically attractive, it would not be anywhere near as desirable as it is.   It is because so many people find gold desirable and attractive that there is such high demand for gold.  If only a small percentage of the population were to find gold attractive and desirable then demand would be much lower. However, it is not just the fact that gold is physically attractive to human beings that makes it an excellent investment and a highly valuable substance.  As I have shown, the desirability of gold can be linked to three main factors:  physical beauty, mass appeal and rarity.  Without any one of these three factors, gold would not be anywhere near as valuable as it is, so it is these three factors that I want to explore in relation to art investment.

Gold is a finite resource which means that only a limited amount of gold exists on the earth.  At some stage in the future all the gold that remains in the earth’s crust will be extracted by mining companies and that will be that.  Gold cannot be artificially produced so only a certain amount of gold will ever exist.  When it comes to fine art, rarity is a factor that comes into play on a regular basis, and is extremely important to consider when approaching art as an investment.  Original works of art are pretty much always one offs and therefore rare in their own right, so it is important for art investors to look at the bigger picture.  Let me explain.  Just like gold, the work of a deceased artist is finite resource, whereas a contemporary artist who is still alive could go on to produce any number of subsequent works of art.  A good example of an artist with a small oeuvre is Vermeer whose oeuvre consists of an extremely small number of works; thirty seven paintings are known to have been definitely painted by Vermeer with a further 13 or so attributed to his hand.  Because there are so few works by Vermeer in existence there is huge demand for his work which usually sells for tens of millions of dollars.  Rarity can also apply to the number of works on the market as opposed to just the number of works an artist produced.  The work of artists whose work is in high demand from public museums and galleries will often fetch higher prices when their works to come on the market because so many of their works are owned by galleries and museums, which leaves less works for private collectors and investors to purchase.

Art investors who want a safer long term investment as a hedge against more speculative investments should therefore be purchasing the work of deceased artists who produced as small a body of work as possible.  When it comes to art investment I firmly believe that art investment should not be a short term speculative investment, as some people believe it should, and should only be approached as a long term hedge against speculative investment markets such as the share market.

Stay tuned for part 3………

What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 3

In my last post I began to make comparisons between the gold market and the art market from an investment perspective.  Today I want to begin winding up this series of posts by looking at one of the most important, but also one of the most controversial qualities, which is common to both art and gold, and which is crucial to both the gold and art market.  And that quality is beauty.  Gold undoubtedly has an intrinsic beauty, and hence an intrinsic value, that makes it attractive to a large number of people.  Just take a look at how many people wear gold jewellery and you will get an idea of how popular gold really is.  The World Gold Council summarises the allure of gold quite nicely with the following statement:

“Since the beginning of time, the intrinsic beauty, warmth, sensuality and spiritual richness of gold has earned it pride of place as the favourite metal of jewellers. Gold has inspired craftsmen to create objects of desire that unite us with our emotions. In the Middle Ages, alchemists attempted to use their magic to make gold from other metals. They believed that gold was a source of immortality, and so it was used in medicines designed to fight old age and prolong life.”

With art, however, the debate continues to rage as whether or not art actually does have intrinsic value.  I think that it is time for me to settle this debate once and for all.  Some art does have intrinsic value and some art doesn’t.  Let me explain.  Many people struggle to define beauty when it comes to art, but I don’t find it that difficult.  As art is a visual medium it would make sense that beauty, in relation to visual art, must therefore involve the art object it’s self.  What else would it involve,  I hear you ask.  Well, a lot of art these days involves much more than the visual component of art (ie. the art object). Take conceptual art for instance.  Conceptual art may not even involve a visual component at all; the art object is usually replaced by a concept.  You may have noticed that contemporary art often involves a component other than the art object, even if the work is not conceptual, and even if there is an art object.  If you go to any contemporary art gallery or museum, you are likely to find that many of the works are accompanied by lengthy explanations that on needs to read to fully appreciate and understand the visual component of the work.  Combine this fact with the fact that many modern and contemporary art objects would NOT be considered beautiful by most people (if by anyone at all) and one begins to understand that visual art is no longer about beauty, or the art object for that matter. The purpose of art underwent a fundamental change with the onset of the modern era.  Social, political, philosophical and cultural issues infiltrated the art world to an extent that had never been witnessed before.  When it came to priorities, beauty began to take a back seat during what was essentially a second renaissance that saw the role of the artist change from that of an artisan to something more akin to a cross between an avant-gardist, an activist, a revolutionary and an entertainer. Professor Terry Eagleton famously said that `to the avant-garde truth is a lie, morality stinks and beauty is shit’. The task of art, he believes, `is to be a hammer, not a mirror…Art’s job is to unleash contradictions . . . to shatter and wound.’

