According to the 2015 TEFAF art market report, the international art market is now worth more than 51 Billion Euros.
In 2015, Pablo Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers’ (Version O) was sold for $179,365,000 at Christie’s auction house. The painting had been expected to exceed $140 million, but the final price was far higher than anticipated due to fierce and competitive bidding between competitors.
Previously, the most that any painting had been sold for at Christie’s had been $142.4m in 2013 for a triptych by Francis Bacon of the painter Lucian Freud (and in case you were wondering, yes, he is a relative of Sigmund).
In the same auction, Alberto Giacometti’s life-size sculpture ‘Pointing Man’ sold for $141.3m, earning it the title of the world’s most expensive sculpture ever sold at an auction.
Most of us don’t have a spare $180 million lying around to invest in a single painting, but these incredible figures do show us just how valuable an investment in art can be. These numbers are from one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world, and the collectors are themselves, incredibly wealthy individuals who understand both the financial worth, and the intrinsic value of great art.
But you don’t have to buy at this level in order to make an intelligent and rewarding investment. Art is valuable at every one of its different tiers, throughout its varied and distinctive genres. It is a unique market because value is subjective in a way that is almost impossible with any other type of artifact, service or commodity. The objective value placed on a work of art by the Market can rapidly escalate according to the individual tastes and sensibilities of collectors and dealers. We all see, feel and think about different things when we experience a work of art, and this subjective angle is an important part of ascribing value to each artwork.
The exact purpose of art within society is ambiguous. It can be used as a record and reflection of a time, a culture or an event in history. Art can be created to display wealth and prestige, act as an acerbic form of cultural and institutional critique, or exist as a means for pure and free emotional expression. Art is many things to many different people. Because its function within society is not dictated and fixed (as is the role of education, infrastructure, the welfare system etc), it is free to occupy these weird and wonderful realms. This is part of the reason that it maintains such a subjective and special quality, and also this is an aspect of why it can become so valuable.
Investing in the Art that is valuable to you
Sounds obvious, but when choosing an artwork, pick something that speaks to you personally. Living with a work of art, you will find new layers, meanings and elements to each work all the time. Experiencing an artwork for 20 minutes in a gallery is very different to living with a painting for 20 years, and seeing it every day on your wall. Over time, you will go deeper into the brushstrokes, marks and pencil lines. You will both consciously and unconsciously learn more about its color palette, composition, technical touches and subtleties in meaning and style.
If you are a huge fan of photorealism, geometric abstraction or photography, then invest in artworks from these genres. Choose a piece that you can hang on your wall and enjoy for its aesthetic, technical, though provoking, and unique intrinsic qualities. There is no right or wrong reason for you to choose the artworks that you wish to invest in. But you can be sure that you are making a sound financial investment that you can take pleasure in for many ways for years to come.
Another reason why art is so valuable is because it can be totally unique. Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers’ (Version O) is taken from a series of 15 paintings on the subject, lettered from A – O. It is a totally original work of art, created at a time in history that can never be repeated, by a man who can never paint another canvas again, because he is no longer alive. Timing and context are exceptionally important in works of art, and all great artists are aware of this fact. An artwork is tied to the point in history in which it was created, whether it acts as a commentary on the events and circumstances, is ahead of it’s time, or is making its best efforts to appear ahistorical.
If you also add the artistic achievements and cultural prestige of Picasso, one of the worlds most respected, favored and influential artists, then you can begin to grasp how the bidders arrived at this astronomical price. Art is, and will continue to be, a highly valuable and rewarding investment.