The Market for Fine Art Investing

An article published in Russia Today on November 3rd states, “The turmoil on world markets, from shares to foreign exchange, raises the question of hedging risks and finding new investment opportunities. Paintings, coins and other kinds of art are an increasingly attractive option.”

In an article by the Associated Press published on November 5, Ian Peck, the CEO of the Art Capital Group is quoted as saying, “Last night firmly demonstrated the concept of a recession in the art market is not abstract but real.”

What is the state of the art market? How can we expect it to behave in the coming months? The media is putting forth a lot of conflicting information. Looking at the numbers and at statements from the big auction houses, however, it’s possible to get a better idea of what is to come.

At Sotheby’s recent auction of Impressionist and Modern Art on November 3, Degas’ “Dancer in Repose” fell short of its $40 million estimate. At first glance, this seems to fit into the idea of an art market recession. “Dancer in Repose,” however, sold for over $37 million, an all-time high for Degas, and at the same auction a record was set for Munch. Overall the sale fell short of its estimate, and yet, it made a total of $223.8 million. This sale, which, “demonstrated the concept of a recession in the art market,” was the fifth-highest grossing Impressionist and Modern sale in Sotheby’s history.

If the market is in a recession, it’s not exactly frightening. The market has seen similar slow periods in the past and recovered. Russia Today’s article on art investment quoted the Chairman of Christie’s, Brett Gorvy, giving his take on the “recession” :

“People do see art as a tangible asset – something which they can put their money in, in bad times. After September 2001 the art market also was hit by a lack of confidence, but also a little concern as to where it was going. It came back almost immediately and became even stronger.”

The art market has remained remarkably stable during the economic crises of the past. Why shouldn’t it now? There is simply less chance involved in the art market. Though on some level it’s debatable whether or not art loses its inherent value, in a literal sense art does not suddenly go bankrupt. The value of art is more lasting than the value of other commodities, and in a time when our faith in the economy is shaken, it makes perfect sense that we invest in art, which cannot outlive its essential importance to the world.

P.S. (Editor’s Note): As Brett Gorvy said, (above) the art market slows not just due to a lack of confidence in the stability of the market, but because of concerns about the “direction” of the market. What concerns me about the direction of the art market, what I believe is its great weakness, is the inflated prices of a number of contemporary painters’ work. Just yesterday, a triptych of Francis Bacon self portraits failed to sell at a Sotheby’s auction.

“Bacon’s 1964 “Study for Self Portrait” — billed as a highlight of Christie’s contemporary art auction — was estimated to take in some 40 million dollars.

But when the bidding stopped at 27.4 million the esteemed auction house halted the proceedings, to a chorus of gasps.” – AFP

This past February, a different Francis Bacon triptych sold for 51.7 million dollars, the record for any post-war painting ever sold in Europe. Perhaps this recession will spark a re-evaluation of work whose monetary value no longer corresponds to buyers’ perceptions of its artistic and historical value.