A “bargain hunter’s paradise” is how The Wall Street Journal summed up the sales season last autumn at major Manhattan auction houses, noting as well the willingness of buyers to take on big loans to fund the purchase of works on the block.
If an infinitesimally small percentage of the populace place bids through Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other auctioneers, that art market begs the question: how is art as an investment for the rest of us? Connecticut is home to more than its fair share of serious art collectors, so it is a question with major relevance, as heirlooms are passed to children and with art shows dotting the state year round in galleries and other venues.
In the 250-page Art Market study of global trends published by Art Basel and UBS, researchers pegged 2018 as the second-biggest year for sales worldwide at $67.5 billion, eclipsed only by the $68 billion in transactions rung up in 2014. The Art Market is the first to admit it is a tricky market to assess, given the large numbers of purchases through private galleries and dealers.
How does one pin a value on any one work of art? Advisers with the Chicago investment giant Northern Trust identify six elements that determine value — the authenticity of a piece; its rarity; the condition; a title free of encumbrances like liens; its ownership history; and whether it falls under any governmental restrictions. Note that aesthetic appeal is not on the list.
Establishing or updating that value requires the services of an appraiser — think Antiques Roadshow — with the Appraisers Association of America listing more than 20 in Connecticut from Greenwich to Tolland, in specialties ranging from paintings, prints and sculpture to furniture, silver and other household possessions, even mechanical artifacts like antique autos that some value as works of art.
For the best Connecticut Magazine content, plus the week's most compelling news and entertainment picks, delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Old Lyme appraiser Ginger Druchyk notes that much of that activity is driven by the traditional “three Ds” — divorce, death and debt, as art is valued for collateral purposes. But digital is coming to represent another addition, with the internet driving no insignificant amount of demand as buyers learn how much information on artists is available, helping to establish and enhance the value of any single work over time.
“Technology has moved the needle dramatically,” says Druchyk, the owner of Ginger Druchyk Art Advisory. “Everybody has access to a lot of information — albeit some of it costs money to access some of the databases … so they will turn to an expert or adviser to get some of that information. It’s been an immeasurable tool to appraisers.”
But as Liz Tardiff puts it from her vantage running the buyers’ consultancy Cherry Street Art in Westport, there is an art to buying art. “In the secondary market where art is being resold and auctioned … prices fluctuate,” Tardiff says. “I find that people buy art for one of three reasons: one, to add visual interest to a space; two, to start or build a personal collection; three, to invest and make a profit.
“Any reason to buy art is a great reason, but the personal objective dictates how you will go about making an art acquisition,” Tardiff added. “Engaging in any process to acquire art will be enlightening, educational and rewarding no matter what the objective. Successful art acquisitions can be a result of diligent planning and research or purely accidental.”
The Art Market points out a major demographic group that has yet to materialize in the states: millennials. Just 16 percent of U.S. collectors are under age 50, while percentages are much higher in some Asian markets, the study estimated.
Millennials tend to make more spur-of-the-moment investment decisions when it comes to purchasing works of art, and at smaller sums. And they are more apt to purchase works online rather than upon personal inspection. Sotheby’s efforts to capitalize on that trend are filtering down to smaller auction houses as well, with the Connecticut collection including Fairfield Auction in Monroe, Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers in Milford and Westport Auction in Norwalk.
“We don’t talk much about it but … we’re not just making it easier for people to buy, (but) also easier for people to consign,” former Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith said last spring on a conference call with investment analysts on the eve of being taken private. “There were periods last year … on our online consignment platform where we had to turn off the digital advertising effort — this is in 2018 — because we were actually bringing too many people in. There were more coming in on the online consignment platform than we could actually handle operationally, so we actually turned it down.”
As for that bargain hunter’s paradise? For Tardiff, it can be found at any price point if one keeps the personal aesthetic appeal of any piece top of mind.
“When you buy what you love, you can’t lose,” she says.
Connecticut auction houses
Outside the gilded auction houses of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, any number of options exist for art collectors to appraise, buy and sell works and for executors to liquidate estates, including several in Connecticut.
Trinity International Auctions, 21F Waterside Court, Avon, 860-677-9996, tiauctions.com
Nest Egg Auctions, 758 Four Rod Road, Berlin, 203-630-1400, nesteggauctions.com
Black Rock Galleries, 1720 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport, 203-335-0000, blackrockgalleries.com
New England Auction Co., 31 Joes Hill Road, Danbury, 203-470-4405, newenglandauctioncompany.com
Litchfield County Auctions, 425 Bantam Road, Litchfield, 860-567-4661, litchfieldcountyauctions.com
Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, 49 Research Drive, Milford, 203-877-1711, shannons.com
Joseph Kabe Estate Auctions, 230 Broad St., Milford, 203-877-0143, josephkabe.com
Fairfield Auction, 707 Main St., Monroe, 203-880-5200, fairfieldauction.com
Westport Auction, 250 Westport Ave., Norwalk, 203-222-3448, westportauction.com
Winter Associates, 21 Cooke St., Plainville, 860-793-0288, auctionsappraisers.com
Stallion Hill Gallery, 375 Morgan Lane, West Haven, 475-238-7605, stallionhillgallery.com
Nadeau’s Auction Gallery, 25 Meadow Road, Windsor, 860-246-2444, nadeausauction.com