Eleni Gemtou of the University of Athens summed up the situation relating to beauty and art perfectly in her paper “The Role of Beauty in Art and Science’ in which she said: ‘Many are the works of art that have been created in order to satisfy philosophical and intellectual concerns, to provoke, to alert or even to serve social, religious and political objectives. In these cases, beauty and aesthetic satisfaction are either coincidental or completely absent.’ Gemtou then goes on to say ‘In the first half of the 20th century, art disengaged from its role to represent reality and to express beauty. Artists and movements expressing various world-perceptions, such as Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism etc. abolished traditional styles and introduced the principles of two – dimensionality, deformity, splitting and the projection of the process on the completed work. Form functioned as a revolutionary vehicle, while the subject in many works of art acquired a secondary and even a non-existent role (abstraction)’ (THE ROLE OF BEAUTY IN ART AND SCIENCE by Eleni Gemtou)

To be continued………

What Art Investors Can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 4 – artmarketblog.com

The definition of an investment, in financial terms, is basically the purchase of a financial product or other item of value with an expectation of favorable future returns. In general terms, investment means the use money in the hope of making more money (definition from investorwords.com). Although gold is often referred to as an investment, it really is not a good investment, especially over the long term. James Turk, founder and chairman of GoldMoney as well as co-author of the investment bestseller ‘The Collapse of the Dollar’, says that “Gold is not an investment. It is money. Gold doesn’t generate a rate of return like investments do. The price of gold is rising against all the world’s currencies because currencies are losing purchasing power, while gold is preserving purchasing power”. Instead of calling this article ‘What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors’, I should probably have called it ‘What People who use Art for Wealth Preservation can Learn from People who use Gold for Wealth Preservation’. However, if I had used the more correct title I do not think as many people would have read this series of posts.

The sort of investment I am writing about is an investment in one’s future financial security; an investment in wealth preservation, not wealth creation. I am not suggesting that art is as good a substitute for paper money (currency) as gold is. You may, however, be surprised to learn that fine art IS actually used as a form of currency in the criminal underworld. Stolen paintings are often used as collateral for drug or weapons deals which means that there is a black market for works of art which, interestingly, value works of art at as little as one tenth of their auction price (a great topic for a future post !!!). For a work of art to have value as a form of currency there are certain characteristics that the work of art needs to have. It would make sense that the more people who find a stolen work of art desirable, the more valuable the work of art would be on the black market. The most universally appealing and desirable characteristic that a work of art can have is the sort of instantly gratifying beauty that characterised the work of the old masters, and also the work of the more modern movements such as Romanticism, Realism and Impressionism where beauty and aesthetic satisfaction were still prime motivators. Essentially what I am referring to is the traditional and transcendental definition of beauty that aims to induce pleasure through physical attractiveness. An article that appeared in Forbes magazine in 2001 titled “Old Masters Soothe New Troubles” (by Anna Rohleder) described why the work of the old masters is so widely admired and universally accessible with the following statement: “At times like this, it isn’t fair to tax viewers with the opaqueness or abstraction of more modern works. Old Masters are accessible, their attractions obvious and their effects immediate. Old Masters convey a “feeling of peace and tranquility, a sense of timelessness that we are all searching for in our frantic lives,” says Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern Baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art. “Great art makes you see the world differently.”

As you already know, wealth preservation is about protecting the wealth you already have. In the short term, wealth preservation is about maintaining a hedge against investments you have in more volatile markets such as the stock market. In the long term, wealth preservation is about maintaining some sort of protection from potentially devastating and crippling events such as a major financial crisis.  It is long term wealth preservation that I am most interested in as it is the most relevant to the art investor.  Legendary author and financial advisor Howard Ruff, in an article he wrote titled ‘Gold and Silver Insurance’, explained one of the reasons that gold is such a good long term wealth preservation vehicle.  According to Ruff: “It’s there (gold) to use as real money in the case of a worst-case, like an inflationary currency collapse, or terrorist hackers shutting down the power grid so no one has access to their dollars at the bank or at the ATM and they can’t open the supermarket cash registers. It’s in case the same terrorist-financed hackers break into the computers of the money-center banks where most of the world’s dollars are there in hyperspace, insert a destructive virus and the world’s dollars disappearing in a nano-second.

Remember, only about 5% of the worlds’ dollars are minted, printed or coined. The rest are only on the computers of banks. If the computer data is wiped out, there could go the monetary system of the world, because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. This would mean the instant collapse of the American economy, and maybe Western Civilization. Then the world would instinctively go back to gold and silver as a means of exchange and store of value until the computers are fixed and a new paper-money system is cobbled together.”

To be continued………….

What Art Investors Can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 5 – artmarketblog.com

The reason that I finished my last post with a description of a possible economic and financial doomsday like scenario is because such an event would really expose how secure and how safe the various different methods of wealth creation and wealth preservation are. A large majority of the vehicles of wealth creation that we choose to invest our money are dependent on the continued stability of the cultural, social, monetary and economic systems that are currently in place (ie. share market, money market, bond market, currency market etc.). One of the most vulnerable stores of wealth that pretty much everyone has positions in is fiat currency, better known as money. The definition of a fiat currency is: state-issued money which is neither legally convertible to any other thing, nor fixed in value in terms of any objective standard. These days most national currencies are fiat currencies including the US dollar, the Euro and the UK Pound, which makes the currency of most countries very vulnerable. Not only would a currency collapse have a devastating effect on the price of goods, it would also cause any positions in an investment vehicle that is only redeemable in a fiat currency, and is not a tradeable commodity (ie. stock market, bond market etc.), to essentially become as valueless as the currency that the investment relies on. The 0nly way to protect one’s self from total devastation in the event of a currency collapse is to have physical positions in a tradeable commodity such as gold. Gold is an asset with inherent value that is also a tradeable commodity. According to an article in Time magazine: “Gold, then, can be considered a currency, unique in that it is not directly tied to any country’s economy. With a global recession that is bound to continue to shake up the purchasing power of all foreign currencies, gold is safer from political and economic instability than cash.”

