Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's My Art Worth, Part 2 - Auction House Estimates

In a follow-up to the recent post, ``What's My Art Worth'' I think it would be helpful to explain the difference between estimates provided by auction houses and those provided by independent, professional appraisers.

Let's say you have a landscape painting by a California painter from the 1930s and you want to know what it might bring at auction. You do a little research online and discover that Bonhams & Butterfields has annual auctions in San Francisco for California painting. You go to their website and submit a digital photograph of your painting, its dimensions, where you acquired the piece etc... After a couple of weeks you hear back from them and they are interested in handling the painting in an upcoming auction. They provide an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. It's important to understand that these estimates are not simply a range of what like paintings have sold for at auction in recent years. Rather these estimates also take into account prospective buyers and what will draw them into bidding on the property. So typically, the estimate will be set low in the hopes that it will attract bidders looking for a bargain. The hoped for scenario is that this will encourage competitive bidding, driving up the price beyond the high end of the estimate.

An independent appraiser compliant with the ethics and standards of USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) approaches the project from a more objective standpoint. Marketing considerations have no bearing on our analysis. Moreover our fee is set at an hourly or per project rate rather than to the percentage of the appraised value which would obviously lead to inflated valuations. Rather the value conclusion of the painting is derived from an analysis of realized sales of similar properties at a variety of auction houses. Moreover, the appraiser interprets the nuances of the sale to determine why one painting may have sold for significantly more than another similar painting, or why it sold for twice times the estimate, who the bidders were, the history of ownership of the painting etc... The appraiser can also advise you on which auction house would be the best venue for selling your work by evaluating how often artworks by the artist are sold through their showrooms, how successful they have been in realizing realizing high prices relative to other auction houses etc..

For more on professional appraisal practice see the "Art of the Appraisal" in a recent NYTimes article.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

What's My Art Worth?

In a sign of the times, one of the most frequent queries that we get these days goes something like this: ``I was given (inherited, won) a print or painting, sculpture by ``John Smith'' (or, I don't know who the artist is but it looks really old) and am curious about what it is worth because I'd like to sell it. Can you help me?''

Before we can answer that question, there is some key information that we need in order to determine if we can help you or, if you have something that is worth an appraiser's standard fee of upwards of $150 an hour.

Is it original?
By original we mean, is it a unique oil/acrylic/watercolor/drawing or sculpture that is signed by an artist? If you are not sure and if it is in a frame, examine it out of the frame.

Who is the artist?

Look for a signature on the front or the back of the painting, or, if it is a sculpture, on the base. Another reason to take a print or painting out of the frame is that there may be a gallery label on the back identifying the artist, title, date and even price.

What are the dimensions?
Height and width of a two-dimensional work, height, width and depth if a three-dimensional work.

What is the history of ownership?
Where did you or the person from whom you received the artwork acquire the piece? If you don't know, look for any old appraisals, invoices or certificates.

What is the condition?
The condition of the artwork usually has a significant impact on value. Look for rips, holes, insect infestation, fading, toning, water damage etc... Again, this is another reason to remove an artwork from the frame. Oftentimes artwork that has been in the family for decades has never been reframed, consequently the piece has become degraded due to over-exposure to light, or from non-archival acidic backings.

Do a quick google search with the artist's name to see if he or she pops up. Or go to one of the fine art databases to see if your artist has enough of a market to be included.

Finally, it is important to understand that the value of an artwork varies according to the purpose of the appraisal. The value assigned to a work for insurance purposes is Replacement Value, typically what you would pay at a gallery. The value assigned to an artwork for donation, estate tax or sales purposes, is known as Fair Market Value, defined by professional appraisal organizations as what a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree is a reasonable price in the open marketplace, usually the auction market.

Monday, August 22, 2011

About that $65 million dollar painting....

As I mentioned in a blog post back in June, one of the big stories of the Spring Auctions held in Beijing and Hong Kong was the $65,399,350 paid for a painting by Qi Baishi, ``Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree with Four-character couplet in Seal Script'' at China Guardian Auctions on May 22nd. A truly astounding price and frankly, hard to understand. True, its provenance was impressive. Qi Baishi intended it as a gift for Chiang Kai-shek's 60th birthday, and the seller was well-known Shanghai billionaire collector Liu Yiqian. But who was the buyer?? Much has been made of the China's booming economy and rapidly expanding class of millionaires and billionaires. However, there is another explanation that has less to do with passion for art or even conspicuous consumption. As it turns out the buyer was a corporation, not an individual collector. Artron.net has reported that the Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co. Ltd. purchased the painting, adding it to a collection of hundreds of ink and oil paintings by modern masters. That the buyer is a corporation lends support to the idea that the current Chinese art market is speculative, and that it is investment groups and corporations that are driving the Chinese art market into the stratosphere. According to a recent article ``investing'' cash in the Chinese art market is looking even more attractive to Chinese tycoons and corporations due to an overheated real estate market. This along with growing inflation and low interest rates leaves few investment options in China.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Song Zhuang Art District, Beijing

