Appropriation art: concept or theft?

Every few years, appropriation art “bad-boy” Richard Prince releases a new body of work that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes an original artistic concept and what constitutes theft of ideas. Every time, the controversial works prompt a discussion as to what legally defines appropriation art, and what ethically defines it on a cultural level.

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At its most basic, appropriation artists take another artist’s creative product and transform it into a new piece. As opposed to referencing works cited or quoted in a written work, appropriation artists are typically in no way required to make reference to the original piece’s context or artist.

Legally, appropriation of a creative work must meet several requirements, which often depend on local laws. First of all, the transformation element is essential. In the U.S., if the new work transforms the original piece, it falls under “fair use.” This means that the original work is used to create a new work, therefore, the appropriation artist is protected from prosecution. Essentially the piece has been re-contextualized to hold new meaning.

Often, this is accomplished by adding something to or changing the original artwork’s presentation. In Prince’s notorious “Canal Zone” series of 2008, the artist took photographer Patrick Cariou’s published photos, blew them up to large-scale, and added additional painted and collaged elements on top of the photos. Cariou sued, claiming that his original works were being used for pieces that were being sold for millions of dollars, but the court found that Prince’s work met the requirements for fair use.

While Prince has been pushing the envelope when it comes to appropriation since the 1970s, many famous artists have used the technique in their works – some even finding themselves faced with lawsuits, like Prince. Barbara Krueger, whose large-scale text works often use collage images for the background, won a 2000 case filed against her by a photographer, and Jeff Koons was victorious in a 2005 case brought against him, also by a photographer.

In fact, appropriation goes back even further into art history. In the early parts of the 20th century, Marcel Duchamp made waves in the art world with his readymade objects. In his works, Duchamp would use objects like bicycle wheels and shovels, and present them as artistic concepts, essentially transforming them by presenting them in a new context, and signing them as he would a traditional painting or object.

His contemporaries working in cubism like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque also experimented with collaging existing items into a work – without necessarily even altering the original objects. Surrealist and Dada artists continued this experimenting with using appropriated objects in different media.

By the mid-20th century, artists like Robert Rauschenberg used silkscreens of texts and images in collage and paintings in addition to repurposing objects like beds for installations that predicted the trend that would re-emerge in the 1990s. In the 1970s and 80s, artists like Elaine Sturtevant recreated original artworks like Andy Warhol’s Flowers (1965) by hand painting them.

While the legal definitions of appropriation offer some guidelines, there is still a split in the art world as to whether appropriation art is ethically acceptable. For example, Prince’s most recent series of others’ Instagram photos on large format canvases incensed many who were featured in his works in addition to a number of art critics, because he didn’t ask for permission to use their images while selling his versions for six-figure sums. On the other hand, Sturtevant’s work was celebrated in a 2014 career retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

It’s likely that whether appropriation is acceptable or not will be debated for years to come as technology allows for even more ways to access and manipulate others’ creative products. That being said, these works tend to do just fine in the global art market, and many are highly sought after by collectors in some ways because of their controversial nature.

By Rachel Cohen, LCAT, ATR-BC

Pictured above (frame excluded):
Apple and Bag #1 by Glenn Leung

Collecting in the postmodern context

As contemporary art forms challenge traditional methods of productions, collectors are faced with how to purchase and display hard-to-show-artwork. Performance art, video art, and large-scale installations are at the center of the discussion on the topic, as all three formats are often well-represented in today’s galleries, institutional shows and even at art fairs. Many collectors are interested in acquiring these pieces, but how do you hang a performance on the wall?

Performance Art

Traditionally, performance art has been sold and archived through photography and video. Marina Abramovic may be best-known for her feats of endurance and personal expression, but it is the photographs of her performances that sell in the marketplace. Now, artists like Tino Sehgal have revolutionized the way performances can be commoditized by selling instructions to how the pieces need to be performed. Granted, not everyone can hire someone to continuously perform a piece on loop in their living room, so there is always the question of what the purpose of acquiring such work is. Instead of buying an object, the purchaser instead owns the rights to the piece’s concept. The benefit? A number of exciting artists are producing work in this medium, and as museums are becoming more interested in exhibiting and acquiring performance pieces, many find this to be a solid investment.

Video Art

Video art is a bit easier to collect than performance art since a purchaser is getting a piece of work more tangible than a concept. That being said, the logistics of displaying video art are a bit more complicated than hanging a painting. Typically, collectors will receive the video in a playable format – once tapes, then DVDs, now often digitally – which can then be displayed on a device of their choosing. Some dealers who specialize in new media provide video work to collectors on limited-edition flash drives, which sometimes are a work of art themselves.

Installation Art

Installation art again gives purchasers a tangible object to acquire, but displaying and storing the work is a challenge. Because of their size and display requirements, large-scale and site-specific installations are often collected by institutions with the resources to accurately recreate the original pieces. Some gallery owners embrace this, knowing that most collectors will not purchase installations, but will rather seek out smaller works by the artist, and focus instead on getting larger pieces into museum collections. However, others are creatively working with artists to break down installations into individual pieces that are then sold off to collectors. This practice is a bit controversial, as critics believe it weakens the intention of the original piece.

Artists like Sol LeWitt creatively solved the issue of selling ephemeral installations like wall paintings by creating instructional guidelines for reproducing each work, which constituted the collector’s “art object.” Similar to purchasing performance art, the collector owns the rights to the work and is the only person who can recreate it authentically.

It remains to be seen what new boundaries will be pushed in contemporary art, and collectors will likely find themselves faced with new challenges in displaying purchased work. That being said, the difficulty of showing a piece of work shouldn’t be a discouragement from acquiring it; there are new ways of sharing art thanks to technological advances, and many dealers are finding new ways to assist collectors with their new pieces.

By Rachel Cohen, LCAT, ATR-BC

Framing the masters: Behind the scenes of frame restoration and curation

It is early morning in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. In a few hours, the corridors of this national gallery will be filled with thousands of visitors who flock daily to witness the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh, among others. But, for now, the museum is empty, but for two people who carefully lift a painting — ‘Landscape with Rocks and a Waterfall’ by Gustav Courbet, 1872 — down from the wall.

They work quietly and carefully. It is not a sinister scene, but more of a Cinderella story. It is Hubert Baija, senior conservator of frames and gilding at the museum, and an intern from the University of Amsterdam. They have come to see whether a frame in their possession fits the painting.

“We suspected it was the painting’s original frame,” Baija says. “And not only did it fit, but we also saw that a strip of paint on the inside of the frame matched an old damage on the painting. So we knew the painting had been framed in this very frame before it was fully dry.”

Baija, 61, is tall and angular, calm in demeanor and very softly spoken, but the gleam in his blue eyes as he recounts this incident reveals what a thrilling discovery it was. “It was very exciting,” he says.

Getting the frame right, according to Baija, is an essential part of experiencing a painting authentically. “A frame can tell you many things about a painting,” he says. “Among them, when it was created, where and for what purpose.”

Appreciation for frames is relatively recent in the art world. “There was a period up until about 50 years ago when the frame was simply what the painting came in,” Baija says. “But now the frames are art pieces in their own right, and acquiring a new frame is just as exciting as acquiring a new painting, and all the better if you can reunite a frame with its original painting.”

