I’ve heard for a very long time from people with far better educations than myself that it is always a buyer’s market.
As someone who bought property at the apex of the housing market (speculating that Chicago would be home to the 2018 Olympics), I strongly disagree. But every once in a while, it actually is a buyer’s market. In the last four months as formerly upper-middle-class consumers found themselves unemployed and facing foreclosure, I amassed an impressive list of newly available masterpieces of modern, contemporary art –specifically lowbrow and pop-surrealist works of great significance from blue chip names like Shepard Fairey and Robert Williams, at prices that most of us might actually be able to afford.
As the director of an art gallery, I’ve seen first-hand how the business of selling art has been affected by the failing economy. Perceived primarily as a luxury, art-buying is one of the first habits curved by tightened purse strings. Paintings, sculptures and drawings priced between $2,000 and $20,000 are most affected, because they fall above impulse and below investment purchase points. Since the middle class was most affected by the collapse, the median market was most stagnated as that buyer went away. The extremely wealthy remain largely unbothered by the financial troubles most of the rest of us face, and while lower-end investing is down, prices at the top of the art market continue to escalate. Nine months ago, a Giacometti bronze (that opened at $19 million) escalated to $104.3 in just 8 minutes of bidding, and smashed the previous record for auction price held by Pablo Picasso’s “Garcon a la Pipe.” Just this past week, three Andy Warhol paintings sold for $23, $35, and $63 million each, and let’s face it: there is no shortage of Andy Warhol art out there.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve noticed an increase in first-time art buyers who have been able to get some really amazing work at proportionately bargain prices. Smart artists and galleries have placed a temporary hold on up-pricing the work of established artists, so that their clientele base can continue to widen until the economy improves. The reasoning being that it’s better to experience a complete sell-out of an exhibition at lower prices than sell half and keep an inventory for later sale. That argument may or may not be prudent, but for buyers with a budget it’s most definitely good news.
Like most investment opportunities that have drawn speculators into the fold, people who are less patrons than pushers have found themselves sitting on piles of work (much of it really good work) that hasn’t been given the proper amount of time to legitimately appreciate. Impatient investors who would rather sell low and get into a gold or petroleum portfolio, are prematurely unloading key pieces for quick cash. Incredibly, when only a handful of paintings enter the market at sale pricing, it doesn’t negatively impact the value of an artist’s other works. It actually has the opposite affect, increasing the interest as collectors identify the missed opportunity and become reinvigorated to collect more work by the same artist at normal and increased prices. In one of the only situations imaginable, a win-win situation is not only possible it’s practically a foregone conclusion. This benefits budget shoppers because wealthier collectors aren’t generally looking for these opportunities, but they do become aware of the sale after the fact.
I have never been one to talk art as investment, at least not in the traditional sense, and I’m always happy to present my opinion when asked. I’ve never been a “hard sell” kind of a guy, and when patrons start speaking about exhibition pieces in purely investment terms, I’ll steer them toward the most expensive piece on display, though I’ve never recommended a sub-par piece to a buyer just to get their commission. The largest, most impressive pieces tend to be the most expensive, and often (though not always) become the signature pieces within a body of work. I want the right piece to make it into the right collection and that involves knowing the collector, gauging their taste and knowing their budget and long-term plans. My favorite patrons are those who love the work and have to make tough decisions in order to take something home, but I’m also fortunate to have patrons for whom purchasing is not a hardship. Those clients are really philanthropists, and almost without exception they have a clear vision of what their collections need in terms of diversity and relevance, and they know that La Luz de Jesus is a gallery that can afford to take chances that other galleries can’t. Together we fund the arts as a whole and cross the boundaries of acceptance that safer more commercial spaces can not.
We’re not investing in art, we’re investing in artists.
If you’ve ever gone to a gallery show and thought, “I’d really like to own one of these,” now is your opportunity, and it’s one that pays dividends by way of satisfaction. Living around art that you enjoy will make you happier, which produces dopamine, which fights cancer and makes you live longer. But it will also extend the creative life of the artists. If that’s not a win-win situation, I don’t know what is.
The La Luz de Jesus Black Friday Art Sale can be previewed now, and is presented online only. This is a limited time offer in the purest sense. The pieces are unique, and you only get one shot to take them home. Nothing else you could buy on Black Friday carries that urgency. That x-box kinect you want is only going to get cheaper with time, and you’ll never lose an opportunity to buy one. The Clayton Brothers’ first exhibited collaboration is a one-time deal with bragging rights no gaming system can top.
And art is usually tax deductible!