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What Nobody Wants to Admit About Investing in Art – Bloomberg



Updated on October 2, 5:30 AM EDT

What You Need To Know

Everyone stuck at home is tired of looking at the same stuff.

Online art sales, it turns out, have surged during the pandemic. Auction house Sotheby’s sold $285 million worth of fine art and decorative objects this year through July 31 — triple the value for all of 2019. In that time, 13,000 lots sold compared with 4,000 during the same period the year before. The online portal for art and furniture dealers, 1stdibs, says that between March 1 and Aug. 31 it facilitated the sale of a staggering 8,000 artworks, a 65% jump year over year.

Here’s hoping these new art collectors love whatever they bought. Just how far their money goes comes down to a combination of taste, financial priorities and personal preference. If they try to resell their new acquisitions, they’ll soon discover that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but value is in the hands of someone else.

Key Coverage

By The Numbers

  • 40.5 million Estimated number of total art transactions in 2019.
  • $10,000 Estimated median price of an artwork sold by dealers last year.
  • 310,810 The approximate number of businesses selling art and antiques worldwide.

Why It Matters

If the value of a piece of art ever goes up, it usually does so through a small number of traditional, surprisingly predictable channels: art dealers who persuade their wealthy clients to spend more; auction houses that entice wealthy collectors to bid higher; wealthy collectors themselves buying and selling art to each another; and finally through an ecosystem of curators, scholars, critics and tastemakers who contribute, in whatever elliptical way, to perceptions of worth.

The rest of us are left to buy art that will almost certainly lose value — and never gain it back — the second we hang it on the wall.

In other words, don’t stress out about buying art as an investment, because it’s generally a bad one. That said, there are approaches you can take to art buying. You can consider the acquisition as you would a chair or lamp, something to be used and enjoyed but not resold. Or you can approach it as a financial decision, after first acknowledging that even the best-laid plans still don’t guarantee a return on investment.

Either way, you can use the following as a guide. And remember! If you don’t want to live with it, it’s not worth buying at any price.

1. There Are Hundreds of Art Markets

Just because one artwork costs less than another doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. It could be that one work is subject to very different market forces than the other. The demand for Ming vases, for instance, is not the same as the market for mid-century sculpture, and the ways in which value is created in the Old Masters market is worlds apart from that of French Impressionism. So before you look at an object and decide it’s a “deal,” make sure you’re basing that assumption on the sales of other, similar objects.

In general, new collectors tend to gravitate toward paintings, for the simple reason that they’re the most obvious, accessible choice. But you shouldn’t overlook excellent photographs, prints, watercolors and etchings, too. Similarly, galleries tend to focus on 20th and 21st century artworks. The reality is you can choose from a 7,000-year span of art history.

2. For Once, Put Faith in Middlemen

Art galleries take a cut of about 50% on each sale. It’s reasonable, then, to wonder whether you can save money by buying direct from the artist. But you have to remember that when a gallery adds an artist to its “stable,” it’s often committing to partner with that artist, fronting her money to make artworks, investing heavily to promote her shows, and even helping pay to get her work shown in museums. The artist, in turn, is often committed to that gallery for the same reasons. If she has a good relationship with her dealers, she probably won’t be open to the idea of selling behind her dealer’s back.

The good news is that if the dealer has an established reputation and a vested interest in the artist she’s selling — and better yet, has a proven record of buying and reselling work after she’s sold it the first time — there’s a much higher likelihood you’ll be able to eventually resell your own art, too. Small galleries like James Fuentes on New York’s Lower East Side, to mid-size galleries like Gallery Hyundai in Seoul, to mega international galleries like Hauser & Wirth are all, at least in theory, places where you can go to both buy and sell artworks. In sum, dealers are an artwork’s ambassador and advocate, and when it comes to sustaining (or increasing!) value, you’ll often need their clout to make it happen.

3. Think of the Cost of Labor

When you buy a freshly made artwork, chances are it was created by a person who’s doing their best to live off the proceeds of their art. As a result, the cost of that creator’s quality of life (not to mention cost of materials) is baked into the price, which is why even paintings on coffee shop walls can have thousand-dollar price tags.

The easy way around it? Buy a painting that has been bought and sold before, eliminating at least some of the markup. Look at smaller auction houses, which you can find through sites like and; you’ll still be paying a buyer’s premium, but the art itself will often be comparatively cheap.

