With an hour to kill in a foreign city, the nearest public art gallery is often a good place to head for. But imagine the Louvre in Paris, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum or the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich putting everything up for sale, with red dots by the exhibits. Go to a commercial art gallery, or better still one of the major international art markets in Europe, and this is what the experience can amount to. What will astonish you is both the quality and quantity of great art still in private hands. Of course, there’s always the matter of budget…
The mother of European art markets is TEFAF, aka The European Fine Art Fair, which takes place over a fortnight in March, in Maastricht in the Netherlands. Every year, more than 200 dealers from all over the world converge in a vast, unlovely trade-fair hall known as the MECC. Here, their luxuriously transformed exhibition spaces (the galleries bring their own sofas and flowers, even parquet and carpets) attract 75,000 visitors. It’s not just the wealthiest and most discerning private collectors – just clock the ranks of Cessnas and Learjets lined up at the airport – but representatives of the world’s most important museums: the Metropolitan, Musée d’Orsay, Prado, the Rijksmuseum, St Petersburg’s State Hermitage, London’s National Gallery and many more.
Yet surprisingly, the prices aren’t all stratospheric. This year they ranged from Euro2,700 for a Julian Opie screenprint to tens of millions for works by Botticelli, Zubarán, Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet, Matisse, Picasso and almost every other iconic artist of the 20th century. Even if you have neither the means nor any intention of buying, art of this quality is always worth a look. Viewing paintings or sculpture in a commercial context is an entirely different and much more intense experience than admiring it in a museum. If you see something you like, look long and hard, for it may be the last time it’s ever publicly on show.
There’s a widely held perception that most fine art is sold at auction – certainly sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams tend to attract the greatest media attention. But despite the astonishing prices sometimes achieved (witness the $104,168,000 paid for Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” at Sotheby’s last May) there is no guarantee that an item will reach its estimate. And auction houses can still be a good place to pick up bargains for a few hundred pounds.
It’s this that explains why many collectors prefer to sell through dealers and galleries. “With a dealer you can agree on a definite amount,” says Ben Janssens of London gallery Ben Janssens Oriental Art. “Sometimes dealers are in a better position to reach very specialist clients and collectors who may prefer not to buy at auction because they don’t like the element of uncertainty.” He adds: “Collectors often want to be discreet, and selling though a dealer is a better way of retaining anonymity. My experience is that when someone first wants to sell something, it’s best to go through a gallery. If the dealer doesn’t manage to sell the object, which is always a possibility, then you can still put the object into auction. Whereas if you put it into auction then, to use the trade term, the object can be ‘burnt’, which means it’s been seen by too many people and becomes more difficult to sell.”
TEFAF may be the largest of the fine-art markets, but there are important international fairs throughout the year, particularly in London, which accounts for a quarter of the global art market and is worth more than £13bn a year. Part of the attraction for European buyers is the UK’s comparatively low standard rate of VAT: 17.5% as against 19.6% in France, 20% in Italy and Austria, 21% in Belgium and 25% in Sweden and Denmark. So if you see something you want being sold by a UK-based gallery exhibiting abroad, it could be worth having a quiet word with the gallery owner to see if they’ll put it aside and sell it to you once it’s back in the UK.
VAT is not the only additional cost to look out for when buying art. At auctions, there is a buyer’s premium of up to 20% of the hammer price (the price realised in the sale room), on which VAT is also payable. It’s also worth remembering that VAT will be charged on the hammer price of works being sold outside a tax loophole called the Auctioneer’s Margin Scheme (AMS). So study the catalogue carefully for the icons that denote the work’s tax status (usually dependent on its provenance), and take account of these premiums when calculating the maximum you are prepared to bid to. Close the sale at £10,000 in a UK auction room on an item being sold under the AMS, and it’ll cost you £12,350, whereas the same item sold outside the AMS will cost £14,100.
