Record-setting prices are being paid for art created in the last one hundred years. For a time it seemed as if Van Gogh’s work would remain the most valuable of recently auctioned pieces. But now other artists are bringing in the multi-millions per work as well.
Investing in art for the average person must take on some very different dimensions. Yet, buying, collecting and selling art can be interesting – even profitable. There some things to remember when you are shopping for art – especially as an investor.
First, remember that the odds of finding a De Kooning at a garage sale is infinitesimally small. His works, as are those of many artists, were seen, bought, cataloged and stored almost as a public record. The people who bought De Kooning’s along the way stood to make multi-millions as well, if they held onto the works.
Second, try to find artists whose works interest you, and get to know those artists. Communicate with them about their work, their prices, their career objectives. Try to acquire the best examples of their works that are available.
Third, bargain on price – which is not easily accomplished if you are after their largest or most accomplished pieces. Price can be tricky, but don’t let it cause tension between the artist and yourself. Remember, heart felt appreciation of an artist’s works go a long way to softening negotiations. This doesn’t mean you should be insincere in your flattery, but do be expressive.
More words on prices. Bartering is not out of the question. Smaller and less accomplished pieces should be less expensive. Sometimes buying more than one piece gets a discount, or buying on a regular basis. Buying works after an exhibition, or before an exhibition on the condition that they are not sold during the exhibition, can bring some discounts. Telling the artist his/her work will be shown prominently and giving out the artist’s cards should be a given if you want discount prices.
Fourth, see how well the artist is received by other buyers or the art community generally. Do not expect the best art, art prices, or art investments from the best-known artists or the artist commanding the top prices. By the way, these do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. When galleries “discover” an artist they usually increase the artist’s prices. Your job is to discover the artist before the next big buyer or gallery discovers them.
Fifth, either pick classic, timeless themes in artwork, or be very aware that you are picking niche-interest or local-history themes. Abstract and nonobjective works happily don’t have this problem.
Sixth, try to focus on artists with a recognizable style. This does not mean a generic, academic, or knock-off style. The style should be as original, different, and strong as you and your friends can tolerate. Investments usually have to be cutting edge, by the time they are blue chip it takes big money to get into the game.
Seventh, diversify your collection across one or two axes and buy as many as you can show in your house, office, or apartment. You can buy one from each artist or several from a few different artists.
Eighth, choose artists who are productive and well-grounded in the process of creating. Be careful of artists who are (or act as if they are) “suffering artists” or confounded by life, etc. This does not mean you should turn away a legitimate bargain because the artist really needs money. Artists should be judged on their work, not their profile or personality or their press hype.
Ninth, take good care of your art, it will appreciate rather slowly on average. And, yes, price hikes may not start until the artist dies. This doesn’t mean you should follow only elderly artists, but you might want to make sure your children or friends share some of you interests in your selected artists. They may be the caretakers of your investment one day.
Tenth, don’t sell your art until you get good offers. Check the market for other transactions on art from your artists. Don’t expect to make a quick killing – the stock market only works like that if you are an insider or you are a very wealthy opportunist waiting on a sure thing.
There are a lot of other things you can learn to increase your ability and taste for art buying and investing. I will write some other articles on this topic in the near future.