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Art is not always expensive

[26 Aug 2014]

 

Nowadays, competition is very much a part of the art market; the major auction houses compete, countries compete to remain or became the global market’s key poles, and artists compete with each other for the limelight and the best results. Hand in hand with this competition, There is intense marketing, the impact of fashions, and hyper-media exposure for certain artists. So where does this leave art prices?

Well… competition being what it is… art is in fact not that expensive! It is certainly no longer reserved exclusively for well-advised investors and wealthy insiders. In fact, the art market remains, to an overriding extent, a market for “upper-middle class” budgets, with 70% of its auction lots selling for less than $5,000. True, this percentage has been falling over the last decade (it was 75% in 2003) as a result of the extremely high price rises in China and the United States (the two countries at the top of the market’s high end), but it still represents the vast majority of art sales. And nor is there any reason to believe that art below the $5,000 threshold concerns exclusively works by “second fiddle” or “regional” or “first-time Contemporary” artists. In fact, you can acquire works for less than five thousand by artists as famous as the 17th century master REMBRANDT VAN RIJN (more than 60% of his works sell for less than five grand, essentially engravings that we recommend you pay particular attention to the quality and the print date). More than 80% of the works by the Japanese star of photography, Nobuyoshi ARAKI, fit into this budget as well: he took thousands of Polaroids that have the advantage of being both original and unique. The prints and engravings created by the Franco-American artist, Louise BOURGEOIS, are also in this category (40% of her auction lots).

From a geographical point of view, the most interesting and densest zone for the under $5,000 budget is in fact Europe. Small treasures are regularly turning up at regional auction sales or at Druout in Paris which hosts no less than 74 auction companies and offers some 500,000 objects and artworks every year. Apart from the historical works, for which France remains the world’s primary attic (Alibaba’s cave might be a more accurate description…), whole segments of 19th century art remain seriously under-valued. In effect, the majority of European artists (except for one or two German and English masters), and particularly French artists, are untainted by speculation. They therefore represent a dynamic and affordable source for art lovers who wish to acquire works by already recognized signatures and works that are in tune with their epoch. Take for example Gérard GAROUSTE, whose most recently auctioned major oil painting fetched $16,000 (Untitled, 1974, Artcurial Paris, May 5, 2014) whereas his most recently sold ink drawing fetched just $700 (Personnages, 1987, Beaussant-Lefevre SARL, Paris, December 18, 2013). Then there is Jean-Michel ALBEROLA who was associated with the Free Figuration movement. In April of this year, a gouache measuring over a meter (La Main qui tient, 1998, 112 cm x 91.5 cm, Tajan Paris, April 29 2014) sold for the equivalent of $5,300. In the same month, an acrylic on paper by Ivan MESSAC, the youngest of the Narrative Figuration artists, sold for just $2,200 in Versailles (American Indian Movement, 44 cm x 43.5 cm, Versailles Enchères, April 27, 2014)…

These are all artists who have works in major national museums and are part of 20th century art history. However they are far, very far, from the huge sums generated by their American and Chinese peers. Apart from the star signatures and the occasional signatures that become subject to episodes of modish buying, all the European art scenes (and not just the “emerging” artists) are worth exploring and rediscovering, especially nowadays that it is so much easier to obtain objective information quickly and easily.

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