So where does art fit in to all this?. As we all know, a major financial or economic crisis (or even a little one for that matter) can have a major negative effect on the art market, especially the speculative contemporary art market. Because the perceived investment potential of contemporary art relies heavily on the progression of the artist’s career, which in turn relies on the continued stability of the cultural, social, monetary and economic systems that are currently in place (like the share market), contemporary art is likely to be devalued to a much greater extent in the event of a major economic than the work of the old masters or the impressionists. According to Jim Morris of art and antiques firm Corfield Morris: ‘buyers of contemporary art may be disappointed with returns. He defines contemporary art as works produced by artists who are still alive. “The problem with buying contemporary works is that many of the artists don’t have track records,” said Morris. “I’m afraid an awful lot of it is not going to stand the test of time.”’ Contemporary art is therefore a very risky investment and is not a good store of wealth; contemporary art is essentially the fiat currency of the art world. The work of the Old Masters, the Impressionists and many of the modern masters are, however, a different story. As well as already having a market track record and an already established legacy, the work of the Old Masters, the Impressionists and many of the modern masters have the benefit of having been endowed with some or all of the inherent characteristics that have a quantifiable and qualifiable intrinsic value such as subject matter, style, technical complexity, historical documentation, artistic proficiency, etc. Although some people may disagree that art can have intrinsic value, I believe that the work of certain movements or periods can. Regardless of whether or not you agree that art can have inherent properties of intrinsic value, the fact remains that if the work of the Old Masters did not have intrinsic value, then the art objects would not have any value independent of any and all other factors, which they do. If a work of art in the style of an old master were to be sold as the work of an unknown artist from an unknown period and without any provenance, the art object would still have value even without all other associations and therefore must have intrinsic value. The reason that these inherent properties have a quantifiable and qualifiable value in the case of the work of the Old masters, the Impressionists and many of the modern masters is that there are usually other similar works with which one can make comparisons and judgements and thus determine the value of these inherent properties in relation to another similar work. Particularly in the case of the Old Masters there are often artistic and technical standards that can also assist in the valuation of the inherent physical characteristics of a work.

To be continued…….

What Art Investors Can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 6 – artmarketblog.com

One of the biggest problems with contemporary art, from a long term investment and wealth preservation perspective, is the seemingly ever decreasing focus on the art object. The focus that was once placed on the art object is being placed more and more on the art concept as well as the increasingly popular notion of the artist as a performer and celebrity. According to a Newsweek article titled Pop Goes the Market, ‘In the era of easy money, artists readily forsook the cliché of the tortured, penniless bohemian, and instead sought fame and fortune by branding their own glamorous, eccentric personas as a tradeable commodity’. Valuing a concept or a performance is almost impossible, especially when there is really no apparent standardisation or continuity from one artist to another. Without the ability to grade or judge the work of one artist with similar work from another artist, determining value becomes even harder. The value we place on what is termed “art” (in a contemporary market context), has less to do with the art object, the tangible result of the artistic process, and more to do with the persona of the artist and their artistic approach. With less emphasis being put on the art object, the value of contemporary art is being based on intangible characteristics and factors that have no perceivable intrinsic value. This means that much of the contemporary art being produced is a speculative and risky investment that would not be suitable as a means of preserving wealth.

As we all know, the contemporary art market is driven by speculation and a quest for social and cultural superiority that has resulted in, and continues to result in, a plethora of short lived fads. The artists involved in these fads often find themselves suddenly thrust into the art world spotlight by rich and powerful patrons who are more interested in the attention their purchases receive than what they actualloy purchase. Unfortunately, when the next fad comes along, many (if not all) of the artists who were the heroes of the previous fad are subsequently dumped just as quickly as they were found, never to be heard of again. The fact that very few contemporary artists survive long enough to preserve their place in the annals of art history makes investing in any contemporary artist a risky business and therefore not a safe means of accumulating wealth or a good means of preserving wealth.

The works of art that are most suitable for long term investment and wealth preservation are those works that have the potential to be used as a tradeable commodity. As I wrote in a previous post, fine art has been proven to be able to act as a tradeable commodity by criminals, who are known to use fine art as collateral for drug and gun deals. According to Dick Ellis, the former head of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad and an expert on art crime, “thieves get nowhere near full value, usually only 10 to 12 percent. But even if a thief trades a multi-million dollar Picasso for, say, $500,000-worth of AK 47′s, he still comes out okay. Regional wars involving old tribes, new gangs have made it worst says Julian Radcliffe, citing the Balkan War of the 1990′s. Ellis then goes on to say that “art is often held as security at an arms deal. Then, once the guns are paid for, the art is gradually sold back to Western Europe through shady dealers or art fares”.