Look before you buy
Whether or not you plan to buy, auction houses are a wonderful place to see world-class art. Before most sales, there will be a preview exhibition lasting four or five days, at which you can inspect works close up and even handle them. And auctions themselves are highly dramatic entertainment. It’s a myth that you can find you’ve bought something by inadvertently nodding or scratching your nose. To bid, you need to raise a paddle ? a piece of plastic shaped like a table-tennis racket with a number on it. And to get one of these you will need to fill in a form and provide photo ID and separate proof of your address.
Inevitably, a great deal of psychology comes into play during an auction. Rather than bidding from the outset for a lot you want, it’s worth holding back and observing the action at the start ? you don’t want to ramp up the price unnecessarily by showing too much interest or being over-enthusiastic, which in any case will mark you out as a novice. The bidding may look fast and furious if you’re merely watching, but as soon as you’re a player, time seems to slow. Eventually it will settle into a duel, and if you’re not yet involved, now is the time to enter the fray.
A good auctioneer will have identified the potential buyers and will be playing you off against one another, using a familiar jargon ? “any advance on…”, “fair warning”, “are we all done?”, “going, going…” and once he or she has brought down the gavel, “all done”. After which – if you’ve held your nerve – you have to brace yourself, make your way to the cashier’s office and pay up.
Buying from a gallery is an altogether calmer experience, during which you will be wooed and flattered by siren-voiced gallery staff. Again, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask to inspect the piece close up and ask questions about a work’s provenance, its condition and – especially if it’s a contemporary piece using unusual media – how it might age.
“I would have reservations about seriously investing in certain kinds of contemporary art when so many new, relatively untested materials are being used,” says one senior art conservator at a public London art gallery, who asked not to be named.
Not that there aren’t fortunes to be made from buying and selling paintings, both ancient and modern. Witness the spectacular rise in the Russian art market just now, the centre of which is London, even if the buyers are invariably new Russians and oligarchs determined to buy back their heritage. When Sotheby’s started its Russian sales a decade ago, they were small-scale specialist events. In 1997 the annual sales turnover for Russian art was just £1.3m. Yet last May, two sales at Sotheby’s realised £11.5m, which, combined with the previous November’s London sale (a further £6.74m) and a sale in New York in April ($8.1m), suggests the market is still rising spectacularly. To date the highest price paid for a Russian painting ? a Kustodiev (hardly a household name) ? is £845,600 (it had been estimated at £250-350,000).
Jean Paul Getty may have said: “Fine art is the finest investment,” but it’s a fickle business and no easier to predict than any other market. Russian art is hot just now, but who knows what will be selling next year. Unlike stocks and shares, however, a thing of beauty is a joy forever, and a private collection can be a source of immense pleasure and pride ? quite apart from the lustre it adds to your home. It’s undeniable fun to follow and try and second-guess the market, and more fun still to watch your assets appreciate in value. But it’s a much safer strategy to stick to buying work you love, rather than what you think will make a good investment.
Rex L Aguado, international business news editor at the South China Morning Post, finds time to drop into a local art gallery whenever he travels. Aguado collects contemporary Filipino art, but he’s always interested in paintings that capture an insight into a country’s psyche. One of his favourite finds is “The Wave” by Vietnamese artist Hoang Van Long. The painting is a commentary on the social upheaval in Vietnam and the influence of American culture. He bought it last year in Hanoi for $700. Aguado knew straightaway that he wanted it: “When I saw it for the first time among a wall of other paintings, I actually heard the crash of the wave against the rocks and the hissing surf.” The painting now has pride of place on his wall.
Art collectors agree that Asia is a fantastic place for collecting art. Its sheer diversity means that art lovers have a wide choice, from Filipino political paintings to contemporary Chinese sculptures. Many modern Asian artists struggle with common themes such as modernity, the loss of tradition, urbanisation, globalisation and the rapidity of change.
The richness and sheer variety can be overwhelming for a first-time buyer. John Batten of John Batten Gallery in Hong Kong recommends making an effort to understand the contemporary Asian art scene. Subscribing to art magazines is a quick way to get acquainted with events and rising stars. “Asian Art Newsand Art Asia Pacificare all reputable, well informed and (well) written,” he says.
