How Much Is Your Art Worth?
A consultant and an appraiser provide tips for fine art collectors of all levels.
By John Roark | Photography by John Taff
WHETHER YOU ARE JUST DIPPING A TOE into the world of procuring fine art or are the proud owner of an important collection, the knowledge and skills of art consultants and appraisers can be invaluable. We asked two experienced pros about the important takeaways for collectors of all levels of experience.
WHEN IT’S TIME TO GET SERIOUS about acquiring art, who you know can work to your advantage. In addition to exposing you to art and artists you may not be aware of, a consultant can open doors and access pieces that may otherwise be sequestered, says John Reyes, an independent private dealer who specializes in modern and contemporary art.
“Art is very personal,” Reyes says. “People have a real emotional connection to what they collect. Oftentimes pieces represent milestones in their lives and the memories that go with them.”
For this Arizona-born aficionado, brokering comes down to the find and the hunt. “A client comes to you with an extraordinary painting. You can’t believe they’re divesting it,” he says. “That piece is exactly what someone out there is looking for. It is going from one collection where it was loved to a new owner who has just as much passion in acquiring it. That’s the fun part.”
1. WINDOW SHOP
When clients are starting to collect, I like to tell them something that a famous art dealer once said: Don’t buy anything for one year. Go to as many museums and galleries as you can; find out what you don’t like and work your way toward what you do. Once you have an idea of what interests you, you can narrow your focus to that area and genre.
2. FEEL FREE TO FUMBLE
It’s a given: You’re going to make mistakes along the way. You may invest in a painting and grow out of it, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s part of your evolution. An artwork may not be with you for a lifetime. It serves its purpose, and then it’s time to move on.
3. KNOW THE HISTORY
Research the provenance of any major artwork you are considering. Its history adds to its value. Who has previously owned it? Has it been exhibited in important galleries or museums? You should be able to chart a piece’s path. When works by well-known artists show up out of nowhere, that’s a red flag. I knew a collector who bought a Warhol graphic on eBay at a great price. They were shocked to find out it wasn’t an original. It was an expensive lesson to learn. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
4. AVOID HYPE
Choose art that will stand the test of time. There are a number of graffiti artists who are hot right now. The galleries showing them are not where you’d see blue-chip or career artists; they don’t have reputations as market-makers or for discovering talent. These artists are of the moment. It’s doubtful their work will hold its value in the long term.
Fine Art Appraiser
IF YOU NEED TO DETERMINE the value or authenticity of an artwork for the purpose of sale, insurance coverage, estate planning, tax deduction or charitable donation, an accredited appraiser can provide a detailed document designed to stand up to scrutiny in court, if necessary.
Clients are often surprised by the value of pieces they have, says Allison Gee, a Phoenix-based appraiser who specializes in 20th- and 21st-century American and European paintings, sculptures and works on paper. “Generally, my experience has been that
people don’t realize what they have and can be surprised when they learn a piece’s worth, which in some instances can be significant. Conversely, some clients believe they have something of great value, and that turns out not to be the case.”
Gee admits that engaging an appraiser can be a daunting experience, but arming yourself with knowledge before you begin can make the process less intimidating.
1. CHECK CREDENTIALS
Fine art appraisers aren’t licensed or overseen by state or federal governments, but three major organizations—the American Society of Appraisers, International Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America—require accreditation renewal and annual continuing education credits. Individuals who want to adhere to the highest standards in the profession maintain affiliation with one of these organizations.
2. KNOW THE FEES
You may pay more for an accredited appraiser, but you get what you pay for. Fees are based on the time involved in an appraisal, and estimates are provided prior to inspection. In the Phoenix area, expect to pay $200-$400 per hour. The fee should be based strictly on the time involved in the appraisal and not on the value of the artwork. A less costly option is a verbal appraisal, in which you will not receive a written report.
3. BE WARY OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Your appraiser should be a completely nonbiased third party who has no interest in buying or selling a piece for you. There should be no incentive for their report to have a higher or lower value, and you should never be asked what amount you are hoping for.
4. ASK QUESTIONS
We welcome clients calling with queries; it’s part of what we do. If I can’t help you, I will do my best to refer you to someone who can. Sometimes in the course of a phone conversation, I can determine whether or not you need me. If I feel that I should see the artwork in person, we can then discuss fees.