There is nothing new when I say that Art can be beautiful, mesmerizing, incomprehensible, terrifying, funny, or make you think about those things you may not want or had a chance to think about.
Art lifts you to new places, and at its most basic level, it makes your daily life much more interesting and attractive to live.
But buying art is a mystery shopping experience.
Because the value of artwork is a subjective exercise. In fact, we could say that Art is the first cryptocurrency, long before computers existed.
These may be algorithms that have not been studied enough, but just like a present day cryptocurrency, Art and new- and old- artists’ prices increase through a natural process of engagement and consideration that is passed on from person to person. A wave of word of mouth knowledge, academic considerations, and admiration that, as it flows around the globe, creates new stars and increases the intrinsic value of an artist and his or her art.
So how do you know if a price is correct? Well, in fact this may be the biggest disconnect with my comparison with cryptocurrencies. You don´t (or at least there is no obvious set of highly complex but allegedly explainable algorithms that justify its value). There is a certain understood value that the “market” will allow for a specific artwork. The problem is that there is no one market.
The traditional market could be seen as the gallery market. While a logical place to shop, the truth is that it is a diminishing market. High rental prices, high overheads in general, little regard for the career of the represented artists, little transparency (towards the buyer and towards the artist), exorbitant commissions (on average 50% of the value of an artwork will go to the Gallery plus space rental and other expenses which can mean that an artist could get paid 30% or less of the value of a painting… if they really know how much was really paid for their art, and if they do get paid).
There are good galleries of course. But many galleries have, for decades, pushed prices up for their own benefit and not for the artist´s benefit, and with little logic. Value of an artwork may increase or decrease according to how they gage their potential customer. This one looks he or she can pay some more, so we will ask for more. In another case, we need money for rent tomorrow, so we will let a piece go for less. That and the business of selling fake art works have hurt them a great deal. Those attitudes, which hinder on the value building exercise which must go behind any artist´s body of work, plus the opening up of alternate opportunities with social media, fairs, artist run events and so on, have made the wider traditional Gallery market, more or less a sinking system.
Art Fairs are divided between gallery run and artist run. In all cases these are business ventures which have the advantage of bringing people and artists together. The Gallery run Fairs are still an extension of the Gallery system. They can be a little more transparent because of the inherent competition that is intrinsic to these events. Artist run Fairs are more transparent, but they can be patchy in terms of quality and not necessarily a guide into real prices. The whole ambiance will push you to impulse buying, and you may find you bought something you didn´t actually like a couple of days later.
Online galleries are out there (Saatchi being the most famous). They are a decent mix between what I mentioned above and what I will talk about below. They usually take credit card payments and allow for returns. They mostly take artwork directly from the artists, although I know of several traditional galleries who have secretly placed art on these online galleries marketplaces.
Many artists today do self management of their careers. And that is a completely different market. Some do it on their own and some with the advise of others. In my case, I have mostly stayed away from galleries and managed my own career. Maybe it is my bad luck, but I have not been able to run across a gallery owner who has had the ethics, honesty, and knowledge that I expect. I am still hopeful I will find the right person (gallerist or Agent) that will do part of my current job, but I am still looking.
So I manage my own art career with the invaluable help of notable curators. Jack O´Brien (Naples Art Association), Anna Mish (formerly of the Manassas Center for the Arts and an independent curator), Irene Jaievsky (Museo de la Mujer, Buenos Aires), Alfredo Ratinoff (formerly at the Smithsonian and Chief Curator at the Embassy of Argentina in Washington DC and the IDB Gallery), Bobby Donovan (former Assistant Director of Arts Programs at the University of Maryland) are just some of the people whom, over the last few years, have given me good, intelligent, knowledgeable and sensible advise at different times. They have all been generous, sensitive, and above all, they are all people who love art deeply, and care about the artists above any financial consideration. I can truly say I have been very lucky.
So what would be a good guide into prices?
Well, first of all, buying directly from an artist may save you some money. No intermediaries means that you probably will pay a little less. Buying directly from the artist should also get you away from the fakes. It is more difficult. Usually it means looking at paintings online, no physical setting to look at them because the marketplace is global (unless you live close by). Most artists will give you 10 days or more to change your mind if you decide against a painting you purchase. And even though you will have to pay for the P&H of the return, as long as the painting has not been damaged, you will probably get your money back.
Reputable galleries will also give you time to change your mind (between 10 and 30 days) and they have the advantage of having the paintings on show and if not they will be online (although, again, in a global market that is the same as with direct from the artist purchases). They will take credit cards and they can give you some good (and sometimes bad) advise.
Online galleries are purely a matter of impulse buying, since you do not have any human interaction between you and the art you are looking at.
In very general terms, I always say that art sales could be divided between the impulsive (I love this, I want it now!), the emotional (a person slowly falls in love with a painter´s story and body of work, and that emotional connection makes them want to have some of it), the utilitarian (I need a painting with these colors so it enhances the wall behind my couch at home or my desk at the office, or as a gift for my friend´s house or office), the investor (this artist has increased in value by 100% over the last 2 years, I need to get some of that…), and the “I simply need something nice and that it will fit on my wall, but not too expensive please” kind of crowd.
In all cases, the combination of quality + price + ease of purchase is key. To that you must add, particularly when prices are higher, how interesting is the artist story and background, and the potential for value growth for the particular art work and the artist behind it.
Like anything, buy what you can afford. If it seems reasonable, it probably is. If it does not, it may not be, or it may be and you need to do some more background research on the artist to see if it is really worth it.
That said, make sure you also buy from your heart rather than your wallet.
When it comes to art, your heart will always give you better advise than any recommendation that anyone of us can give you. Remember, the art you buy will mostly stay with until the end. So, just like in life, it is much easier to live with someone you love than with someone you hate and only married for money!
I hope this helps.
Happy Art hunting! And as long as you are, check out http://www.ignacioalperin.com for some rally nice art pieces.
Until next time.
©2018 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera