At a time when investment-hungry art collectors can strip the value of art, why buy?
Know who to collect art from, where to buy, and why
By Meredith Bless
When I purchase a work of art of any price there is a rush of adrenaline and butterflies flutter in my stomach as I transfer payment. I have to ask myself if this is really something I will love for the rest of my life? The truth is, I’ve already asked myself that question a million times, and every time the answer is the same, Yes. I continue to buy art because the value I place on each piece I own is more than just monetary.
From Millennials to Baby Boomers, the practice of purchasing art purely for investment value has flipped the art market upside down since 2010. Exercising the practice, in a commercial market already overly sensitive to trends and fluctuating pricing practices, has put everyone on high alert since the bubble burst in 2015. Before I dive too deep, let me explain what flipping art means, and its effect on the art market, artists, and artwork.
Flipping is the rapid resale of art. At it’s peak in 2014 when art was traded like bull-market tech stock, Bloomberg reported, “Flipping has picked up as wealthy collectors chase paintings by emerging artists with the goal of reselling them quickly for a profit, a strategy some advisers say may be a sign that the contemporary art market is taking on characteristics of a financial bubble.” [Bloomberg]
Auction sales began to drop in late 2015, the emerging names were hit the hardest. Sales by some artists dropped by 90 percent or more. “When those speculators realize that there is no end user at a higher price, they scramble to sell the work before they lose everything,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group, who advises collectors. “The demand is driven by greed, the selloff by fear. It’s Economics 101.” [Bloomberg]
Austrian dealer Thaddaeus Ropac publicly called for a blacklist of flippers. But as Levin says, “In some cases major collectors have enough power in the market so that galleries can’t afford to blacklist them—for instance, if a collector is a significant trustee at an important museum.” Although the market has considerably cooled since , Ropac says the market still needs to guard itself from people who buy art for investment rather than passion. [Artsy]
Knowledge is power. In saying this, I want to remind you to not fear purchasing artwork. History has proven that artists are surprisingly resilient, even when the art world is affected by a fluctuating art market, politics, or questionable practices. Artists will rise up and either relocate, start their own galleries, become social media savvy, or partner with a trusted advisor to help them navigate through the business. So even if a small group of well-branded wealthy art collectors and advisors are treating artwork like stocks, there are hundreds of other trustworthy advisers and thousands of emerging and established artists out there who are available to you.
Who to buy from?
We live in a time where online art galleries have wooed our emerging generation of tech-savvy art collectors. These online art advising models bank on the partial myth that unlike brick and mortar galleries, they offer excellent customer service, monthly payment plans, and art that will guarantee to grow in value. Like so many first time art buyers, opinions can be easily influenced. For the busy entrepreneur, full time student, family man or woman, or business executive, perhaps this online model works well because business hours are always open, even at midnight when insomnia kicks in. I know, as an entrepreneur, I’ve been there, looking at art online at 2am.
I've also visited art galleries from San Francisco to Hong Kong to the tiny town of Bristol, Vermont. I can honestly say that 75% of the galleries I wander into, the staff has been friendly and open to questions and conversation. I've asked about payment plans, which they offer, and I've been given the opportunity to quietly admire the contents of their space, be it a typical gallery show to an experiential installation.
So what purchasing platform do I recommend? As my mother would say, l’m a floater, and I absolutely apply that concept to how I choose to purchase artwork. Like any tight-knit community, I suggest you support the people that take the time to build a relationship with you. Assess your budget, time, and most importantly, as I've said before, if you see a work of art you love, pursue it. Know there is always a way to inquire about acquiring regardless if you saw it on an artist representatives Instagram page, Pinterest, in a magazine, gallery, or cafe. If auction houses are less intimidating, use them as a window to a large variety of works. But remember, the rule of thumb is to try and only purchase art from auction that is over a decade old, otherwise, buy from galleries. [ArtNews, Winter 2017]
[Boats in the Harbor, 2016, by Abigail Gray Swartz | Hollyhocks, by Florence Shattuck]
What do I know about collecting?
I’ve been collecting art since my teens. In high school I collected sketches, paintings, and prints by my grandmother, Florence Shattuck, a well-known artist in northern Vermont. The collection grew to booklets of postcards from museums focusing on impressionist and abstract art from the 20th century. In college I began to travel internationally. I became enlightened to the difference between mass produced tourist art and true craft. I learned valuable lessons, met talented artisans, and for 10 years I allowed my creative eye, technique identification, and artistic preference to develop. In 2007 I commissioned my first and very modest sculpture directly from the Maori artist and jade carver, Paul Anderson, in New Zealand. I viewed it more as a collaboration at the time, but in industry terms, it was a commission. In 2013 I took 3 days to contemplate the purchase of a hand-woven Turkish rug during my travels through Central Turkey. Hours, no, days, were spent laying on different rugs to feel which one was right for me. In 2014 I purchased my first painting from artist Lindsay Carron from an art gallery in Alaska. Finally, last summer I acquired 2 paintings from long time friend and emerging artist, Abigail Swartz, based on what I saw on her website and purchased through Stonewall Gallery's website in 2016. Once I saw both works in person they were more magnificent than I had imagined.
I could list a number of artists and galleries that I personally prefer to buy from, but I suggest that you start in your own city, attending your community’s gallery walks and open studios. If you don't see something you like, try an online website like Uprise Art or Auction After Sale. If you find that platform too overwhelming with options, surf around Instagram for artist accounts. If none of those options sound appealing, give me a call.
Cover image titled Wú Tí 23°01'22.4N 113°06'55.0E by Nissa Kauppila, who recently had three painting catalogued and accepted into auction in Singapore as of May 24th, including the painting featured here.
Meredith Bless is a producer, creative director, and promoter at Taiga Creative offering creative talent, pre and post production on commercial photo, video, and drone requests. A team of artists are readily available to tell your companies story, ad campaign, update your media library, and help you develop your creative concepts. See who we’ve worked with in the past and read their testimonials on working with our artists. Want your story to be told? Email your idea and let’s see what we can do!