One of the most important characteristics of a tradeable commodity is standardisation. Gold is an excellent example of a tradeable commodity because of the fact that it is an extremely standardised good which makes it very easy to trade. One particular luxury good that has been the focus of much speculation due to differing opinions regarding the good’s status as a tradeable commodity is the diamond. Martin Rapaport, a highly regarded diamond dealer and advocate for the commoditisation of diamonds, says that diamonds are definitely a commodity because: “You buy and sell them for cash. They’re a natural resource with limited supply; they’re well defined; they’re certified; they’re analyzed, graded, tradable around the world”. The only artists whose work can be considered have the characteristics that Rapaport identifies, ie. are in: limited supply; well defined; certified; analyzed; graded, and tradeable around the world, are the Old Masters and some artists from more modern movements such as impressionism which still retain many of the characteristics of the movements associated with the Old Masters. The work of the Old Masters are also relatively standardised and are therefore the most likely candidates for being used as a tradeable commodity should an global economic collapse take place. My advice, therefore, is to have at least some positions in the work of Old Masters as a form of wealth preservation and a hedge against the likely economic collapse that is soon to take place.

What Art Investors Can Learn from Gold Investors: The Conclusion

People who speculate on contemporary art are essentially betting that the artistic, social, cultural and economic framework which gave birth to the work of the artist whom they speculated on will continue to develop and progress.  The problem is that the chances of that framework completely disintegrating are becoming increasingly higher as the likelihood of a global economic crisis increases.  Since the future development and continuation of the public and private organisations that nurture and patronise contemporary artists need financial support just like any other organisation, a major economic collapse could spell disaster for these institutions as well as the artists that they were, or were going to, help nurture.

Regardless of what happens to the global economy, there will always be people who are better off than others and can afford more luxuries such as art.  There will, therefore, always be a market for art even during a global economic crisis – albeit a very different and highly selective market.  If your game is wealth preservation, and especially if you believe in the soon to eventuate economic apocalypse, you should be asking yourself the question: “Would there be a demand, and how great would that demand be, for the fine art I have in my collection if a global financial crisis took place which completely destroyed the art market and cultural framework of society as we know it?.  The answer you give will depend on whether you have the sort of art whose value is dependant almost entirely on the artistic, social, cultural and economic framework of contemporary society, or whether you own art which has characteristics (for more information read above thesis) that will have value regardless of the context in which they are valued.

If you want a fool proof and financial apocalypse proof investment that gives you the benefits of owning art and gold then get a 24 karat gold statue made for youself !!!

I will leave you with these words from the Fine Art Wealth Management website:

‘Art like gold, is an irreplaceable, unleveraged real assset which is why many investors turn to as a safe haven in times of economic uncertainty. Since the turn of the millenium we have seen the AMR Art 100 Index perform in a similiar manner to gold. Historically, both art and gold have shown similiar characteristics and performance, especially over the last decade.  Art like gold provides a historically proven vehicle for hedging against inflation.'(http://www.fineartwealthmgt.com)

 

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

 

Art Investment: The Cold Hard Truth pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

Art Investment: The Cold Hard Truth pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

I have read and heard so much incorrect information regarding art investment of late that I think it is about time that the cold hard truth about art investment is made available.  So, here it goes.

Should I invest in art?

The answer to this question depends on how much money you have to invest. Only a very small percentage of the works of art in existence will experience an increase in value that is rapid enough and sufficient enough to provide the investor with a worthwhile return on their investment. Those works of art that can provide a good return are inevitably going to cost significant sums of money due to the fact that the characteristics that make a work of art a good investment are really only found in highly valued works of art. There is really no inexpensive way of successfully investing in art. Another option is to invest in a fine art fund, which essentially allows investors to purchase a share in a managed portfolio of carefully selected works of art. Once again, however, the minimum investment for such funds is quite high at around the US$250,000 mark, which is more than the average person is likely to be able to afford. The other problem with fine art funds is that the investors do not get to experience any of the pleasures of owning the works of art which, quite frankly, is one of the very few benefits of art investment. It is fair to say that people who want to buy art generally want to see it and enjoy it. That is, unless one has enough money to be able to invest in a fine art fund and purchase art for their own pleasure. Investors in fine art funds should expect to get a 10-15% a year return on their investment according to Philip Hoffman, manager of an art fund called The Fine Art Fund. Proper art investment, ie. using fine art to generate a worthwhile return on your investment, is really only a pursuit for the wealthy as success really is relative to the amount of money one can invest. For those that do have the money, however, the returns can be quite high and the risk quite minimal.

