Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Advice for Would-Be Art Buyers

Sunday the New York Times published a lengthy, in-depth critique of the unregulated art market in a piece by Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn titled As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market’s Oversight. The writers detail some of the shenanigans that art auction houses pull to make sure sellers get the prices they want.

The Big Apple art scene is an eight billion dollar business, so it's a bit more than a flea market. Nevertheless, the Huffington Post's response to the story was that for most Americans this kind of news is a big yawn. As chief financial writer Mark Gongloff puts it...

It's a story involving bubbly prices, lax regulation and shady market practices.  this sounds like a recipe for the next financial crisis, then you are right. It does sound like that. But it's probably not.... It turns out that your local Sotheby's is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, where the wealthy are bilked out of their cash by shady art dealers. Sometimes auctioneers just stone-cold make up bids until prices get closer to where the seller wants them. Galleries refuse to share their prices. Wealthy people may end up paying millions more for a piece of art than necessary. Naturally, if you're like me, when you read a story like this, you feel... um... not much?

The Times' influence is such that other publications weighed in as well in response to the Pogrebin/Flynn story. Kathryn Tully, writing for Forbes, used the piece to re-affirm some of her own views about art as an investment in a piece titled How Much For This Art?

As I’ve argued before, the opaque nature of the art market and the lack of price transparency are two reasons why art cannot be treated like other investments and certainly why it is not interchangeable with other commodities, even those with which it is commonly lumped together, like gold or silver.

Well, for most folks, making decisions like whether to buy the five million dollar Picasso or twenty million dollar Picasso is somewhat irrelevant. I'm fairly certain that offering advice on that decision would be meaningless for most readers here, but a few tips on how to purchase art wouldn't be a bad thing. At this point I am going to share this one.

Someone recently told me a story about how her mother was in Seattle or Portland many years ago and she saw a painting at an art show that she really loved. She wanted to buy it, but hesitated and ultimately left it behind. To her dismay she never stopped thinking about that transaction that failed to occur. Thirty years have passed and her mom still regrets that she never bought that painting.

My advice for the average person is this: don't buy it for the value you believe might accrue over time. Buy it because you love it. When you see it you take pleasure in it. When you share it, you take pleasure in it. When you see it tomorrow, you enjoy it.

I've often repeated this sentiment at art events I've been to: "You can enjoy this piece for a few minutes here or you can take it home and enjoy it for the rest of your life."

Yesterday I sold a painting to a happy buyer. The transaction was fun for both of us. I love knowing that a piece I've created is being appreciated and will have a new home. It is way more fun than trying to find more storage space in the garage.

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