Investing in art
Type the words "art fraud" into an Internet
search engine, and be prepared for the time it would take to look
up the results: all 23,300 of them. Turns out the world of art,
or at least the business of art, is a drama full of villains and
heroes. With so many players (dealers, consultants, agents, forgers,
insurance companies, lawyers, artists and art-lovers), you really
need a program to follow what's happening on stage.
So, if you've inherited a painting from grandma, bought
what you think is a valuable print at a garage sale or just want
to start putting some of your hard-earned cash into art investments,
how do you avoid the pitfalls and end up with something of value?
Visit galleries, meet curators
"People think that investing in the art market is safer than
the stock market," says Miriam Schiell, Toronto gallery owner
and a board member of the Art Dealers Association of Canada. "But
I can't emphasize enough the highly speculative nature of it. The
joke is that the art market is the Wild West with fewer rules and
It pays to educate yourself, says Schiell. Visit galleries,
talk to the curators and dealers, get to know what you like and
who you can trust. For younger people, she says, haunt the little
galleries off the beaten track. "Buy from your generation,"
she advises, and avoid the ABCs -- paintings selected to fit above
Art dealer and Toronto gallery owner Leo Kamen, who
specializes in contemporary Canadian art, says you should "choose
the tougher piece over something more comfortable, so it doesn't
just become part of the wall after three months. And for God's sake,
don't let your interior decorator pick your art."
It's not snobbery that's behind this advice. If you
buy from emerging artists with no proven track record in what's
called the secondary market (i.e., where someone other than you
has been willing to shell out the big bucks), you can't predict
with certainty a work's future dollar value. So at the very least,
spend your money on something with intrinsic value that you will
enjoy for its own sake.
Still, when approaching the art world, there is a
snob factor, and if you're going to become a knowledgeable collector
or investor (and yes, there is a difference, best defined as the
distinction between marrying for love and marrying for money), you
have to get up close and personal.
Getting an appraisal
"It is true that people fear the art world as elitist, snobby,
full of a certain mystique," says Suzanne Davis, president
of Christie's Canada, an international fine art auction house. "But
today, people are more knowledgeable on all sides, and so-called
experts are far more approachable."
Auction houses, and there are several major ones (Christie's,
Sotheby's, Joyner Waddingtons, Ritchie's and Heffels), can provide
you with an appraisal of worth after assessing both the work and
its authenticity, and a marketplace for both buying and selling.
In dealing with the art market, Davis says you need to realize there
really is no such thing.