His work demands that he be part art historian, part scientist, part artist, part matchmaker. “With framing, we try always to display paintings in their original frame,” he explains. “And we have many paintings in the museum that we know are together with their original frame.”

With works from the Middle Ages, Baija explains, it’s more likely to find an original frame with its painting. It’s in the later periods—starting in the 17th century—that it becomes more problematic. “Until then, paintings were mostly religious works, and would not trade owners and be reframed,” he says.

Changing owners and framing styles make it far more challenging to find paintings in their original frames. “When we can’t, we try to find a frame from the same period and geographical location as the painting,” Baija says. “If we can’t do that, sometimes we commission a new frame to be made.”

Baija came to be passionate about art and frames in particular in a rather indirect manner. “I wanted to be a geologist from a young age,” he says. “I was fascinated by dinosaurs. I spent hours preparing fossils, labeling and naming them. And in fact a lot of that work actually trained me for my current profession.”

He is a lecturer, author and speaker of six languages, and studied chemistry and physics before beginning a successful career as a painter and illustrator. “In the end,” he says, “art won.” For 25 years, he has worked with restoration projects at Holland’s national museum, including consulting with curators specifically about frames.

Some of his work can be done with the naked eye, if you know what to look for. For example, two paintings by Cornelis Engebrechtsz hang side by side in the Rijksmuseum: to the right, ‘Christ’s Second Visit to the House of Mary and Martha’ (c. 1520) is still in its original frame; to the left, ‘Christ Taking Leave of His Mother,’ is not.

“You can see this because the painting on the right no longer exactly fits,” Baija says, indicating that the painted wooden panel is now slightly narrower than the frame due to shrinkage over time. “The other painting fits perfectly, so we know it’s a newer frame.”

Other times, he says, initial appearances are deceiving, as is the case with Lucas van Leyden’s triptych, ‘Worship of the Golden Calf’ (c. 1530). The frame is made of oak and covered in black ebony. Its condition is perfect.

“At first everyone thought this must not be an original frame,” Baija says. “But we had dendrochronology [dating an object by using the characteristic patterns of annual growth rings in timber] performed on the wood and indeed the tree was felled as little as seventy years after the painting. This meant that we have a very valuable early reframing of Van Leyden’s work.”

Such realizations are very satisfying, he says. “It’s a mystery to solve, and it is really a great feeling to make this kind of discovery.”

The Ateliergebouw—the conservation lab of the Rijksmuseum—is where Baija spends most of his time. From the outside, the building—which faces the museum—is unassuming, but inside is a vast, six-level space with two towers. It is filled with lab equipment, studios and workshops, and underground storage areas with a passageway to the Rijksmuseum across the street.

After passing through strict security—you can only visit the Ateliergebouw by appointment—you enter into a clinically bright, quiet corridor that is like a medical facility for art. It’s hospital white and temperature controlled, with labs full of surgical microscopes and lamps. In the paper restoration area is a small incubator that would not be out of place in a premature baby ward.

The silence is one of reverence and concentration, but is occasionally broken by an excited whisper or friendly hallway encounter. Baija is truly in his element. “We have fascinating conversations in the personnel restaurant,” he says. “Everyone is working on something interesting, and making new discoveries. We are a close group.”

There is high-tech equipment for pigment analysis and imaging solutions, including a digital microscope that can produce 3D images, much like Google maps, of the topography of an object. “So you see,” Baija says, “how my early interest in geology fits in.”

What can be revealed through this relatively new technology has had a major impact on restoration knowledge. “It is really amazing,” Baija says. “We can make an X-ray based analysis at an exact point of an artwork, and see what elements it contains. In combination with other information we can deduce which materials the artist used.”

And like a forensics scientist, Baija has used technology to make new discoveries about gilding practices of hundreds of years ago. “There was an early period of Auricular framing in the Netherlands where the work wasn’t very durable,” he says. “In the same period in France you saw very delicate carving work and sophisticated gilding and texturing that held up very well over time—and in the Netherlands you couldn’t see the carving in such detail because the deteriorated frames were so often regilded.”

This, he uncovered, was because early Dutch Auricular frames were gilded using only glue as a primer, no chalk, and eventually the glue would crack and break off. It is a finding that may be hard for someone not sharing Baija’s passion for frames and art history to fully appreciate, but for Baija and his peers it is groundbreaking, and one of the reasons Baija is the most respected framing expert in Europe.

Outside of work, Baija acknowledges that sometimes it’s hard for him to give a lay explanation when someone asks him at, say, a dinner party what he does for a living, and he must fight the urge to get too technical. “Indeed,” he says. “That can happen.”

There are special labs for every walk of art—paintings, metal, glass, furniture, textiles—in which scientists in lab coats labor delicately and scrupulously. It offers a visitor a rare view of fine art, one that Baija delights in. “It is wonderful to see a tapestry from the back,” he says. “The fronts have all faded, but the backs are so colourful.”

Still the function of art restoration is not to make everything look brand new again, and like the doctors they emulate, restorers must pledge to “do no harm.” Baija says they cannot “make things back to how they originally were, because we can’t really know for sure. You can get very romantic ideas, but we do not do anything unless we are certain that we are restoring and not editing.”

Meticulous records are kept of any kind of work or treatment given to frames in the Rijksmuseum collection. “We work very diligently to record everything that we do, everything that we touch, so that people who come after us have a clear record.”

Sometimes too much historical accuracy is the wrong approach, he says. “Frames that have been gilded to look as they would have in the time the paintings were made now look too shiny, too new—the frame and the painting should look the same age.”

Other times, the choice of frame can add to the essence of a painting, even if the period is not technically correct. Such is the case, according to Baija, with ‘Willem I, Prince of Orange, also called Willem the Silent’ by Adriaen Thomasz Key, 1579. Although physically the antique frame is probably a pastiche, combining elements from different centuries, Baija thinks it is a fitting match psychologically. “He has such a tight expression, and the frame has these sorts of bolts on it, keeping the viewer at even more of a distance. It works very well.”

Baija is an encyclopedia of frame history, but his relationship to the frames is also quite personal. As a restorer, he has had the opportunity to work on many pieces, including restoring a gilded section of ‘Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata,’ Lorenzo Monaco, c. 1420. Baija is pleased with his work, but deeply privileged by the opportunity. “To do something like that,” he says, “is really amazing. Truly wonderful.”

And he finds wonder in far more subtle contributions. While dusting “The Massacre of the Innocents,” [Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, 1590] one morning,” he says, “I saw the tiny handprint of a child on the bottom rail of the frame. And that is something really poetic.”

For twenty-five years, Baija has been a protector of the Rijksmuseum’s rich collection, and it’s work he takes very seriously. Concern for art—for preserving these historical expressions of humanity—is inherent in mankind, he says. “Even at the onset of World War II, fine art was a priority—the Rembrandts were all rolled up and hidden away in 1939.”

The strict security measures in the Ateliergebouw and the rigid research and careful labour of restorers like Baija speak to the collection’s worth. “The value of what we have here is far greater than money. You cannot say, for example, ‘Okay, I guess we will have to buy another Milk Maid by Vermeer.’ No. We have to take care of it.”

By Tracy Brown Hamilton

Tracy Brown Hamilton is a freelance journalist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Salon, The Irish Times and Time Out Amsterdam, among other publications.