One of the most interesting places I visited on my trip to China in early June was the Song Zhuang Art District on the outskirts of Beijing. We were taken by our friend Liu Yan who kindly arranged for us to meet with Shao Qi, an art gallery director, and to visit the studios of artists, Liu Liguo and Chen Qing Qing. The first artists moved to Song Zhuang in the mid-1990s after the government pushed them from their neighborhoods in Beijing to make room for new development projects. Looking for a new place to work, the artists moved to a rural village that would be somewhat removed from the purview of the state. Since then the artists have turned Song Zhuang from a backwater to a thriving artist colony which now numbers around 4000, including international art stars like Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun as well as thousands of struggling and foreign artists.

After driving for about 45 minutes away from the center of Beijing we arrived at what first appears to be a rather non-descript suburb with roads lined with small stores selling paint, pipes and vegetables. However, as our driving tour continued we were astounded to see a series of imposing, architecturally striking museums and galleries under construction. Those that were completed were mostly empty or closed.

Equally anomalous was a massive sculpture created by Fang Lijun set in the middle of a round-about. At first it struck me as looking like an over-sized Hersey's Kiss. But, as Shao Qi explained, the different colored and textured layers represent the hierarchy of Chinese society with the wide thick base made of earth identified with the peasant class supporting six more ever-diminishing layers up to the golden pinnacle representing China's political and business elite - a wry commentary on the disparity of wealth and power in China today.

Besides visiting the comfortable and well-appointed studios of Liu Liguo and Chen Qing Qing, we also stopped in to visit the condo of a middle-aged, amateur painter, and the wife of a wealthy businessman. Her current digs were modern and pleasant but temporary, and she was in the throes of designing and beginning construction on a brand-new, permanent home to be built on land leased from the local government. With China's newly affluent class taking up residence, the life-style of the majority of artists living and working in Song Zhuang is threatened by rising rents and plans by the government to develop Tongzhou, the district where Song Zhuang is located, into a commercial center by 2015.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Records set at Beijing Poly

Much as I would have liked to post more during my stay in Beijing and Shanghai, the Great Firewall of China prevented me from doing so (except when I was staying at my friend's place in Beijing which has VPN). Not only does the Great Firewall reject logging in to Facebook and Twitter but it also prevented me from accessing my own blog. I guess ``blog'' is a dirty word in China.

Not surprisingly, the auctions at Beijing Poly International went off great with many records set in various categories including traditional and contemporary Chinese painting. Setting the record for the most ever paid for a painting by a contemporary artist, a large horizontal abstract painting ``Lion Woods'' by master ink painter Wu Guanzhong who died a year ago (1919-2010) sold for 115 million RMB or more than US$17 million. Altogether twenty-five works by the artist were sold at Poly for over 500 million RMB or more that US$77 million.

Even more eye-popping was a landscape painting by the iconic 14th century master Wang Meng which sold for 402.5 million RMB or around US$62 million, the third highest price ever paid for a Chinese work at auction. This came on the heels of the China Guardian sale of a hanging scroll awkwardly entitled ``Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree with Couplet'' by the great ink painter Qi Baishi which sold for more than US$65 million. Born in 1864 in central China's Hunan Province, Qi Baishi is especially revered for his depiction of small things, such as birds, fish, fruit and vegetables. He was also known as an outstanding calligrapher. Figures from the art market data organization Art Price show that Qi's works raked in more than 70 million U.S. dollars in sales worldwide in 2009, only behind the works of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hong Kong auctions completed and Poly Auctions underway...

