Friday, November 25, 2016

ART BIZ | Art as an Investment

Juan Gris, "Harlequin with
Guitar".
One of the satisfying things about blogging for as long as I have been – ten years now! – is that I am able to answer questions that I asked in posts of a previous decade.

For example, I ran across a manuscript by my mother Hilda van Stockum in which she discusses art as an investment. I posted a comment, remembering that an article had been published in The Canadian Banker with the same title. I now have the date – Winter 1960 – and page numbers, 129-132.

HvS starts her article with the basic question - "What is important to us?" If one's only interest is in selling at a higher price, then art may not be the best investment. But if the art gives joy, then there is a dual return on the investment. Ownership of art provides a daily pleasure dividend, in addition to appreciating in market value if one selects wisely.

She notes that in the Middle Ages, art was a necessity because it preserved pictures of one's family. The guild system ensured quality. When photography came on the scene, artists were traumatized, says HvS (p. 130).  Paul Gaugin led soul-searching among artists: "Where are we going?" This question has been answered in different ways and the ultimate determination of the value of art will be made by buyers.

A true investment in art is one where buyers follow their own taste. A friend of HvS liked abstract paintings being sold on the banks of the Seine for $100 each. When she died, the owner's art was appraised at $10,000 each. The artist was Juan Gris.

On the other hand, there are speculators who have no interest in the art itself. A voice came on to a Paris dealer's phone: "Have you a [Bernard] Buffet?" The dealer said: "Yes, several." Voice: "I'll take one." Dealer: "Here's the price: $XXXX." Voice: "I'll take it." Dealer: "Where do I send it?" Voice: "Hold on to it." After the painting had quintupled in price, the voice called: "Sell it."

Questions: Email the author at john@cityeconomist.com.