Alternative markets: An introduction to art brut and self-taught art

These days, it seems everyone is talking about the art market, as celebrities try their hands as curators and even past political figures put paint to canvas. From the staggering auction prices to the ongoing social to-dos of the art fair, the art market has created a verifiable social subset and cultural scene.

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However, as prices continue to soar, more and more people are looking to alternative art markets to acquire original art from notable artists at prices that are more attainable (a relative term if ever there was one). Some markets focus specifically on one medium, such as prints and reproductions, while others, like the art brut or outsider art market, are defined by the context in which the works are created.

Art brut, or outsider art as it was presented to the American market in Roger Cardinal’s seminal 1972 work, has long been celebrated in Europe, but has become much more popular in recent years in Asia and North America as an emerging market, both as a subset of contemporary and modern art and as a category within itself. It is typically defined as the artwork of individual creators who are removed from mainstream society and traditional art influences, such as individuals with mental illness or those who are imprisoned.

Folk art, while often being grouped under the outsider umbrella, has a bit more of a history as an established market. Different regions around the world have tangible objects that represent a socio-cultural history, whether they are sold to tourists as trinkets or collected in major museums. However, scholars in both folk art and art brut are quick to distinguish what actually differentiates the two on a technical level; folk art is intrinsically tied to an audience and the inherited processes of a community, whereas the outsider artist is celebrated for his or her individual process of creation, unique to his or her idiosyncrasies.

While certain examples of regional folk art have been demoted to kitsch, there has been a move in the last century to incorporate this artwork under a fine art umbrella. Starting in the early 20th century, modern artists looked to “primitive” forms of artwork found in regions considered “tribal,” but the surrealists were really the first major group of art historical figures to champion art brut.

In some ways, surrealism is known for its distortions and otherworldly representation, but the surrealists were actively looking to represent an inner man, and turned to psychoanalysis and psychiatry as fields for inspiration. While not associated with surrealism, Jean Dubuffet was a contemporary and friend to many of the most notable artists of the time, and it was through them that he became aware of art being created in psychiatric institutions.

For the rest of his life and career, Dubuffet devoted his efforts to collecting and promoting artists living in institutions from all over Europe, and he established the Collection de l’Art Brut, which is currently located in Laussane, Switzerland, and remains the preeminent resource for art brut.

It makes sense then, that in some markets, the work of patients or eccentrics that inspired modern and surreal artists is now being featured alongside those works both in exhibitions and in auction houses. As prices continue to rise for modern masters, there is a definite move toward finding alternatives for both investment purposes and to acquire original work. Auction houses around the world, from Christie’s in New York to Tajan in Paris, now feature some of the best examples of art brut, both in dedicated sales and in larger regional or modern sales. This work continues to hold appeal both for its raw nature and for its expression of unfettered creativity.

By Rachel Cohen, LCAT, ATR-BC

Pictured above (frame excluded):
A Little Glitter Never Hurt by Whitney Trisler Causey

The changing role of galleries in the current global art market

For as long as people have been collecting art, there have been galleries and dealers deciding the tastes of the day, ready to cater to full wallets and empty walls.

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Both emerging and established artists often rely on galleries to expose their work to collectors – for a fee, of course – with industry standards ranging from 30 to 50 percent. Yet, as the global audience for art grows, and prices soar, both artists and collectors look to new platforms to connect with each other as galleries find new ways to stay relevant.

The Internet has obviously played a major role in this change, as now people from across the globe can share ideas and products via the click of a button. Major online retailers, such as Amazon ( and eBay (, have launched platforms for art sales in the last several years. Many art world industry insiders are responsible for backing Artsy (, a website that provides art world content, artist-specific information and a sales platform for existing galleries who want an online presence. Artist-focused sales websites, such as Saatchi Art (, allow artists to upload their work and set their prices with the hopes of catching the eye of a collector or curator. While this accessibility provides new opportunities for artists and consumers around the world, many professionals lament that despite developments in technology, it is still nearly impossible to recreate the experience of a work’s scope, color, and technique on a monitor; we engage with a piece of art differently when we are standing in front of it. Furthermore, while online sales sites typically target new collectors – those who may be intimidated to approach a gallery or those restricted by location – they may lack the ability for personalized knowledge and expertise that a dealer can use to help a collector develop a personal taste. Curated online and print magazines (including ArtAscent offer an alternative to both online gallery sales and artist-direct sites, in that they typically hold an open call and have a judge or panel select works to be featured – ensuring a curated selection – while referring potential collectors directly to the artist to deal with sales, minimizing commission splits and fees.

Art fairs now take place year-round and around the world, and have solved this problem of accessibility and viewing experience for many collectors and dealers. Established galleries apply – and pay heftily – to participate in prestigious events held in major cities (London, New York, Hong Kong and Dubai, to name a few), which allows them a physical presence for a week in a variety of locations. In recent years “affordable” (for the collector and dealer) versions of art fairs have cropped up, both as satellites for the major fairs and as regional or media specific, presenting lower-budget collectors the opportunity to purchase original art. This combined with the immediate nature of technology means collectors are able to physically engage with a work before purchase, and dealers can maintain relationships via the immediacy of technology. These fairs are all open to the public, so for the price of an admission ticket, collectors and art lovers can experience hundreds of works from around the world with the ability to engage dealers in more informal and neutral settings.

Real estate values continue to rise in major cities, and so the future of galleries as actual brick-and-mortar spaces remains to be seen. However, enterprising dealers are finding new ways to connect with a growing audience of collectors utilizing the Internet and international art fairs as a way to maintain an active, global presence, and collectors have more resources than ever to engage with work in any context they desire. With art prices continuing to rise, there is little doubt that art and its surrounding industries will continue to evolve as the audience grows.

By Rachel Cohen, LCAT, ATR-BC

Pictured above:
Eagle-Pawn Trap (frames excluded) by Ilie Vaduva

Quality and investing in art

The more you travel, the more you visit commercial and public galleries and gain greater exposure to the world of contemporary art, which leads to more reliable judgement of quality. Looking at a large quantity of fine art is a necessity for the astute collector as an investor.

When you are ready to acquire a work of contemporary art, making a final decision is often a challenge. First, you have to like what you choose to buy. Even though you have exercised your eye by examining many contemporary art works, you may want to assure yourself that your choice is a work of high quality and thus likely to continue to appeal to you over time and, in the best of all possible worlds, increase in value significantly.

It is no secret that great works of art command the highest prices at auction today and will likely do so tomorrow. At the top end of the art market, a great work can be had for a large – sometimes unbelievably large – sum and, overtime, it will deliver abundant capital gains. It seems to be almost a no-brainer to buy a work by an art star such as Damien Hirst, Peter Doig, Gerhard Richter or Jeff Koons and be guaranteed serious capital gains over the next few years. This is, of course, not absolutely true. Some of the works by these artists will appreciate more than others. In the more earthly end of the art market this also holds true. Some pieces by emerging and established artists will appreciate in value more than others they have created. Your goal as an art investor is to determine which ones these are.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for evaluating whether a work is great or will be seen as great in the future. Just because there may be diverging opinions on quality in art does not mean that there is a complete absence of criteria for establishing quality. Because you have acquired over time a trained or experienced eye in looking at contemporary art, you should, to some extent, trust your own judgement. When one advises a knowledgeable collector, “buy what you like,” this trust is implied.

