Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 6 – artmarketblog.com
As the final post in this series I want to summarise my findings, but before I do I want to reiterate the reason that I wrote this series of posts on Portraits as Art Market Currency. The catalyst for this series of posts was, and still is, the continuing saga relating to the supposed instability of some of the world’s most significant economies. Economists and journalists have been making predictions for quite some time regarding the supposedly impending crisis that range from “the extent of the crisis is being grossly exaggerated” to “it is only a matter of time before we experience a catastrophic global financial crisis”. Even though opinions relating to the extent of the crisis vary greatly, it seems that a majority of experts believe that there is at least a significant chance that there will be a series of negative events relating to the economic status of some countries in the near future. Although it is unlikely that a complete global financial meltdown will take place, hypothesising on the effects that such an event would have on value of the art market reveals extremely interesting information regarding the way fine art is valued, and the way we assign value to art objects. This information is extremely useful for investors in fine art as it highlights the importance of having a strategy, and provides indications of how that strategy should be structured.
The reason I made the comparison between portraits and currency is because the way we assign value to currency can tell us a lot about the way we assign value to fine art. For several decades there has been heated debate surrounding the way currency is valued – a debate that stems from the global change to a fiat money system from a Gold Standard. To recap , the Gold Standard “was a commitment by participating countries to fix the prices of their domestic currencies in terms of a specified amount of gold” (US Library of Economics and Liberty). The benefit of the gold standard is that currency essentially had intrinsic value because it was basically able to be exchanged for a certain amount of gold. According to gold expert Paul Nathan in an article on Kitco.com “The intrinsic theory of value holds that worth or value is contained within an object. It holds that economic goods possess value inherently, innately, despite the market, despite supply and demand, i.e., in spite of men’s values, choices, and actions”. The Fiat money system, on the other hand, is currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves. Historically, most currencies were based on physical commodities such as gold or silver, but fiat money is based solely on faith. Because fiat money is not linked to physical reserves, it risks becoming worthless due to hyperinflation. If people lose faith in a nation’s paper currency, the money will no longer hold any value.
What I found particularly interesting when researching this topic is that the art market can essentially be divided into two different markets – one market that has similarities to the Gold Standard, and another market that has similarities to the fiat money system. Just like the fiat money system, the contemporary art market relies very much on faith in the artists whose work is being bought and sold. The value of the work of contemporary artists is dictated by the galleries who sell the work with buyers basically expected to have faith in the valuation set by the gallery. Just like with fiat currency, if people lose faith in a contemporary artist then their work is severely devalued, or even rendered worthless. The market for classical figurative works of art, on the other hand, resembles the gold standard because of the intrinsic value many of these works contain due to their physical characteristics and their status as historical documents. Regardless of what happens to the art market or to the reputation of the artist in question, such classical figurative works of art (portraits in particular) will always have significant technical, historical and documentary value; just as currency backed by gold will always have value regardless of what happens to the economy of the country whose currency is backed by the gold. When it comes to art investment and wealth preservation, the security and stability of the value placed on a work of art is extremely important. Although the glamorous world of contemporary art market speculation may seem to be the most popular and most viable method of profiting from the purchase and sale of art – fine art is, by the very nature of the art market, a long term investment. In fact, the benefits of investing in art can only really be taken advantage of when a long term approach is taken.
To finish with there are three important points that I want to emphasise:
1. the long term value of a work of art is linked to a certain degree to the extent to which one can disassociate the work of art from the artist, and the extent to which one can assign value to the actual characteristics of the art object as an independent entity.
2. 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.
3. when it comes to art investment and wealth preservation using fine art, it is possible to take a strategic and mathematical approach that virtually guarantees success over the long term. This sort of approach requires, however, require discipline, patience and objectivity.
**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