Can I successfully invest in contemporary art?

Since contemporary art appears to be relatively cheap compared to the work of, say, the old masters, it is often presumed that buying contemporary art is an easy and Large profits can be made from investing in contemporary art, but investing in contemporary art is a very risky business. Successful investment in contemporary art usually requires a “flipping” approach that involves buying and selling works in relatively quick succession to take advantage of short term trends. This approach is very, very risky and requires that the investor have large sums of money to invest that he/she is willing and able to lose. Not only does one need lots of money and bravery to be a successful “flipper”, one also needs to have the right knowledge and contacts at hand, which very few people do. With the right advisor it is possible to profit from investing in contemporary art over the long term but the risks are still high. What it comes down to is that there are plenty of way better investment vehicles for those investors who are wanting high risk with the potential for high returns. In other words, contemporary art is not a good investment.

To be continued………..

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 3

What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors Pt. 3

In my last post I began to make comparisons between the gold market and the art market from an investment perspective.  Today I want to begin winding up this series of posts by looking at one of the most important, but also one of the most controversial qualities, which is common to both art and gold, and which is crucial to both the gold and art market.  And that quality is beauty.  Gold undoubtedly has an intrinsic beauty, and hence an intrinsic value, that makes it attractive to a large number of people.  Just take a look at how many people wear gold jewellery and you will get an idea of how popular gold really is.  The World Gold Council summarises the allure of gold quite nicely with the following statement:

“Since the beginning of time, the intrinsic beauty, warmth, sensuality and spiritual richness of gold has earned it pride of place as the favourite metal of jewellers. Gold has inspired craftsmen to create objects of desire that unite us with our emotions. In the Middle Ages, alchemists attempted to use their magic to make gold from other metals. They believed that gold was a source of immortality, and so it was used in medicines designed to fight old age and prolong life.”

With art, however, the debate continues to rage as whether or not art actually does have intrinsic value.  I think that it is time for me to settle this debate once and for all.  Some art does have intrinsic value and some art doesn’t.  Let me explain.  Many people struggle to define beauty when it comes to art, but I don’t find it that difficult.  As art is a visual medium it would make sense that beauty, in relation to visual art, must therefore involve the art object it’s self.  What else would it involve,  I hear you ask.  Well, a lot of art these days involves much more than the visual component of art (ie. the art object). Take conceptual art for instance.  Conceptual art may not even involve a visual component at all; the art object is usually replaced by a concept.  You may have noticed that contemporary art often involves a component other than the art object, even if the work is not conceptual, and even if there is an art object.  If you go to any contemporary art gallery or museum, you are likely to find that many of the works are accompanied by lengthy explanations that on needs to read to fully appreciate and understand the visual component of the work.  Combine this fact with the fact that many modern and contemporary art objects would NOT be considered beautiful by most people (if by anyone at all) and one begins to understand that visual art is no longer about beauty, or the art object for that matter. The purpose of art underwent a fundamental change with the onset of the modern era.  Social, political, philosophical and cultural issues infiltrated the art world to an extent that had never been witnessed before.  When it came to priorities, beauty began to take a back seat during what was essentially a second renaissance that saw the role of the artist change from that of an artisan to something more akin to a cross between an avant-gardist, an activist, a revolutionary and an entertainer. Professor Terry Eagleton famously said that `to the avant-garde truth is a lie, morality stinks and beauty is shit’. The task of art, he believes, `is to be a hammer, not a mirror…Art’s job is to unleash contradictions . . . to shatter and wound.’

