Tapping the Art Market

16 Nov 2017
4 min read
Investing in art is increasingly considered a welcome alternative to more traditional asset classes. Eva-Luise Schwarz uncovers the monetary and non-monetary reasons for buying contemporary art

If you are already invested in stocks, real estate and your own respective business, why not branch out into something you can enjoy but which also has real value and the prospect of future value? Increasingly people are discovering that living with great art enhances the quality of life in their home or the office. And once they start, it gets easier to get more deeply invested and involved.

The art market is supported by an increase in the number of fairs worldwide, with a strong attendance from experienced collectors and the general public. One such art fair is Frieze London, one of the few fairs to focus only on contemporary and living artists. Exhibitors represent the most exciting contemporary galleries working today, while the fair sees visitors from around the world flock to London to inspect each artists’ work.

The fair presents a curated programme of talks, artists’ commissions and film projects, many of which are interactive or performative and encourage visitors from around the world to engage with art and artists directly. Over 150 exhibitors will appear at this year’s fair, including Hauser & Wirth, London, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, among many others.

Since its first year, Frieze London has also been fortunate enough to work with a series of talented architects: David Adjaye, Jamie Fobert and Caruso St John; who are well-known for their work on museums and art galleries. The architects’ brief is to make the fair an inviting and unique experience. Each year there are eye-catching changes to the design and décor of the entrance and spaces such as restaurants and cafes.

The global art market seems more dynamic than ever, with strong prices and volumes supported by a growing international demand. The most recent round of auctions in New York, London and Asia resulted in record highs for modern and contemporary works. Major exhibitions at museums and galleries of such popular artists as Monet, Picasso, Hopper, Warhol and Basquiat have broken visitor records. The spring auction season (May 2013) in NYC achieved record sales, with more than $1.5b worth of artworks sold in a two-week period, according to The Art Fund Association.

ArtPrice reported that global art auctions generated US$12.3b in 2012 (this number only includes fine art auction sales, not decorative arts, i.e. antiques and furniture), an increase of 6.1 per cent over 2011, which was already a record year. Auction revenues topped US$10b for the first time ever in 2011.

What do these numbers mean for the individual collector and how difficult is it to tap into this unusual asset class without much prior knowledge? Michael Sellinger is an art consultant at Cottelston and serves on the boards of the Art Fund Association and the Columbia Alumni Arts League. He advises new collectors to allow themselves time to enjoy the process. “Collecting art is a life-long learning pursuit.

One should read and see as much as possible to train one’s eye.

Ask questions not only about works you like, but also works you find difficult. Sometimes one learns more trying to understand why they don’t like something.” Evan Tawil, principal of 9 Muses Fund Management and also on the board of The Art Fund Association, recommends focusing on the ten ‘rich boys’, the most important artists in one period, then learn about them and pick from the lot. “You are not going to discover the next Jasper Johns on your own,” he says. “The tastemakers have already spoken.”

For Dr Kathy Battista, Director, Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York, collecting art is a full time preoccupation. She says: “I personally collect only for pleasure.

Art has been outperforming many other types of investments; this one can collect for financial gain. But the true collector doesn’t get de-access—collecting is a symptom, an obsessive pathology that gets under one’s skin.

“The first piece I ever purchased was a Dan Graham photographic multiple fromJacqueline, who ran the book shop at Camden Arts Centre in London. It is my prized possession. I bought it because I was working with Dan and wanted to have something by this iconic thinker and maker.We became close friends and I cherish this piece. Most of the pieces in my modest collection are personal, intimate works where I know the artists. But every few months I buy something from an emerging artist because I get so excited.”

For experienced collectors, Sellinger assists by finding works that build their collection. With thousands of galleries around the world and an art fair almost every week, there is a lot of information to filter.

The Post-War and Contemporary Art segment has been the dominant auction segment in 2012, reaching its highest recorded level, just under €4.5b according to the TEFAF Global Art Market report. This trend is in part driven by the scarcity of good Impressionist and Modern artworks. But it also reflects the dramatic increase in prices notably for Abstract Expressionism, with each of its iconic artists, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Barnett Newman, breaking records at auctions. Sustained prices for Pop Art, especially by Warhol and Lichtenstein, and such contemporary artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Gerhard Richter, also resulted in the dominance of Post-War and Contemporary Art. For Sellinger, great art taps into the Zeitgeist, or spirit of the time. “It is new, refreshing and builds on the conversation. It should inspire and provide insights. It should grab and pull you out of your thoughts. At the end of the day, you have to live with what you collect so it should reflect what tickles your intellect.” Battista has her art collection spread across her office, her New York apartment and her beach house in Connecticut. “I have to see art around me wherever I spend a significant amount of time or I feel depressed. My office is the worst—it is brimming with artworks to be framed, new to the collection, or sent to me by friends. At the homes I hang everything or put them in storage.It’s a continual process. Once I get one of the homes hung, then I start to change it. Generally it changes over time and things rotate. It’s a constant state of entropy!”

To find out more about contemporary art, the websites of all major art museums are a great source of information, as well as sites like ArtInfo.com, ArtNet.com, ArtSpace.com, Artsy.net and Paddle8.com.

The next big thing

As a heads up, Evan Tawil reveals who deserves a closer look: “People are talking about Tauba Auerbach, Ned Vena, Hayv Kahraman, Alex Olson, Ali Banisadr and, of course, many others. Some major bluechip artists who have aspects of their marketsyet to mature are Warhol, Basquiat, Ruscha, Mitchell, Bourgeois, Judd, Twombly, Kusama, Chamberlain, Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Fontana and many more.”


Featured images:

Fravashi(2013) Oil on Linen, 96×180 inches (Triptych) by AliBanisadr, recently displayed at the Venice Biennale.

Fallen Angel (1981) and Red Kings(1981), by Jean-Michel Basquiat; one of the mostinfluential artists of his generation.