Watch out for the tourist trash though. That painting of a Vietnamese woman in anao daicycling to the market with her long flowing hair and conical hat? If you are looking for real worth, give this type of painting a miss because these “exotic Asia” paintings are purely decorative. Also remember that depending on where your business takes you, you’ll have to negotiate not just individual prices, but in different marketplaces. Batten advises: “Deal only with art markets that are ‘open’. The Chinese and Vietnamese art markets are notoriously closed and the chances of price manipulation is high. These two markets are also seeing fakes of contemporary art on the market.”
These two markets are also known to suffer from quality problems, says Batten. One couple visited his gallery to ask for advice on a poor-quality contemporary painting by a young Chinese artist just purchased from a well-known Beijing gallery. Batten found that the artist had mixed acrylic with oils and had not sealed the canvas. The couple got the Beijing gallery to replace the painting. “A week later, a perfect – second version’ of the same painting arrived. The couple now had two copies of the same painting!”
Your business trip might not allow you much time, but preparation can make a difference. Aguado advises: “Surf the internet for interesting galleries and, if possible, do some advance work on comparative pricing. For example, most of the paintings by foreign artists sold in Hong Kong are priced two to three times what they go for at the artists’ city of residence.”
When you are in a gallery and you stumble across what you think is a rare find, resist the impulse to buy immediately. Says Aguado: “Do quick research by asking other galleries or knowledgeable staff at your hotel or your local hosts about the artist, the dealer, the price, and other concerns.”
Hong Kong-based art consultant Sandra Walters recommends establishing contact first. “Look at a selection but ask the owner to send follow-up material by email.” After
all, a painting can be shipped for less than the high mark-up you might pay by mistake. Outside of galleries, art schools and art centres are good places to uncover promising young artists, she notes. Check the local paper’s art section for offbeat mentions of small showings.
Some collectors turn their passion into another form of business, buying not just for pleasure but as an investment. Aguado collects paintings that appeal to him, but still pays attention to their market value. “The work has to please me first, but it must also give me the assurance that I could sell it sometime in future to buy another work, should I wish – or be compelled – to do so.”
Others keep the focus on art alone. Harry O’Neill, art collector and Asian managing director of executive search firm Whitney Group, buys purely for pleasure. “I leave investment collecting to the experts. I like figurative art, and most of my paintings have bold colours. I like the style of a region to show too. I have a lot of ?people’ paintings, all grouped together in my dining room.”
It doesn’t have to break your bank balance either. One of O’Neill’s favourites was bought in Bali a few years ago for $75. “Framing it back in Hong Kong cost a multiple of that!”
Colombian-born Isabel Biederman was a dealer and now concentrates on collecting, primarily Latin American art. She travels to all the major art fairs around the world and routinely upgrades her collection. “I began collecting because I loved the work, and it’s been very profitable over the years,” she says. “I’ve sold work for as much as 10 times the amount I originally paid.” She says there’s no telling how quickly the art will appreciate, “it depends on the artist and the market.”
Some collectors like to follow new painters (Biederman bought a Michel Basquiat when he was just starting out) and many hope the new painter will become collectable. Often they do, but collectors and dealers agree you shouldn’t buy art just because you have a hunch that the artist’s work will appreciate financially.
Oregon-based Ray Moseley travels around the country for business. He’d always been interested in art, but “felt too intimidated, thinking I didn’t know anything and that I couldn’t afford to collect.” Then, about four years ago he took the plunge and started collecting art from Hang Art Gallery in San Francisco. “Hang inspired me,” says Moseley. “I discovered that I could afford to collect, and I’m now confident in my taste.” Moseley says he likes paintings with texture and that flat pieces turn him off.
Another collector, Nan Perrell of New York, was living in England when she first started collecting. “I went to art fairs and degree shows because the artists at these venues were affordable,” she says. “I bought a piece once for £1,200 because I loved it. It’s now worth over £30,000.”
When Perrell moved back to the US she continued buying the work of young artists. She became so obsessed that she turned her passion into her livelihood, founding a gallery in New York that handled primarily emerging British artists.