Almost invariably, a collector will be attracted by a work that has impact or strength. It will be unusually powerful. This is what causes it to stand out. It will stack up with the rest of an artist’s work as the strongest and – in comparison with all the other contemporary art one has seen – it will shine as among the best. Before one can conclude that a work is among an artist’s best, it is necessary to determine the goal that the artist has set for himself or herself. The best or strongest of an artist’s works will be the ones that achieve these goals.

Strength in art is not necessarily connected with strong colours, bold drawing or bravado in composition. Some of the strongest works of art are subtle. It may take time to appreciate their strength or superiority. If there is a possibility that this is the case, a collector will take a work home on approval, look at it over time, compare it with other works in their collection and test it in various places in the home or office. If the work of art looks better over time, if its impact increases, it is undoubtedly a strong work of art. If over time it vanishes from one’s consciousness or loses attraction to the eye, then it is a work of lesser quality. It must be accepted that all of the works created by great artists are not of the same quality. Some works achieve the artist’s goals and others don’t. Some have visual impact and some don’t. Your mission as an investor in art is to buy only the strongest of artworks for those are the ones that will enjoy the greatest appreciation in both the aesthetic and monetary spheres.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

The benefits of travel for an art investor

One of the greatest pleasures of art collecting is that it benefits immeasurably from travel. A trip to nearby cities, a tour of rural studios or a major overseas expedition all contribute to your knowledge as a collector. The more you look at fine art, the greater the likelihood of earning a substantial return on your investment.

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Among the most efficient art expeditions a collector can make is to visit to an international contemporary art fair. Many of these are held around the world in places such as Toronto, Abu Dhabi, Chicago, London, São Paulo, Miami and Zurich.

Nearly every major city with a lively visual arts scene has one. The novice collector could include in a travel itinerary an Affordable Art Fair. They are recent, worldwide phenomena that have arisen in Mexico City, Singapore, Brussels, Stockholm, Bristol and several other cities. A full list is available at Attending an art fair permits a collector to inspect a vast array of fine art in one place, talk to a virtually limitless number of gallerists and consider the commerce in art generally and in detail.

If your travel plans don’t correspond to the dates of an art fair, you can effortlessly visit galleries dealing in contemporary art. In most major cities, these are clustered together, so if you find one, you are likely near many. A free, commercial art gallery guide is invariably available in tourism offices and in commercial galleries. A day visiting commercial, contemporary art galleries in cities, such as Rome, Paris, London, New York, Taipei or Buenos Aires will be very rewarding even if you do not acquire a work of art. If a piece strikes you strongly, as a cautious investor, you will probably not buy a work on first sight. You will take time to think about it for a day or more.

While pondering your potential purchase, you will find it helpful to visit a local non-commercial gallery or museum of contemporary art. There you will be able to get an idea of how the work you are thinking of acquiring stacks up against those chosen by a curator for a particular show or installation. Many urban museums and galleries now have an information centre in which you can peruse publications, videos and websites on the artist you are considering. If you need help, be sure to ask. Don’t be shy, because your money is going to be on the line and you want to do everything you can do to ensure that you are making a good investment.

If you go ahead and buy a work abroad, you should be aware that, in most cases, the largest future market for the work will be a local one. When you are ready to divest yourself of the work and presumably reap good capital gains, you will most probably have to send it to a distant auction house. This problem is diminishing in importance with the growth of a truly global art market through increased travel and marketing of contemporary art on the web.

The benefits of travel for an art collector cannot be overstated. Commercial and non-commercial premier galleries of cutting-edge contemporary art are essential components of an art investor’s education. Include as many of these as possible in your travel itinerary, or make visiting them the sole purpose of your travel. What you learn at, for example, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Saatchi in London, the MAXXI in Rome, Mass MoCA in North Adams, or the New Museum in New York and MOCA in Los Angeles, will contribute substantially to your skills as an investor in art just as will a jaunt to a city or a drive in the countryside on a studio or gallery tour. Travel is important whether it be a modest exploration close by or a more ambitious expedition abroad.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

Vegetarian Nude (frame excluded) by Jim Baab

Knowledge of art and risk reduction in investing

Like all investing opportunities, art collecting will produce increasing financial return, if you systematically expand your knowledge. Here are some helpful steps to keep in mind.

Art by Stuart Meyer-Plath

The first rule in acquiring a work of art is to buy what you like. This is important, but it must be kept in mind that what you like will depend on knowledge and familiarity with a wide range of works of art. For example, if you are not fond of abstract works, this might be due to your lack of understanding of how to take in what might at first seem confusing. Your taste may change if you read about abstract art, go to lectures at a local gallery on the works of abstract artists or talk with a commercial art dealer. One thing to remember is that your tastes can and will change as you become more familiar with the world of fine art.

Acquiring knowledge about art is a two-fold process. The first step is to look, look and look some more. There is no substitute for studying art firsthand. As you visually take in more and more, you will begin to refine your skills at picking out aspects that make a picture, print, photograph or sculpture work. Inspect a series of pieces by a single artist and determine the details that indicate that they are all by the same artist. You will discover a lot on your own, and you will discover even more by talking with someone about a work of art.

The second step in acquiring knowledge about art is much broader. The more conversations you have with experts, curators, art dealers and other collectors the better. Don’t be afraid to ask about whatever comes to mind. Investing in art is not for the timid, not for the shy and not for the overly self-conscious. Everyone has to begin somewhere. As a novice, you will necessarily ask simple questions at first. Sophistication can come later. Always keep an open mind. You never know what you will discover.

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When you are not acquiring knowledge through discussion with those more knowledgeable than yourself, you should read as much as possible. You could start with the fascinating autobiographies of collectors, such as Thomas Hoving’s books on colleting for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Peggy Guggenheim’s Out of This Century, Confessions of an Art Addict. You can find any number of entertaining books on collectors and collecting. For reading more along the line of what you should know specifically as an art investor, you could dip into Ian Robertson’s book The Art Business or Ron Davis’ Art Dealer’s Field Guide: How to Profit in Art, Buying and Selling Valuable Painting. This kind of general reading will give you a good idea of the ins and outs of your chosen field of investment.

Successful investing in art is predicated on making acquisitions appropriate to your purpose. Because you want the dividends of pleasure in looking at your collection, you should try to acquire as much knowledge as you can about the works you acquire. Read as much as possible about contemporary art and contemporary artists and peruse as many magazines as possible – like this one – to familiarize yourself with work in
various media.

There is no substitute for attentive study of what is available on the art market. Talking, reading and – first and foremost – looking will ensure that you make your decisions on acquisitions for investment from an advantageous position. After all, one of the goals of investing is to reduce risk. This can only be achieved by making an effort to understand what you are investing in and the systems of commerce in art. The more you know, the less the risk.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

Pictured above (frames excluded):
Gokarna Main Street India | Rama Temple India by Stuart Meyer-Plath

Preserve your capital in art investment and get your proper dividends

The regularly delivered dividend of investing in art is its presence in your home or office. Looking at your investment as it hopefully increases in value should be a continuous pleasure.

To be assured that your investment is safe requires periodic attention. Insurance is essential. Take photographs of all your works of art, record their measurements and media, and collect in a file as much information as you can on your purchases, including invoices and printed material on the art and the artists. Put your photographs on two computer disks. Send one to your insurance agent and keep the other in a safe place. Remember to update your photograph inventory regularly so that it records everything in your collection, including recent acquisitions. Depending on the contents of your collection, you may need to modify your insurance valuations every couple of years so that your insurance coverage is adequate.

