If you're looking to get into the art investment market, now might not be the best time. But for those with art already in their collections, this is the opportune time to sell.
When I purchased early eighteenth century tea wares from a ship cargo seven years ago in Amsterdam, they cost much more than anyone would have predicted. As an absentee bidder, I didn’t know whom I was bidding against. When I enquired, I was told the individual was Russian.
The teapot I purchased from the Sotheby’s cargo sale held in Amsterdam Jan. 29-31, 2007. Photography by Thomas M. Mueller
More recently, I sold a late sixteenth/early seventeenth century Chinese lacquer box, not at the highest possible price that I hoped, but still a respectable one. The buyer, I believe, was Chinese. Other nationalities, too, are beginning to buy art in increasing numbers.
Some of what they are purchasing was originally their own and lost through colonization — the necessity to sell because of desperate times or due to being physically forced to give up their treasures. Other pieces currently being acquired by these individuals just entering the art market are newly made rather than old.
In an article in Spear’s Magazine last year by Ivan Lindsay, Steven Murphy, CEO of Christie’s International said, “Twenty-five per cent of our buyers last year were new to Christie’s…”
Who they may have been was clarified by the results of the Sotheby’s Old Masters Sale in London July 3, 2013. Top lots were purchased by Chinese, Russian and Indian nationals. All three countries are considered emerging economies compared to the United States.
This skyward swing toward new buyers in the auction market from nations outside our own can only mean one thing — higher prices for certain items for both buyers and sellers. For Americans who have desirable art stashed away that they want to sell, this can only be a good thing. However, others who are just getting into the art market might find the situation a bit unwieldy with prices seemingly ever reaching upward.
Of course, the category being collected is important. For example, right now, anything brown is out. This term loosely refers to furniture, of necessity brown since it is made of wood. Indian and Asian contemporary art, on the other hand, is very sought after. All else appears to be in-between.
So, it seems that certain art prices will be up for a while (very similar to the way stocks rotate in the market). For those buying currently, unless she or he has a lot of excess money, avoiding the hot areas only seems judicious. On the other hand, for those lucky enough to have some of these items in their living rooms, selling them at this opportune time could be just the ticket to money in the seller’s pocket and a sparkle in her or his eye.