What the dealers say
Dealers agree that the best bargains are found by people pursuing their own interests, searching out smaller galleries or visiting artists in their studios. “It’s always wise to scout for off-the-beaten-track pieces at auction houses, art school exhibitions, and juried art shows,” says Perrell.
Nurturing a relationship with a gallery owner is another good way to begin collecting art. When you have an ongoing relationship with a dealer you can expect to get honest advice; the dealer might also buy back work that you’ve grown bored with ? or that you want to trade in for a more “important” work.
Steve Diamant, owner of Arcadia Fine Arts in New York, has a good example of how things can change. He represents Malcolm Liepke, a Minneapolis-based painter. “Liepke sold his first work in 1986 for $3,200,” recalls Diamant. “He recently sold a painting for $90,000. There was no way to predict success would come to Liepke.”
Sande Webster, owner of Sande Webster Gallery in Philadelphia, has been in the art business for more than 35 years. Webster enjoys telling the story of the CEO who bought some paintings by African-American artists from her gallery for his company.
When the company was sold, the executive bought back the paintings. “When he first purchased the 100 works ? which included paintings, sculpture, photographs, lithographs, serigraphs and woodcuts ? the collection was appraised at $250,000,” recalls Webster. “Twelve years later, he bought back the collection, plus three additional pieces, for $275,000. The collection was recently appraised at $1,375,000.”
Investing in art is not all about buying low and selling high, it’s also about the value of the work “appreciating in your mind and heart,” according to Moseley.
Chilean painter Jorge Tacla, whose work is priced at $3,000 and more, sells his art through several galleries as well as directly to clients. He is represented by Galeria Ramis Barquet in New York as well as by galleries in Europe and South America.”You shouldn’t spend more than you can afford,” advises Tacla. “But it can become almost an addiction.” Tacla has been collecting art since his teens. “Collecting has become a more secure investment,” he says. “Collectors are more open to new expressions and they want higher quality than in the past.”
Collecting art, as many travellers agree, can turn a business trip into more than just business. “Instead of sitting in my hotel room, I visit galleries and go to openings,”
says Moseley. “Collecting has definitely expanded my world.”
Galleries to visit in Europe
Philippe Denys, 1 rue des Sablons, Brussels (32 2 512 36 07, www.philippedenys.com) 20th century works of art
Xavier Hufkens, 6-8 rue Saint-Georges, Brussels (32 2 639 67 30, www.xavierhufkens.com) Modern and contemporary art
Galerie Odermatt-Vedovi, 11 blvd Waterloo, Brussels (32 2 513 38 38, www.galleryvedovi.com) Impressionists, modern and contemporary art
Galerie Chantal Crousel, 40 rue Quincampoix, 4ème Paris (33 1 42 77 38 87, www.crousel.com) Arguably the city’s best-connected contemporary art gallery
Galerie Canesso, 8 rue Rossini, 9ème Paris (33 1 40 22 61 71, www.canesso.com). Italian old masters
Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière, 16 av Matignon, 8ème Paris (33 1 45 63 09 00, no website) Impressionists and modern masters
Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Bilker Strasse 5, Düsseldorf (49 211 491 58 90, www.beck-eggeling.de). 19th and 20th century masters, Impressionism, German Expressionism and contemporary art Bernheimer-Colnaghi, Brienner Strasse 7, Munich (49 89 22 66 72, www.bernheimer.com). Old master paintings and drawings
Kunsthaus Bühler, Wagenburgstrasse 4, Stuttgart (49 711 24 05 07, www.buehler-art.de) German and French 19th and 20th century works, Italianold masters
Cesare Lampronti, via del Babuino 174, Rome (39 06 322 71 94, no website). Old masters
Giò Marconi, Via Tadino 15, Milan (39 02 2940 4373) Contemporary art
Christian Stein,Corso Monforte 23, Milan (39 02 7639 3301, no website). Contemporary art
Karsten Greve, via Santo Spirito 12, Milan (39 02 783 840). Important contemporary art gallery (branches in Paris, Cologne and St Moritz)
Kunsthandel P de Boer,Herengracht 512, Amsterdam (31 20 623 68 49, www.kunsthandelpdeboer.com) Old master paintings
Gerb Douwes Fine Art, Stadhouderskade 40, Amsterdam (31 20 664 63 62, www.douwesfineart.com). Works from 16th to 20th centuries, especially Dutch and Flemish
