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INVESTING IN ART? DON’T BET ON IT


Every day I receive online a posting by Todd Sigety titled “Appraiser Workshops”. It usually has reprints and synopses of articles related to art that have appeared elsewhere. It’s a great way to keep up with a wide range of the subjects that personal property appraisers are well advised to know about.

 

One of the most recent postings was from The Business Insider, another blog. It was about investing in art, a much talked-about topic that I believe is massively misunderstood. I’m so tired of reading about this topic.

As every reader of this blog knows, my book Artful Dodgers: Fraud and Foolishness In The Art Market is currently being reviewed by a literary agent and will hopefully soon be on its way to publication. One of the central themes is The Six Myths That Drive The Art Market. One of them is “art is a good investment” and I demonstrate how that is usually just not true.

 

Essentially, the problem is this: every book on economics has a list of characteristics that an investment must have and art meets none of them. They are things such as “an investment must be traded in a regulated market” and when speaking of the art market that’s just a joke. There is no regulation. Another is that “you must be able to check the track record of the investment”. Another joke. The art market is totally opaque and fueled by secrecy. Yet another is that there must be accessible and quick liquidation processes. In the art market that would only be auctions and they don’t handle anything but the expensive stuff. 80% of art does not qualify. You can’t call up your broker and say, “sell that hummer and send me a check in a week.”

 

The Business Insider’s list of 8 ways to invest in art includes “invest in emerging artists”. This ignores the truism that it is not possible to invest in the work of a living artist. That is speculation. Most of the other “tips” in the article are just as fallacious. They are the same old crap that is repeated over and over by dealers, writers and others.

 

Like all myths, the idea that you can successfully invest in art is based on a kernel of truth. It is possible to invest in art and make money, but only at the very top of the market and only by buying the very most famous and sought-after artists or the currently hot “brands” among the contemporaries. Just be sure to sell before “your” artist crashes, as Damien Hirst seems to be doing.