Artworks retain their value and are subject to potential increase in value only if they are preserved in excellent condition. Works on paper should be kept from direct sunlight and framed using ultraviolet filtering glass. When they are unframed, works on paper should be stored in acid-free portfolios and, ideally, in archival boxes. Most oil paintings should be properly framed to protect their edges. Works of art should be properly secured to a wall and carefully hung taking into account potential accidental encounters, most commonly with pointing fingers and less commonly with unusual, accidentally flying objects. This might sound ridiculous, but it is not unknown for oil paintings to be damaged by pets and wild interior activities.

If a work of art is damaged, it will require restoration before it is sold. This may involve a considerable expense, which will be added to the base cost of your investment. It will offset some of the gains when the piece is sold. If you do not restore your work, sell it at a discounted price. All serious collectors are intensely concerned with the condition of each work of art. The closer a piece is to what it was when it left the artist’s studio the higher its value.

To get the most of your collection – either for your own pleasure at home or for you and your client’s pleasure in an office – it is worth considering employing a consultant to assist you with installation. Many dealers and gallerists offer this service. Others will direct you to where you can hire help. An installation professional will take into account the safety of a work of art in your environment as well as arranging the display of works so that they are seen to the best advantage. Some art shines in isolation while other pieces attain their greatest impact by being viewed in relation to other works or features of interior design. However you wish to arrange your collection of art, it is imperative that it be secured in a manner appropriate to its setting. A variety of techniques are available that are suitable to deal with risks, such as earthquake and theft.

It is well worth re-hanging or re-installing your collection on a regular basis. A collection of art will appear to be entirely new and you will suddenly be able to re-evaluate the quality of a work and renew your pleasure in viewing it, if it is seen in a different context. At the end of a day either at the office or at home, you might close your eyes and ask yourself whether you really looked at your collection or a single work of art that day. If the answer is no, then perhaps it is time to re-hang the works, have them moved around or, if you have a large collection with works in storage, to replace the tired ones on the walls with fresh faces.

Your collection is an investment where the dividend is pleasure. If you are not getting this on a daily basis, you must consider doing something about it. Some collectors tire of a particular type of work or tire of a single piece. This is the time to sell. This is a no fault situation. You shouldn’t blame yourself. You didn’t make an error in acquiring a work or a whole series of works. Even the finest art can cease to elicit interest or delight. When a work or art does not deliver the dividend of enjoyment even after re-installation or a period in storage, divest yourself of it. Buy another piece that does deliver a daily dividend.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

How to minimize risk by purchasing art wisely

In bygone days it was common for investors to frame, matt and hang, as cautionary mementos, valueless stock certificates from bankrupt companies. Turning these into art-like interior adornments was a way of bravely facing up to one’s folly. For an investor in art an equivalent might be a wall of fakes and forgeries and otherwise valueless artworks. Avoiding such a wall of shame is not easy for the collector. Even the most skilled make mistakes.

Gazing into a crystal ball is not the best way to predict whether a work of contemporary art will increase in value over time. Chance plays a role in the monetary appreciation of art to be sure, but there are ways to increase the probability of capital gain in art investing. The most important of these is to acquire your work from a dealer with a good reputation. How do you evaluate this?

The business of dealing in art depends on commission sales. Like all good entrepreneurs, art dealers or gallery owners want to complete as many sales as possible. The most successful dealers assemble a stable of artists whose works they consider saleable in the specific market they have chosen. This might be local, novice art collectors, interior decorators or experienced high-end consumers.

Before buying a work of art it is advisable to consider the vendor’s business. Try to get as much information as possible about the stable of artists and their sales. Go to an opening at a commercial gallery and look for the red dots indicating that a work has been sold. Look carefully at the price list. Return to the gallery at the end of the show. Look again for the red dots. This will tell you a lot about the gallery and the market for works of individual artists. Although it is far from invariably true, it is more likely that art that finds a market today will have a market in the future.

An art dealer or gallery owner will allocate a percentage of their commissions to advertising and promotion. An indication of the success of an art dealer and what they consider to be the potential for sales of the work of a specific artist is the amount and quality of publicity and promotion allocated to an individual artist.

Buying a work of art from a dealer or gallery rather than directly from an artist has significant advantages for the collector. Such a work of art has the dealer’s stamp of approval. A dealer, if in business for a long time, will have developed an eye for quality and a nose for commercial success. The degree of a dealer’s commitment to an artist’s works is an indication of what might happen in future years with respect to the value of the work of art you buy. It is no guarantee, just an indication.

Another way to reduce the risk of investing in art is to educate yourself by regularly attending public auctions. Note what sells and what is bought in or unsold. Note what works in the catalogue have a provenance that stretches back to specific commercial galleries. Where a work of art was bought by a collector often has a significant effect on the knock down price. Again – although it is not a hard-and-fast rule – what sells today will sell in the future. What works against this rule is change in taste.

The apparent fickleness of taste is one of those pesky unknowns that confounds every investor in art. Some kinds of art or styles of art have cyclical popularity among collectors and the public. Like fashions in clothing, there are periodic revivals of earlier styles. A revival of a style, technique or medium among contemporary artists has the consequence of increasing the value of similar works created by previous generations of artists. Predicting future taste is extremely difficult; however, the rewards for collectors in getting it right can be significant.

In 1839, when photography was in its infancy, the French painter Paul Delaroche said “from today painting is dead.” Of course he was wrong. If a collector at the time stopped buying French academic painting they missed an opportunity. When mid-20th century critics, collectors and art historians – blinded by their infatuation with modernism – turned up their noses at 19th century academic art, prices for it plummeted. For those who could anticipate a change in taste, this was a great opportunity to buy. It is not unheard of for high-quality French academic paintings, which could be had for a song in the 1950s, to sell today for well over a million dollars. The current revival of taste is connected to a re-evaluation of 19th century academic art and a movement contesting the tyranny of modernism by contemporary artists.

Collectors who consult a crystal ball before making acquisitions are doing themselves a disservice. There are much more reliable ways to determine the likelihood of success in investing in art.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

Market trends and reality: two examples

Art investors sooner or later come across invariably upbeat reports on trends in the art market. Consider these carefully in light of the source of each report just as you would similar statements by analysts extolling the potential of other investment vehicles.

In general, reports on trends in the art market have limited value for the investor. It is easy to be seduced by the statement that the number of works of contemporary art sold at auction in the last decade has quadrupled. There is even better news. The prices for contemporary art have risen by 34 percent. (All statistics taken from the white paper Contemporary Art Market: The Artprice Annual Report for 2013, available at However, it is important to be aware that this figure includes major pieces by blue-chip artists, such a Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Anish Kapoor. The hammer price for a very select group of art stars has soared into the stratosphere, but this group is very small indeed.

The average annual price increase for the works of non-star and emerging artists is much less. Investors in works by emerging artists must look deeper into the art market and be skeptical of reported trends. The statistics get skewed by the stellar winning bids for works by the likes of American painter John Currin (b. 1962). In 2013, 13 of his pictures were auctioned for a total of more than nine million USD. This was a rare and quite unpredictable event in the art market, making it newsworthy.