Kunsthandel Frans Jacobs, Rokin 46, Amsterdam (31 20 638 17 29, www.jacobsfineart.com) 20th century art
Leslie Smith Gallery, Lange Voorhout 52, The Hague (31 70 356 39 24, www.lesliesmithgallery.com). 19th and 20th century work
Caylus Anticuario,Lagasca 28, Madrid (34 91 578 30 98, no website). Old masters
David Koetser Gallery, Talstrasse 37, Zurich (41 1 211 52 40, www.koetsergallery.com). 17th and 18th century paintings
Marlborough fine art, 6 Albermarle Street, London (020 7629 5161, www.marlboroughfineart.com) Modern masters, photography
Agnew’s, 43 Old Bond Street, London W1 (020 7290 9250, www.agnewsgallery.co.uk). Old masters and English art from 18th to 20th centuries
Dickinson, 58 Jermyn Street, London SW1 (020 7493 0340, www.simondickinson.com). Old and modern masters, Impressionists
Gagosian, 6-24 Britannia Street, London WC1 (020 78419960, www.gagosian.com). The legendary New York and Los Angeles gallerist’s latest London outpost
Richard Green, 147 New Bond Street, London W1 (020 7499 5553, www.richard-green.com). Old masters, 19th century, Impressionist, post-Impressionist and British modern painting
Ben Janssens Oriental Art, 91C Jermyn Street, London SW1 (020 7976 1888, www.benjanssens.com) Chinese, South East Asian and Himalayan works of art
Johnny van Haeften, 13 Duke Street St James’s, London SW1 (020 7930 3062, www.johnnyvanhaeften.com) 17th century Dutch and Flemish old master paintings
Haunch of Venison, 6 Haunch of Venison Yard, London W1 (020 7495 5050, www.haunchofvenison.com). London’s latest contemporary art hangout
Annely Juda Fine Art,23 Dering Street, London W1 (020 7629 7578, www.annelyjudafineart.co.uk). 20th century art
Timothy Taylor Gallery, 24 Dering Street, London W1 (020 7409 3344, www.ttgallery.com). First-rate contemporary clients such as Sean Scully, Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning and Lucian Freud
Waddington Galleries, 11 Cork Street, London W1 020 7851 2200, www.waddington-galleries.com). 20th century work
White Cube, 48 Hoxton Square, London N1 (020 7930 5373, www.whitecube.com). The spiritual home of young British artists
Auction houses with a presence in Europe
Galleries to visit in Asia
John Batten Gallery,G/F, 64 Peel Street, Central, 852 2854 1018, www.johnbattengallery.com Contemporary art from the Asia Pacific with a particular interest in photography/art from the Philippines and New Zealand
Hanart TZ Gallery,202 Henley Building, 5 Queen’s Road, Central, 852 2526 9019, www.hanart.com. Promotes and exhibits contemporary Chinese art. It is now
acknowledged as a leader in the field
Gajah Gallery,MICA Building, 140 Hill Street, #01-08, 65 6737 4202, www.gajahgallery.com. Contemporary Southeast Asian art. It features works from Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and India
Plastique Kinetic Worms,61, Kerbau Road, 65 6292 7783, www.pkworms.org.sg In Singapore’s colourful Little India. An excellent source for young, up and coming Singapore artists
Gallerie Taksu,17 Jalan Pawang, Bukit Keramat, 603 4251 4396, www.taksu.com. Represents contemporary artists from Malaysia and elsewhere. Ranges from painting to
sculpture to rare carpets and antiquities
Valentine Willie Fine Art,1st Floor, 17 Jalan Telawi, 3 Bangsar Baru, 603 2284 2348, artsasia.com.my. Specialises in Malaysian and Southeast Asian contemporary artists. Also runs an artist-in-residence programme in Bali
Art Vietnam Gallery,30 Hang Than, Hanoi, 844 9272 349, www.vietnamesefineart.com. Specialises in contemporary Vietnamese art. Exhibitions featuring painting, photography, sculpture, performance and installations are held on a monthly basis
Salon Natasha,30 Hang Bong, 844 8261 387, www.artsalonnatasha.com. Established in 1990 by Russian emigre Natasha Kraevskaia and her husband, the artist Vu Dan Tan. The Salon is located in the home of its owner’s family, and at the same time serves as Vu Dan Tan’s studio
The Drawing Room,1007 Metropolitan Avenue, Metrostar Building, Makati City, 632 897 7877, 632 897 6990, drawingroomgallery.com Contemporary Filipino art, with a special focus on drawing
Galerie Joaquin,2/F No. 371 P Guevarra St. corner Montessori Lane, Addition Hills, San Juan, 632 723 9253, www.galeriejoaquin.com Contemporary Filipino art, particularly young Filipino artists
US Galleries and Shows
Gallery Guidemagazine(www.galleryguide.org) is a comprehensive source for gallery and museum exhibitions, with editions in New York, the West Coast, Chicago/Midwest, the Southeast, Boston/New England, Philadelphia, and the Southwest.
