Monday, February 16, 2015


The art auction season is gearing up to start again and Webb’s has just released its latest broadsheet to attract lots and tout the benefits of the art market. To read it you wouldn’t think it was possible to lose a dime investing in art. This of course goes against the long-held wisdom of the art world that believes (well says anyway) you should only buy art for love and not for profit. 'We'd never dream of selling” is a commonly heard statement from art collectors (until they do). Even great collections usually find themselves on the market in the end.  Take the stellar selection of work put together by the Gibbs. It's been well published, much shown and seemed set in history, until it wasn't. In that case of course the sales have been paralleled by very generous gifting to public institutions.

Can you make money out of art? Sure you can. Should you? Why the hell not?
Here are a couple of random examples from auction records:

Colin McCahon, Let be, Let be was held in private hands for 14 years and sold for a profit of $38,000 per year for each of those years.

Bill Hammond, Zoomorphic lounge was held for 12 years and sold for a profit of  $10,000 per year.

Tony Fomison Hilltop watcher  was held for 10 years and sold for a profit of  $7,500 per year.

Michael Smither’s Family in a van was held for 26 years returning about $7,500 per year.

And these are two-times-to-the-block resales. As the Les and Milly Paris auction showed, there is also a heap to be made on first-to-auction sales probably around $10,600 a year for the 37 years they owned Gordon Walter’s painting Mokoia.

So you want to make money collecting art? OK. Buy figurative paintings. Always buy the most typical and attractive-looking works of the top-ranked artists.  And remember, there are only ever a very small number of artists who sell for high prices. Forget sculpture and ignore anything unusual. Now fly my pretties.