A look at a single work by American art-star Jeff Koons (b. 1955) can be instructive for those bowled over by the market for his works. In 2013, 48 works by Koons sold for a total of more than 50 million. Of these, a few sold for several million dollars, while the others had much more modest knockdown prices.

At a sale on March 7, 2014, Koons’ ceramic Balloon Dog (Red), number 131 of an edition of 2,300, sold for $22,500. This appears to be a good return on an investment held by the collector for 18 years. If one considers the transaction in a little more detail, the return on investment is not all that it might seem at first glance. The process of calculating a return on investment is a little complicated, but it is well worth understanding how it is done.

First the sale price must be discounted by the 25 percent buyer’s premium retained by the auction house. In this case of Koons’ Balloon Dog (Red), it was 25 percent of $22,500. So from the transaction, the seller’s account was credited with $18,000. From this was deducted the auction house seller’s premium or commission of 20 percent. Thus, the seller pocketed $14,400 from the sale. In calculating the return on investment we need to know the cost base or book value of the work. This is particularly difficult as commercial galleries are notoriously tight-lipped on sale prices. It is possible that the owner of the single piece from the large edition of Koons’ Balloon Dog (Red) acquired it for something in the range of $2,000. The return on the 18-year investment ($14,400 – $2,000) may have been around 34 percent per annum. But, there is another way of looking at this. If we put $14,400 actual return from the sale into a calculator at, we find that this sum equals $9,499 in 1996 dollars. Over 18 years, the real/uninflated annual rate of return for this investment, was about 26 percent. Koons’ Balloon Dog (Red) was a very good investment no matter how it is calculated, but not as stunning as it may first appear.

Only a few lucky investors had the foresight – or available cash – a couple of decades ago to invest in a work by Jeff Koons or one of his colleagues who now happen to top the art index. It is a question of predicting future demand for the works or a particular artist.

Currently, 68 percent of contemporary works sell at auction for under $7,000. They are not the works of so-called “market leaders.” Consider a single work, chosen more or less at random, as an example – a 10-inch X 96-inch oil on canvas, Lamay Bridge, (1987) by the American artist Woody Gwyn (b. 1944). In February 2010, it sold at auction in San Francisco from the collection of a law firm, fetching $4,575. Subtracting the 25 percent buyer’s premium, the return to the seller was $3,432. Because this work was part of a large consignment by the law firm, the auction house seller’s commission was probably discounted to around 10 percent. The law firm likely received in the vicinity of $3,089 from the sale of this work that was originally acquired in 1987 from a Santa Fe gallery. The price at the time might have been about $500. The difference between the book value of the artwork and the return from its sale ($3,089 – $500) shows a $2,589 capital gain. The annual rate of return on investment was in the range of 23 percent. But, when we put the $3,089 return from the sale of the work into an inflation calculator, this sum is equivalent to $1,609 in 1987 dollars. Subtract the cost of acquiring the work originally and the uninflated gains from the purchase are $1,109, or ($1,109/22 years) $50 per annum or 10 percent.

These two examples show the differences in return on investment. If a collector with a small budget is lucky – or clever enough – to acquire a work by an emerging artist who eventually rises to the top of the market, the rewards can be substantial. This applies equally to investment in works by skilled artists who do not achieve a mega-star status. In both cases, the risk must be considered in relation to a best guess at future demand and the potential rate of return.

The good news must be tempered with an important warning. All the statistics on which art market trends are calculated are based on actual public sales. No one reports on the huge number of works that are put up for auction and fail to find a buyer. Depending on the prevailing economic conditions it is not unknown, for as many as half the works in a sale to be bought in or remain unsold.

In the art market, statistical trends are an imperfect guide at best. They are not of much use in helping an art investor determine risk. In the case of the acquisition of art for investment purposes, the eye is invariably mightier than the math. Even if capital gains are not forthcoming, a well-chosen work will delight the owner. There is no way to put a monetary value on this, so it’s not subject to the vagaries of statistical analysis.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

Buying what you like

It may be a cliché, but in the acquisition of art for purposes of investment, “buy what you like” is a good piece of advice. This statement of conventional wisdom holds true; however, only if you are confident in your taste.

The most successful collectors are constantly refining their taste. Enthusiasts of visual art do this by regularly visiting commercial and public galleries, attending gallery talks and lectures, reading art books and constantly discussing art with dealers and curators. As knowledge of art is acquired, taste is refined. As a consequence, the risk in investing in art decreases. With increasing knowledge, your confidence in your eye or your taste will develop so that you can be assured that buying what you like will be rewarded.

The daily dividends of investing in art are non-monetary. Nevertheless, they are inherently valuable. They consist of the pleasure of looking at your treasure or treasures and, from time to time, sharing this delight with others. If you haven’t bought what you like, you will not reap these dividends and, thus, you will not be getting full value from your investment.

The only monetary reward in investing in art is through capital appreciation. This, of course, is dependent on the price of acquisition and the proceeds at disposition. Capital gains in art investment are as difficult to predict as those accruing from any other investment vehicle. The goal of buying low and selling high involves risk. Your knowledge and your taste will be essential in selecting a work for acquisition. If you are buying a piece you like by an emerging artist with a low retail price, you will carefully consider the possibilities that the artist will continue working, develop in skill and that his or her work will gain in popularity in the market. In acquiring a work by an established artist who has already gained a reputation regionally, nationally or internationally, you will likely not be buying the work at a record low price. In this case, your risk will be less because the work will, in most instances, at least retain its value. Being a knowledgeable collector with a good eye will ensure that when you buy what you like, you will be confident in its investment potential and, most importantly, you will enjoy the dividends.

The taste of a disciplined and astute collector of art will naturally correspond to the taste of other collectors. The demand for the works of a particular artist or school of artists or genre of art impacts monetary value. After years of enjoying your treasured possession that was acquired because you liked it, it can be disposed of, perhaps delivering substantial capital gains, because there is a market for it among others who also like it.

There are pitfalls in buying what you like. Taste in art changes over time. The cutting-edge quality of art that once made it exciting and in demand often diminishes over time. Some genres of art fall out of fashion, and the market will reflect this. You may find it hard to part ways with a piece that you truly enjoy. Some collectors avoid this permanent parting with their art works by donating them to public museums and galleries where they, like old friends, can be visited on occasion.

The only guarantee in investing in art is the non-monetary dividend of pleasure. If you bought what you like, it should wear well over time and your dividends should increase.

Dr. Alan McNairn

Increasing the value of investment in an art collection

Every collector wants his or her carefully chosen art works to increase in value. Some seek the reward of having their pictures, sculptures, prints or photographs provide, over time, increase in the aesthetic pleasure they give. Others want to have their “good eye” confirmed by a rise in the monetary value of their investment. While it is quite possible for a collector to achieve both goals, this article deals with how to get maximum capital appreciation from an investment in art.

Collectors of art for investment purposes, whether they are corporations or individuals, have to pay the same kind attention to their acquisitions as they would to any other investment. This is can be pure pleasure. However there are certain measures, not all of them as much fun as buying what you like, that will work to increase value.

As a first principle it should be understood that a collection is more than the sum of its parts. An artwork from a good collection has added value. The best collections, those with potential for the highest return on investment, are formed by collectors who specialize in the works of a single artist, works in a specific media or style, or works created at a particular time or in a particular place or region. Excellent collections are comprised of works carefully chosen so that they complement each other and contribute to the chosen overall theme. The best way to understand the idea of a focus for a collection is to regularly attend exhibitions at galleries and museums and consider how the organizers have selected the works on display to advance a significant theory or idea.