Alpha Gallery,14 Newbury St, 1 617 536 4465, www.alphagallery.com. Handles works on paper and assemblages
Aron Packer Gallery,118 N. Peoria St, 1 312 226 8984, wwww.aronpacker.com. Handles contemporary art in all media. Is also well-known for folk and outsider art and vintage photography
The Chicago Arts Districtis a 12-square-block area on Chicago’s South side located near the intersection of South Halsted and 18th Street. Here you’ll find
more than 100 artists and more than a dozen galleries. www.chicagoartsdistrict.org
Once a train depot for the now-defunct Red Line trolley the Bergamot Station complex (2525 Michigan Ave, 1 310 829 5854) houses more than 30 art galleries and theSanta Monica Museum of Art(1 310 453 7535). The Shoshana Wayne Gallery showcases artists like Yoko Ono; The Gallery
of Functional Art sells furniture
M. Hanks Gallery,3008 Main St, Santa Monica, 1 310 392 8820, www.mhanksgallery.com. Specialises in African-American art
The Leonard Tachmes Gallery,817 NE 125th St, 1 305 895 1030. Handles mature and emerging artists working in all media
Arcadia Fine Arts,51 Greene St, 1 212 965 1387, www.arcadiafinearts.com. Handles American and international artists
Goff + Rosenthal, 537B W. 23rd St, 1 212 675 0461, www.goffandrosenthal.com. A Chelsea gallery, seeks to match young artists with new and budget-minded buyers
A Philadelphia fixture,Sande Webster Gallery(2006 Walnut St, 1 215 636 9003, www.sandewebstergallery.com). Specialises in paintings by African-American artists
Hang Art Gallery,556 and 557 Sutter St, 1 415 434 4264, www.hangart.com. Handles living artists from San Francisco Bay area
EDMONTON & VANCOUVER
Douglas Udell Gallery, 10332 124th St, 1 780 488 4445, 1558 W. 6th Ave, Vancouver, 1 604 736 8900, www.douglasudellgallery.com. Established in 1967, handles contemporary emergingand established artists
Contempora promotes and presents international artists who work in various media; www.artcontempora.com
Praxis International Art, Arenales 1311; 54 11 4813 8639. Handles contemporary art of established and emerging artists; other locations in Miami and New York; www.praxis-art.com
RIO DE JANEIRO
Galeria de Arte Ipanema, Rua Anibal de Mendonca; 55 27 22 410 050. Established in 1965, represents Brazilian contemporary and established artists
Galeria Thomas Cohn,Av Europa 641, 55 51 3083 3355. Handles contemporary and established and emerging international artists who work in a range of media
Arspace Gallery,58 212 267 00 35, www.arspace.com. Modern and contemporary Latin American
Galeria Acquavella, Av Principal del Bosque, edificio Torre del Bosque, 58 212 763 3689, www.acquagal.com. Contemporary Venezuelan and Latin American art, including photography