With the Hong Kong sales just ending and the Beijing Poly sales now underway, it looks like another banner season for the Chinese art auction market. Christie's Hong Kong finished up with a record almost US$500 million in sales at their May auctions. And, of course, China Guardian sales made big news with a painting by modern master Qi Baishi selling for $65 million. Who is driving the market? The newly minted Chinese millionaires (who now number more than a million)including financiers and private company owners who are putting their money in Chinese art...everything from porcelains to contemporary art. One group in particular, Shaanxi coal mine owners, are, to quote one Shanghai-based dealer, ``are very comfortable'' putting their cash into art. And from the looks of some of the more aggressive bidders last night at the modern ink painting sale last night, this appears to be true. Missing at the auction were foreign buyers. This is in part due to the restrictions on what can be taken out of China; it is also due to the different tastes of domestic and overseas collectors of Chinese art. However, this may change soon as Beijing Poly and Guardian get up to speed on attracting foreign buyers to sales which include ``overlap'' artists, like Liu Ye, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang etc...and start marketing artists popular in China to overseas collectors. According to Forbes magazine, Beijing Poly is considering establishing a branch in New York.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 3 in Beijing

Hazy and hot in Beijing, and the same might be said about the Chinese auction market where backroom dealing may be driving the extraordinary high prices paid at auction. On Monday and Tuesday I attended the preview of Beijing Poly's Spring sales and was astonished at the volume and quality of Chinese art available.

There will be sales of everything from fine Chinese wine to antique automobiles and jewelry to more traditional categories of porcelains, jades, lacquer, furniture, ink painting and works by contemporary Chinese artists. I felt like a kid in a candy store having the opportunity to handle exquisite and rare Ming and Qing porcelains like this imperial washbasin which sold for close to $US4 million, lacquers, jades etc...

The modern ink painting exhibit was wonderful with masterful works by artists very familiar to Western collector such as Lin Fengmian, Zhang Daqi, Wu Guanzhong, Qi Baishi, as well as with works by artists famous in China but less known in the West, such as Zhang Ding, Fan Zeng and Zhou Sicong (1939-1995) whose painting, "Miners", sold for around US$2.5 millon. What really drew me to Beijing Poly's Spring Auctions was the sale of part of the Ullens Collection of contemporary Chinese art. The Ullens are Belgian collectors who established the Ullens Center at 798 Art District and are in the process of shifting their focus from Chinese art to contemporary Indian art for reasons that would be a good subject for a future blog post.

The estimates placed on many items made my eyes pop, and I wondered which of the ``estimate supplied upon request'' properties was most likely to surpass the $65 million bid for a painting by Qi Baishi at the Guardian Auction House a couple of days ago.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Repost of Artprice report on China's dominance of the global art market

Shock wave through the art market…
China now ranks first, ahead of the USA and the UK

According to Thierry Ehrmann, founder and CEO of Artprice, world leader in art market information, “this unprecedented news represents a turning point in the history of the global art market: China is now the number 1 in terms of Fine art auction revenue”. It took just three years for China to jump from third place (previously occupied by France) in 2007 to first place in 2010, ahead of the UK and the USA, the grand masters of the market since the 1950s.

To reverse the polarity of the global art market from West to East, China has done without artifices such as hypothetical figures from art galleries ( an opaque market compared to public auctions) or even that of furniture or traditional Chinese art objects (the prices of which are shooting up worldwide). Since the 1950s, the reference ranking for the art market has been that of Fine Art at Public Auctions.
In 2010, China accounted for 33% of global Fine Art sales (paintings, installations, sculptures, drawings, photography, prints), versus 30% in the USA, 19 %in the UK and 5% in France *.

Moreover, there were 4 Chinese artists in the Top-10 ranking of global artists by auction revenue for 2010 (vs. 1 in 2009), the lowest of whom generated $112 million dollars during the year. Qi Baishi was in 2nd place ahead Andy Warhol and ahead of his compatriot Zhang Daqian; Xu Beihong took 6th place with a total of $176m and Fu Baoshi was 9th. The younger generation of Chinese artists is now imposing itself even more forcefully that their older counterparts: More than half of the 2010 global Top 10 of Contemporary artists are Chinese (Zeng Fanzhi, Chen Yifei, Wang Yidong, Zhang Xiaogang, Liu Xiaodong and Liu Ye) compared with just three Americans (Basquiat, Koons, and Prince)*.

The heart of the market now beats in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, the new driving hubs of the global art market. In 2010 Sotheby's Hong Kong revenue amounted for 2%. At the same time, Christie's 2010 Hong Kong total was 2,5% and China’s big 4 annual revenues were: Poly International (7,4%), China Guardian (5,32%), Beijing Council (2,07%), Hanhai Art Auction in Beijing (2,74%)*.

Not only has China’s economic strength (second global power in 2010) boosted its art market and projected its culture around the world, but China’s art sector has benefited from the support of its government and of Chinese collectors who are as patriotic as they are prompt to invest. China has understood the Power of Art in the history of nations. In addition, the number of auction records for Chinese artworks is bound to increase as the number of Chinese billionaires rises by 20% per year through 2014 vs. 5.6% p.a. for the rest of the planet.