Because a collection is not a group of unrelated works, those collections with the most potential as an investment vehicle will have a clearly defined premise and include works of the highest quality. The risk associated with capital appreciation in such a coherent collection will be spread over a number of works. This is equivalent to portfolio diversification. However, unlike stocks and bonds, the individual artworks in a collection, while they appreciate at different rates, all benefit in value by having been owned by a corporation or individual noted for excellence in art acquisition. Value is added to art through its association with respected collectors and well-known collections.

Intelligent buying is only the first step toward ensuring that your investment will grow. It is essential that accurate and complete records be kept for each purchase, including notes on why a particular work was acquired. These should indicate how the new piece fits into and enhances the strength of the collection. Documentation is important for insurance purposes, but it also immediately increases the value of the artwork. Proof of this is evident in the secondary market where, at auction houses, more detailed information in a sale catalog translates into a higher knockdown price.

It is well understood that conserving artwork is critical to preserving investment value. When a work is sold or donated, its fair market value will be partly determined by its condition. Ideally a work will be kept in exactly the same state as when it was purchased. Every collector should seek expert advice on the preservation of his or her collection.

The monetary value of art depends on how it is regarded by its audience. The more people who see a collection or pieces from it, the more likely it will increase in value. Corporate collectors understand this. Not only do they use their art to enhance their brand but they also increase the collection’s value by exhibiting it in offices and reproducing it in print and other media.

Most corporate and private collectors work to augment the value of their investment by talking regularly with dealers, other collectors and curators in exhibiting institutions. This networking has the dual goal of obtaining invaluable advice on the art market and promoting one’s own collection. The best possible result will be a request to exhibit the collection publicly or to borrow a work or several works for a show. The fact that a serious collector is organized and has comprehensive documentation of the collection will encourage exhibiting institutions to make requests for loans. Simply put, promoting a collection by whatever means necessary will increase its value.

Art collecting as an investment is the same as investing in bonds or stocks. Nothing can be guaranteed, but it is a lot more rewarding in terms of enjoying your asset. Over time, art collecting will be profitable if works of the highest quality are chosen according to well-thought-out criteria. On disposal of an entire or partial collection by sale or donation, the price realized by individual pieces will depend on their condition, how thoroughly they are documented and how often they have been exhibited publicly.

Remember, whether you make huge profits or not, art collecting is an enjoyable activity. It’s a never-ending learning process through which you will encounter a variety of interesting people and, best of all, you will be surrounded by fascinating art.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

How to determine if your art collection is appreciating in value

Everyone wants to keep an eye on their investments, ensure that their portfolio is growing and make adjustments as needed. This is as true of investment in art as it is of investment in stocks, bonds, precious metals and real estate. Keeping track of where you stand as an investor in art involves periodic reference to sales in the art market.

Because the quantity of transactions in the buying and selling of art are considerably less than those in financial instruments, pricing is less volatile. Art is a long-term investment. Nevertheless, it is advisable for the serious investor in art to keep an eye on the market. This will not only allow you to manage the insurance on your assets, but will also indicate when it is time to dispose of works that are underperforming or have reached a fair market value where they can be liquidated to your advantage.

To check the current value of your assets in art, you can refer to public sales of equivalent works at auction houses. There is no guarantee that your well-chosen sculpture by Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons or Rodin will fetch top price at auction, but you can, through study of sales, get an approximate retail price. Remember that you have to subtract the cost of disposition – an auction house seller’s fee – from this to determine the actual value of your art asset. By analyzing auction prices, you will be able to determine which of the pieces in your collection have declined in value or are not rising in value at a rate that you expect. You can take appropriate action to dispose of these works and acquire others with more potential. You can access several sources of auction sales records on the Internet. Some are free and some charge a subscription fee. For living artists, the most useful and accurate source of information on the retail price of their work is through their dealers. Try to attend all the dealer shows of artists in your collection and see how their work is stylistically evolving and consider the current prices being asked for their work.

Depending on the size of your collection, it may be worth considering having it professionally evaluated periodically. This will give you an approximate value of your assets and can be used to satisfy the needs of your insurer. The accuracy of an evaluation depends on the skill of the evaluator. Because evaluators in many jurisdictions are unlicensed, you will have to exercise care in choosing one. Ask for advice from commercial and not-for-profit galleries and weigh what you are told carefully before proceeding.

The only certain way to determine the value of a work of art in your collection is to offer to sell it to another collector or dealer or place it in an art auction. Before contracting to sell an artwork at auction, you should be given an estimate of the sale price. Be aware of the fact that this is an estimate only, and that the auction house has a vested interest in including your work in a sale. Based on this you, can choose to proceed with the sale and, if you want, protect your investment by setting a minimum bid. You can check the estimates provided by auction houses by having a look at their sales records. Compare the estimated prices with the winning bids. This often yields sobering results. In using any of these means of determining the value of an artwork by actually disposing of it, always keep in mind the complimentary adage to “buyer beware,” that is: “seller beware.”

The value of your investment in art will, in the best of all possible worlds, slowly increase. This is particularly true for the work of contemporary emerging artists where patience is necessary. Remember that only a few artists achieve such acclaim that the prices for their work rise astronomically. It is your job as a collector for investment purposes to find the new Damien Hirst, Michael Snow or Andy Warhol and acquire their works in the early stages of their careers. Even if you don’t manage this, a small increase in value over a number of pieces in your collection will be rewarding. Through infrequent evaluations, either informal ones you make yourself or ones provided by professionals, you will be able to keep an eye on the approximate value of your collection and weed it accordingly.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

Authenticity and provenance are critical

Acquiring art works for investment purposes can be much more complicated than purchasing real estate or publicly traded financial instruments. What you do before you complete a transaction with a seller, whether it be an auction house or dealer, is critical.

As a collector the first step in your due diligence is to ensure that the artist’s agent or dealer is reputable. This applies also in the case of art sold at auction. Claims of authenticity by auctioneers can vary in accuracy. High-end reputable auction houses generally have the means and expertise to ensure what they sell is described honestly. The occasional errors in attribution or identifying the creator and/or the period of a work of art, made by even the most highly respected auctioneers indicate how difficult it is to guarantee authenticity.

The news stories of errors in attribution made by very experienced experts delight those who are skeptical of expertise but they should also serve as a warning to all. It is a rare occurrence when, for example, a work sold at auction as a 17th century follower Rembrandt turns out to be by the master himself. Much more common is the sale of a work optimistically attributed to a well-known artist that is in fact by the hand of an imitator, copyist or forger. The reputation of an auction house or art dealer depends on the accuracy of their attributions and their description of a work of art. Any serious collector is advised to exercise caution. It is wise to remember that the art market has justifiably been described as “the last unregulated frontier of commerce.”

If absence of regulation were not enough to scare off investors in art, there is something even more troubling affecting the art market. Worldwide commerce in the sale of illicitly acquired works of art generates enormous profits. Even the works of emerging or young artists, such as those in this magazine, appear from time to time on the Interpol list of stolen art works. Add to this the highly lucrative business of art forgery, that is not entirely restricted to old masters, and you have a marketplace where it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the warning “buyer beware.”

When acquiring art, be sure to investigate who you are doing business with. You don’t want to acquire a work that you are assured is an authentic creation of a particular artist only to have it proved otherwise when you are disposing of it. A certificate of authenticity provided by a dealer may or may not be of value. After all, it is just a piece of paper that is only of value if the signing expert is widely regarded as reputable. With the work of emerging artists, you can generally be assured of authenticity and provenance by a dealer who has a direct and ongoing relationship as representative of the artist.

Authenticity is more of concern with the work of deceased artists than of living ones. However, it is not unknown for the work of living artists to be copied, reproduced and forged. The wise and careful collector will always assure himself or herself that what they are buying is exactly what it is purported to be. If it is an old work of art, then the provenance is of critical importance. One must be supplied with evidence of who owned the work in the past, when they bought it and when they sold it. Examine the artwork carefully to determine that it is exactly as described by a dealer or an auction house. This includes checking the medium, dimensions, condition and, in the case of multiples such as prints, photographs and cast sculpture, the date when they were made and the authenticity of the artist’s signature. Of course, you should also practice this due diligence when buying art, even if it is by an up-and-coming artist.

Whether you are making a small or large investment in art, you must, without fail, ensure by every possible means that what you are acquiring is genuine. If you have any doubts whatsoever, either forgo the purchase or consult a highly reputable advisor before deciding to proceed.

By Dr. Alan McNairn

Collecting art multiples as an investment

Prints, photographs and sculpture that are part of a limited-edition pose particular problems for the investor in art that set them apart from unique works.

The fact that an object of art is unique is of critical importance in determining its monetary value. When purchasing an art work, the collector will consider the price of similar pieces by the same artist or works from the same period and determine whether the asking price is fair and reasonable. Inevitably, there will be some uncertainty.

With the acquisition of prints, photographs or sculptures that are part of an edition of multiples, this uncertainty is reduced. In some cases, not all of the impressions of a contemporary print will be absolutely identical. The price for each print in an edition will, however, be within a fairly narrow range. Differences in the price of individual sequentially numbered impressions of a print arise from visible variations in quality of reproduction of the printing plate or major and minor differences in ink colour or density. Because of changes in printing technology and paper and ink manufacturing, the value of different impressions in contemporary lithographic or giclée editions is not as variable as it is with etchings, woodcuts and engravings. Determining the value of contemporary prints is less complex than for singular works of art. One simply checks the auction records or visits a dealer to see what the current price is for other impressions of the same print. The same applies to editions of contemporary photographs and sculpture.

Because prints and photographs can be consistently reproduced with ease these days, the numbering of impressions in a limited series is of less consequence than it once was. For instance, print numbered “one” in an edition of 50 is unlikely to be worth much more than impression number 50. The value of a print or photograph is, however, dependent on the number of impressions printed in any edition. Generally, the smaller the edition, the more likely a print will appreciate in value. This fact is reflected in the popular advertising slogan of “limited edition” used in the marketing of everything from cars to porcelain. Of course one must be cautious that an edition is not limited to as many as can be sold. Ethical artists can be trusted to adhere to the implicit promise of destroying the plate or digital file when the stated limit of the edition has been printed.

Sculptures also are often produced in an edition. There might be variables in the finishing of the surface from one impression to another. This will affect the value or desirability of a particular piece over another. In the work of deceased sculptors, a premium is added to the price for pieces that were cast or fabricated during the artist’s lifetime. For example, casts made of Rodin sculptures after his death have a much lower value than those that were produced under his watch. The same applies to photographs that are styled vintage, meaning they were printed during the artist’s lifetime, as opposed to those posthumously printed from his or her photographic negatives. It is not certain what the market will make of digital art printed after an artist’s death, but generally, a work of art is more valuable – in other words in more demand – when its authenticity is confirmed by the handwritten signature of the artist.

For those collectors who are concerned with the investment value of art, collecting prints, photographs or sculptures produced in multiples has certain advantages. The price of acquisition of each piece will usually be much less than that of a unique work of art. This allows the less well-off collector to enter the market, but one should be aware of the fact that the capital appreciation of a work created in multiple impressions will not necessarily increase at the same rate as a unique work of art.

Another advantage of collecting prints and photographs is that they are easily stored and simple to transport. This reduces the cost of managing and disposing of an investment in art in these media. Finally, collecting prints, drawings and sculptures that exist as multiples allows the investor to spread risk of capital appreciation over the work of several artists with minimal cost.

Collecting prints and photographs or sculpture created in a limited edition can be rewarding in terms of investment, but as with all acquisitions of art, risk can be reduced if one has broad understanding of the market.

By Alan McNairn

Cambridge Art Fair, UK

The art world fair might seem to be circumscribed to a couple of major, big cities – especially in UK London-centric. The Cambridge Art Fair, launched in 2013 by Craig Kerrecoe, represents a significant exception and it is quickly becoming an established part of the international art fairs calendar.

Indeed, in only two editions thus far, the Cambridge Art Fair has been growing at a rapid pace and its attendance figures have substantially increased, the fair becoming a respected stop on the art world circuit. People come to the Cambridge Art Fair to enjoy the art exhibited by high-quality British and international galleries and dealers.

Several features make the Cambridge Art Fair unique. Firstly, its exceptionality is due to its hosting city. For centuries, Cambridge has been one of the most admired cities, most widely known as the home of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. As the second fastest growing city in the country, in the last few years, the city has witnessed the emergence of a stimulating contemporary arts scene with new art spaces and a fresh dynamic and vibrant cultural life. Even if only for the month of October, the fair functions as an epicentre and crucially engages with the broader local art community, and as a result, exciting creative ideas pop up across the city in all manner of ways.

Furthermore, the Cambridge Art Fair offers an informal, friendly and relaxed atmosphere where every kind of visitor can expect to experience a diverse and rich range of artwork. The combined knowledge and experience of the galleries and dealers exhibiting at the fair ensure that any visitor is able to find the perfect piece of art he or she is looking for.

For both new and experienced collectors, the fair is a unique opportunity to build a quality collection that combines art from different periods and from any region of the world. Moreover, the Cambridge Art Fair dispels the common notion that building an art collection is a privilege reserved for a selected cluster of people. Indeed, at the Cambridge Art Fair, a collector has the opportunity to build a beautiful and rewarding art collection commensurate with one’s budget.

For its 3rd edition in October 2015, the Cambridge Art Fair offered a major opportunity to immerse into a rich collection of global art booths showcasing modern masterpieces alongside ground-breaking contemporary artists. A number of local galleries returned, including, Byard Art and The Lynne Strover Gallery. A plethora of new galleries with exciting programs and presenting art from outside the UK participated for the first time. Among them, Blue Nile Art (specialized in Ethiopian art), Hanoi Art House (a gallery specialising in Contemporary Vietnamese art) and Wealth-of-Art (an art platform offering both online selling and consultancy), specialized in established and emerging promising young artists from geographical locations, such as Belorussia, Colombia, Cuba and Italy. Thus, the 2015 fair will outclass with more diversity than ever presenting art from all around the world.

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By Laura Bruni

Laura Bruni holds a B.A. from the University of Bologna and an M.A. from IUAV, Venice. In September 2015, she started an MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths, London. She has worked as a research assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and as a researcher and assistant curator of prominent artist Pier Paolo Calzolari providing curatorial support for projects, such as Another (Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris) and Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the new (MoMa, New York).