4. Look for the Blind Spots

The art market has biases that have nothing to do with pure artistic merit. Paintings by Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens can sell for tens of millions; his drawings often sell for a fraction of that. A bronze sculpture by 20th century Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti sold for more than $140 million, whereas his paintings sell for much less. Last year a portrait of his brother Diego, for contrast, sold for $1.6 million. Chump change!

What’s important to remember is that those biases are not set in stone and often change as quickly as fashion. So if an artist’s early work is currently selling at a premium, consider her later work instead; more broadly, if a certain artistic period is suddenly undesirable (I wrote that Victorian paintings were out of style three years ago, and that’s still the case), there’s a good chance they might come back in vogue in a few years.

Also, just because something is very old doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. A 2,600-year-old Etruscan figure of a lion sold for 10,000 British pounds ($12,700) at an auction at Sotheby’s last year. In the same sale, a 2,300-year-old gold torque (a stiff necklace) sold for 11,250 pounds, or about $1,000 less than a new 18 karat gold “Maker’s” chain necklace at Tiffany’s. A gold figurine that’s thousands of years old sometimes costs less than it would if it were melted down and sold as an ingot.

5. Art Never Comes With A Guarantee

Even art-world insiders strike out just as often as they strike gold. No artist, whatever their buzz, is a sure thing. Not if their work is in a prestigious collector’s living room, not if it’s in all the best museum collections, not if there’s a stack of glowing reviews.

Have you heard of Robert Yarber, whose work the late New York Times critic John Russell called “undeniably compelling,” and whose art is in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum? Would you have been able to predict that Ferdinand Botero — the second most successful living artist at auction in 1993 — would soon be eclipsed by Jeff Koons? Or that Jeff Koons’s market would subsequently stall out too?

6. Then There’s Fractional Art Investing

Recently, a new way to buy art has emerged in the form of “fractional investing.” The basic premise is that very expensive artworks appreciate more (and faster) than cheap artworks, and when a lot of people pool their money, they can participate in these outsize returns. Aside from that highly dubious logic (see above) there are some unavoidable downsides to fractional art investing, the most important of which is that investors never take physical possession of the art. That alone obviates the primary draw of art collecting, namely looking at, and enjoying, the thing you own.

    Just figure out what sells for peanuts today and will command a fortune in 30 years or so.


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    Saving the saints: St. Ninian's restoration reveals art history in Antigonish –



    Michelle Gallinger spends more than nine hours a day pressed against the grand walls of St. Ninian’s Cathedral.

    She’s slowly revealing a piece of Canadian history that’s been hidden for decades.

    Under the painted walls and columns of the Antigonish, N.S., church, is an extraordinary mural by Quebec painter Ozias Leduc.

    Gallinger, a fine arts conservator based in Dartmouth, considers him the Michelangelo of Canada.

    “It’s pretty exciting. You get to have your hands on somebody’s painting who nobody has seen in its entirety since 1937,” said Gallinger.

    Leduc has been recognized by the federal government as a national historic person, a designation given to people who’ve made unique and enduring contributions to Canada’s history.

    He painted 150 churches, mostly in his home province. Gallinger said St. Ninian’s is the only one in Eastern Canada.

    Leduc and his team painted the church in 1902, 26 years after the cathedral opened.

    His work covered the entire interior from floor to ceiling. But in 1937, the cathedral needed an update and the first layer of paint was added, covering up some of the murals.

    For three months, Michelle Gallinger and her team have been standing on scaffolding at the top of St. Ninian’s Cathedral, restoring murals by hand. (Robert Short/CBC)

    Over the years, as many as seven layers of paint covered up the masterpiece, leaving only some of the saints exposed. They became known as the “floating saints.” 

    The rose medallions on the ceiling were filled in. They’re now blue circles, but their intricate designs can be seen peeking through the layers.

    Most people have no idea what’s actually on St. Ninian’s walls.

    “The columns are actually painted marble,” said Gallinger. “On the outside aisles, the Stations of the Cross are all painted by Ozias Leduc and there are stencils that go up the wall.”

    Two angels on the walls hadn’t been seen since 1957, when they were completely painted over. Damage caused by a steam leak at the cathedral caused layers of paint to peel away. (Robert Short/CBC)

    It’s Gallinger’s job to bring that work back to life, and she’s working against the clock to save Leduc’s masterpiece.

    A few years ago, there was a steam leak inside the cathedral that travelled up the columns.

    “That actually caused the paint and all the subsequent layers to flake off or come forward,” said Gallinger. Those curling pieces of paint are taking the original mural with them.

    In 2012, the church decided to start a campaign to save the murals. It started fundraising and every time donations total $80,000, Gallinger comes in with her team to save two saints.

    In all, it’s expected the work will cost more than half a million dollars.

    “The best part of it is when you get to take the four layers of artist paint off the faces. They no longer look dead or tired — they come alive,” said Gallinger.

    The restoration team is using stencils to fill in some missing pieces of Ozias Leduc’s original mural. (Robert Short/CBC)

    In this phase of the project, Gallinger and two of her colleagues have been tasked with revealing two saints, Matthias and Peter, as well as two angels that have been completely covered since 1957.

    It’s incredibly slow, detailed work that is done by hand.

    “We actually have to glue it all back down using steam irons and adhesive and hot irons,” Gallinger said of the peeling paint.

    “Then we have to use what’s called a poultice, which is basically a wad of cotton with a solvent on it, to remove the top layers down to the original layer.”

    Ozias Leduc originally painted St. Ninian’s from floor to ceiling. The blue circles were filled with rose medallions. While some parts have been restored, other sections are now flaking away. (Robert Short/CBC)

    Once the layers are removed, she can see the original brushstrokes and paint colours.

    “Right now, the two angels are just standing on clouds and it’s just glorious to see them,” she said.

    But the damage of time is clear: some parts of the walls have peeled in large chunks, leaving behind blank white sections. That’s where Gallinger and her team are trying to fill in the blanks with their own paint.

    “We will put a fine art varnish on it,” she explained. “They could always take our overpaint off without ever affecting the original Leduc.”

    Michelle Gallinger says they were fortunate to find a few old photos of St. Ninian’s that were stored in Quebec. She’s using those to fill in missing sections of Ozias Leduc’s original mural. (Robert Short/CBC)

    Rev. Donald MacGillivray, rector of St. Ninian’s, has been watching the church walls transform.

    “Beauty is important,” he said. “The artwork here was made beautiful, and to have it restored brings beauty back into the building.”

    He said it is incredible that people have been willing to donate to the project over the years. Every dollar has been an anonymous contribution.

    “People come up to me and say, ‘I want to give money to help with this, but I don’t want my name to be known.'”

    St. Ninian’s still has to raise $280,000 to restore the remaining seven saints. The cathedral hopes to finish the project in three years. (Robert Short/CBC)

    The church is filled with posters showing old photos that give hints of what’s hidden on the walls, and explaining the work that needs to go into each of the saints.

    When this phase finishes up next week, St. Ninian’s still has seven saints to save.

    MacGillivray’s goal is to have the money raised in the next two or three years.

    And while he waits to bring Gallinger’s team back to Antigonish, MacGillivray takes the time to appreciate the section that they have almost completely transformed.

    “It’s wonderful,” he said.


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    GRT public art display misused to display hate symbol in Cambridge –



    A quick response from the region’s transit provider after a hate symbol was briefly seen on Sunday on the Cambridge Centre Mall transit terminal’s public art display.

    Peter Zinck is the Director of Transit Services for the Region of Waterloo – speaking with 570 NEWS, he said that the station’s pinboard had been manipulated to show a swastika and that the behaviour was promptly addressed by GRT staff in under an hour.

    “We’ve turned the matter over to police, who will investigate. We will be fully supporting their investigation in any way that GRT can.”

    Zinck said that the report came through from a media service on Sunday morning around 9:00 a.m. Staff members were sent to the Cambridge Centre station to re-arrange the board before forwarding the issue to regional police. He said that Grand River Transit places a high priority on these kinds of issues – whether it’s a public art display or a reported piece of graffiti.  

    When asked about problematic behaviour with the pin-board display and whether a decision would be considered to remove it, Zinck said that this is the first reported circumstance of the public art piece being misused in this way.

    “Hopefully this is just a one-off, and that people recognize this is there for public art and not for use of hate symbols.”

    Zinck said that Grand River Transit remains committed to providing a safe environment for all riders and that they condemn symbols of hate or racial intolerance without reservation.

    He added that if members of the public see anything like this on transit, they can report the behaviour on GRT’s website or through their call centre.

    “… it’s just not acceptable on our services. We’ll deal with the matter quickly, and follow-up through the Waterloo Regional Police Services to ensure it’s investigated.”

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    Squamish Art Walk on tap – Squamish Chief



    In a year where events of all types have been wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s comforting that a couple of cornerstones will be returning, albeit in a different form.

    The Squamish Arts Council’s annual Art Walk is set to run from Nov. 1 to 28, with some pandemic adaptations, of course.

    article continues below

    Executive director Amy Liebenberg said that while the number of participating artists, at roughly 25, is consistent with past years, there are understandably fewer hosting venues in 2020.

    “They’re either not open or not interested in encouraging excess clientele, especially if they’re just coming to look and not necessarily coming to patronize the business,” she said.

    The venues taking part this year as Zephyr Café, Saha Eatery, Squamish Academy of Music, Northyards Cider, the Squamish Public Library, The Ledge Community Coffee House, Andy Anissimoff Gallery and Britannia Mine Museum.

    While the event’s art-viewing element is similar to years past, the more radical change has to do with studio tours and other artist interaction, as many of the studios are small and not suited to welcoming the public for a peek behind the curtain at this time.

    Instead, artists will share “the tools they use, the processes they use and how their wonderful, creative imaginations transform ordinary materials into the magic you see all around,” Liebenberg said. The tours will be available on Instagram by searching the hashtag #squamishartist.

    “Enjoy the behind-the-scenes tours and enjoy what these incredible artists are making,” she said.

    As well, the Anonymous Art Show will be back for a second go-around.

    “We have some of the most amazing artists I’ve ever known who live and work in Squamish and so it’s going to be really fun to have them back again for some Anonymous Art Show pieces,” she said.

    Artists will submit their pieces by early November, while the show is set for Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

    “You hope to be the first in line to grab a piece that most delights you,” she said.

    Introducing our Zephyr Cafe location of collaborative art work that will be displayed for our Art Walk program launching…

    Posted by
    Squamish Arts Council on 
    Friday, October 23, 2020

    In terms of participants, Liebenberg said there are always a few surprises, as last year, there were several who hadn’t painted in many years if ever before, while there were some who work in a different medium, such as textiles, trying their hands at something new.

    Liebenberg said that with many artists having had tough times this year, they would appreciate a purchase or, at the very least, a message of support for a job well done.

    “Our creative community deserves all of our support and a big round of applause for continuing to do some pretty heavy emotional lifting on behalf of the community,” she said.

    For more, visit

    The Foyer Gallery is in the lobby of the Squamish Public Library. – The Chief staff

    Foyer Gallery set for fundraiser

    One of the Art Walk participants, Foyer Gallery at the Squamish Public Library, will hold a fundraising event of its own in November.

    The gallery was unable to host its traditional events, a May gala with an exhibit in the lead-up, where for a $50 sponsorship, patrons can take part in a “raffle for art” event.

    This year, supporters are encouraged to take part in a pay-what-you-can campaign of sponsorship. Each supporter will be entered into a random draw for one of six pieces of artwork by a local artist or a one-on-one virtual art lesson from curator and painting instructor Toby Jaxon. To donate, head to

    “We formatted it and decided that we’d take a stab at getting some donations before 2020 ends,” she said with a chuckle.

    Among the artists donating pieces are three volunteers, also known as the “hanging crew” for their work installing new exhibits monthly or, now during COVID, every six weeks: 20-plus-year veteran Fran Solar, 13-year helper Linda Wagner and, in her third year, relative newbie Karen Yaremkewich.

    The three have not only diverse mediums, with Wagner being an oil painter, Yaremkewich being a fabric artist and Solar working with metal, but they also have distinct skills when installing the shows.

    “Fran is a master at creating interesting vignettes. We’ve got these three beautiful display cases, so that’s her specialty. Linda, she’s super gifted at figuring out where all the wall art should go and coordinating the pieces based on size and style and colours. Karen, she’s really proactive at moving the inventory around, getting up on the ladder—and it doesn’t hurt that she’s super tall,” Jaxon said.

    Jaxon added that she’s also been creating virtual versions of the galleries so visitors can decide if there’s a piece they’d like to see more closely or purchase before arriving, especially given the library’s limited hours.

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