Eleni Gemtou of the University of Athens summed up the situation relating to beauty and art perfectly in her paper “The Role of Beauty in Art and Science’ in which she said: ‘Many are the works of art that have been created in order to satisfy philosophical and intellectual concerns, to provoke, to alert or even to serve social, religious and political objectives. In these cases, beauty and aesthetic satisfaction are either coincidental or completely absent.’ Gemtou then goes on to say ‘In the first half of the 20th century, art disengaged from its role to represent reality and to express beauty. Artists and movements expressing various world-perceptions, such as Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism etc. abolished traditional styles and introduced the principles of two – dimensionality, deformity, splitting and the projection of the process on the completed work. Form functioned as a revolutionary vehicle, while the subject in many works of art acquired a secondary and even a non-existent role (abstraction)’ (THE ROLE OF BEAUTY IN ART AND SCIENCE by Eleni Gemtou)

To be continued………

Part 2:

http://artmarketblog.com/2010/05/07/what-art-investors-can-learn-from-gold-investors-part-2-artmarketblog-com/

Part 1:

http://artmarketblog.com/2010/04/30/what-art-investors-can-learn-from-gold-investors-artmarketblog-com/

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors Part 2 – artmarketblog.com

What Art Investors can Learn from Gold Investors Part 2 – artmarketblog.com

Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid by Vermeer

All one has to do is look at the jewellery people are wearing to realise that gold is considered by most people to be a substance of great beauty.  Since gold has very few uses other than as a material for making jewellery and other precious objects, were gold not physically attractive, it would not be anywhere near as desirable as it is.   It is because so many people find gold desirable and attractive that there is such high demand for gold.  If only a small percentage of the population were to find gold attractive and desirable then demand would be much lower. However, it is not just the fact that gold is physically attractive to human beings that makes it an excellent investment and a highly valuable substance.  As I have shown, the desirability of gold can be linked to three main factors:  physical beauty, mass appeal and rarity.  Without any one of these three factors, gold would not be anywhere near as valuable as it is, so it is these three factors that I want to explore in relation to art investment.

Gold is a finite resource which means that only a limited amount of gold exists on the earth.  At some stage in the future all the gold that remains in the earth’s crust will be extracted by mining companies and that will be that.  Gold cannot be artificially produced so only a certain amount of gold will ever exist.  When it comes to fine art, rarity is a factor that comes into play on a regular basis, and is extremely important to consider when approaching art as an investment.  Original works of art are pretty much always one offs and therefore rare in their own right, so it is important for art investors to look at the bigger picture.  Let me explain.  Just like gold, the work of a deceased artist is finite resource, whereas a contemporary artist who is still alive could go on to produce any number of subsequent works of art.  A good example of an artist with a small oeuvre is Vermeer whose oeuvre consists of an extremely small number of works; thirty seven paintings are known to have been definitely painted by Vermeer with a further 13 or so attributed to his hand.  Because there are so few works by Vermeer in existence there is huge demand for his work which usually sells for tens of millions of dollars.  Rarity can also apply to the number of works on the market as opposed to just the number of works an artist produced.  The work of artists whose work is in high demand from public museums and galleries will often fetch higher prices when their works to come on the market because so many of their works are owned by galleries and museums, which leaves less works for private collectors and investors to purchase.

Art investors who want a safer long term investment as a hedge against more speculative investments should therefore be purchasing the work of deceased artists who produced as small a body of work as possible.  When it comes to art investment I firmly believe that art investment should not be a short term speculative investment, as some people believe it should, and should only be approached as a long term hedge against speculative investment markets such as the share market.

Stay tuned for part 3………

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications