News-Antique.com - Aug 02,2010 - One of the biggest problems with contemporary art, from a long term investment and wealth preservation perspective, is the seemingly ever decreasing focus on the art object. The focus that was once placed on the art object is being placed more and more on the art concept as well as the increasingly popular notion of the artist as a performer and celebrity. According to a Newsweek article titled Pop Goes the Market, ‘In the era of easy money, artists readily forsook the cliché of the tortured, penniless bohemian, and instead sought fame and fortune by branding their own glamorous, eccentric personas as a tradeable commodity’. Valuing a concept or a performance is almost impossible, especially when there is really no apparent standardisation or continuity from one artist to another. Without the ability to grade or judge the work of one artist with similar work from another artist, determining value becomes even harder. The value we place on what is termed “art” (in a contemporary market context), has less to do with the art object, the tangible result of the artistic process, and more to do with the persona of the artist and their artistic approach. With less emphasis being put on the art object, the value of contemporary art is being based on intangible characteristics and factors that have no perceivable intrinsic value. This means that much of the contemporary art being produced is a speculative and risky investment that would not be suitable as a means of preserving wealth.
As we all know, the contemporary art market is driven by speculation and a quest for social and cultural superiority that has resulted in, and continues to result in, a plethora of short lived fads. The artists involved in these fads often find themselves suddenly thrust into the art world spotlight by rich and powerful patrons who are more interested in the attention their purchases receive than what they actualloy purchase. Unfortunately, when the next fad comes along, many (if not all) of the artists who were the heroes of the previous fad are subsequently dumped just as quickly as they were found, never to be heard of again. The fact that very few contemporary artists survive long enough to preserve their place in the annals of art history makes investing in any contemporary artist a risky business and therefore not a safe means of accumulating wealth or a good means of preserving wealth.
The works of art that are most suitable for long term investment and wealth preservation are those works that have the potential to be used as a tradeable commodity. As I wrote in a previous post, fine art has been proven to be able to act as a tradeable commodity by criminals, who are known to use fine art as collateral for drug and gun deals. According to Dick Ellis, the former head of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad and an expert on art crime, “thieves get nowhere near full value, usually only 10 to