Psssst... #3 - Navigating Art Prices: A Masterclass in Acquiring Art

12/12/2023

News/Events/Exhibits

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Introduction

I know this article might raise some eyebrows... But when we aim to work in the interest of both artists and buyers, we advocate for transparency! This includes being transparent about prices and how they are determined. It's a question that often comes up and sparks debate. I've lost count of how many times I've heard people scoff at the price of an artwork, saying things like "my 5-year-old could do the same" or "all that for a piece that probably took less than an hour to make." I admit that I, too, am sometimes quite skeptical about the prices set by certain galleries. So, it is my duty, in my opinion, to explain "how it works" and potentially reveal some pitfalls and/or practices that hinder the purchase of art.

 

#1 The Price of an Artwork ? No red tape here...

 

In theory

Or by sticking to the script (if there is one !), what's the modus operandi or the ideal scenario?

 

The price of an artist's artworks is (normally) determined by supply and demand. A globally recognized and in-demand artist of great renown will sell for more than a "beginner" artist, no matter how talented the latter may be. Hence, the appeal in buying artworks before the artist becomes well-known, in numerous galleries, art fairs, etc. Ideally, all galleries should also display similar prices, perhaps with a 10% variation. The "maturity" of an artist in the market should (ideally) define the price. An artist exhibiting for the first time will be cheaper than an artist represented in many galleries. It's based on the artist's growing fame and recognition in the market that an artist gains value. Rarity commands a higher price. The more people want a rare piece, the higher the prices will be. Therefore, it's the galleries' recognition of the artist's talent and their promotion of the artist that will contribute to the artist’s fame and international recognition, will enter private or even institutional collections (museums), and consequently, make the prices soar. But that's in theory...

 

In reality

Let's be realistic...

In the Art market, prices are unfettered, subject to the seller's whims, whoever that may be, and there is no obligation to display them on websites or under the artwork in galleries or exhibitions. They may simply be listed as "on request," a practice that admittedly doesn't instill immediate confidence.

On a more serious note, it's not uncommon for the prices of artworks by the same artist to vary significantly, even dramatically, depending on the vendors. Whether it's the same period, size, or technique, the disparities can be notable—from one website to another, or from one gallery to another. Occasionally, the price gap can be substantial, sometimes doubling, contingent on whether it's a provincial gallery or one situated in the heart of Paris.

Furthermore, you might also find an artist whose artworks sell for 10,000 euros in a gallery but buy them at auction for 3,000 euros, or vice versa! (Explaining the reasons behind such differences might be a lengthy endeavor, but rest assured, I'm considering it for a future article.) Some artists sell at high prices right from the start due to influential connections or their public stature. Therefore, when it comes to the sale prices of an artist's artworks, the spectrum of possibilities is wide, including the prospect of spontaneously purchasing a piece in one gallery, only to realize it was pricier, perhaps significantly so, than in another gallery or online.

 

#2 The Solution? Do Your Research, Investigate, and Compare! Thank You, Internet!

 

Assessing the Artist's Acclaim and Recognition 

If you're eyeing an artwork, start off by delving into the artist's "reputation" online. Type in the artist's name and fire up your search engine. Are their artworks sold on major online art platforms? On the websites of numerous galleries, and in how many countries? Is the artist listed on www.artprice.com, and have their works been sold at auction (but to browse the results of past auctions, a paid subscription is required, sorry)? Have articles about the artist been written by specialized press? These indicators will help you determine if an artist is "renowned" or not. Ideally, the price of an artwork should correlate with an artist’s level of fame. Also, explore the volume of artworks available for sale. An artist inundating the market might be "over-producing" in order to supply galleries, which isn't a promising sign either.

 

Then, Examine the Price Tags (when there is one…)

The good news is that the prevailing market inclination tends to lean towards displaying prices (courtesy of or due to the internet, depending on your perspective). Consequently, gaining insights into the "typical" selling prices of an artist is becoming more straightforward. However, you need to compare prices based on size, technique (an original artwork is more expensive than a limited and signed edition print, and a painting on canvas is more expensive than a drawing on paper by the same artist), along with occasional currency conversions... In essence, compare what is comparable. Undeniably, the more famous the artist is, the more you’ll need to visit numerous websites, armed with a proficient Excel spreadsheet and a thorough understanding of its mathematical intricacies.Top of Form

Bottom of Form

 

This brings me to the other good news : Wedigart - A mobile app (also accessible on the web at www.wedigart.com) that spans a worldwide network of over 450,000 artists ! All in one place and in just a click, Wedigart lays out all the artworks, by a specific artist, currently sold on the internet. No need for endless site-hopping.

Even better! Per artist and per medium, Wedigart:

  • calculates the APRi: an average price based on prices displayed in galleries, for a 100x100 cm artwork
  • calculates the delta APRi: the observed price discrepancies (a delta APRi of zero indicates that all prices are consistent)

·         Provides a calculator that allows you to estimate the price of an artwork based on its size, using the APRi as a reference point, for a 100x100 cm artwork.

 

This can help you determine if the artwork you're interested in is a sound purchase, reasonably priced, or potentially more expensive than the typical benchmark for the artist's market value.

With all this said, if you're into preserving artistic legacy and looking for a wise investment, subscribe to Artprice. It will let you verify an artist's "official rating" and see how well their artworks sell in the secondary market. But, of course, that's a story for another day...

 

Conclusion

Granted…it’s complicated and not very reassuring ! However, most galleries abide by the rules, and thanks to the vast realm of the internet—where prices are increasingly transparent, even at exhibitions, fairs, or tucked away in galleries—transparency is becoming the standard. So, the likelihood of paying more for an artwork at one place than another is decreasing.

 

But the real question is whether the artist's value matches their talent and fame ?

 

It's a bit tricky, especially if you're looking for a wise investment. Nevertheless, I'll always come back to the same adage : purchasing an artwork should fundamentally be about an emotional connection, perhaps even love at first sight…within your budget, of course. Will it turn out to be a good investment? If it does, then it's simply the cherry on top of your joy in feasting your eyes on it !

 

Until next time…

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Article published by Julien ARBELAITZ