HIGH STAKES. Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi made auction history in November 2017 after selling for a record-shattering $450 million at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale in New York. The artwork was revealed to have been purchased by the Abu Dhabi culture ministry for display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
BY FIEL ESTRELLA
When it comes to your art collection, there’s quite a fine line between the worthless and the priceless—and sometimes, it has nothing to do with how much you’ve paid. A good eye is an advantage, but sufficient knowledge and preparation are essential. And if you know where to look, you might just find the piece that will be treasured for years, or even generations, to come.
Art adviser Pablo Rudolf on collecting art at Ayala Land Premier’s Park Central Towers
On the opening day of this year’s Art Fair Philippines, art adviser Pablo Rudolf gave a talk at Ayala Land Premier’s Park Central Towers showflat in Makati called “Collecting 101: Where and How to Buy Contemporary Art.” Enthusiasts and collectors learned not only tricks of the trade, but also what it truly means to purchase art that means something to you.
The art world is often seen as inaccessible or esoteric, but it doesn’t have to be. The first step is choosing where to buy your art: Familiarize yourself with local and international dealers.
There are primary dealers such as galleries (which sometimes also resell art), art fairs, and even the artists themselves, if the art market is not quite developed in a particular country. There are secondary dealers who resell pieces, such as auction houses and shops who specialize in genres or movements.
“When artists are in great demand, the art sells out very, very fast,” says Rudolf. As a result, in-demand names and their art tend to have waiting lists, with priority frequently given to bigger collectors or institutions.
Galleries, Rudolf says, “have a [very important role] in the art market.” They promote the artists and manage their careers, set prices for the art, and promote the fair distribution and dealership of artwork. Galleries of note can be seen at art fairs, and the works they exhibit can make it to museums, biennales, and triennales. “[They also] provide retainers to artists so they can work easily and they don’t have to worry about how to make ends meet,” he adds.
Check out art fairs whenever possible.
Art fairs started out as trade shows that eventually became social events of certain glamour. In the Philippines, they are also a means to make art more accessible to a larger audience. Rudolf estimates that around 270 art fairs exist around the world, while friends have shared to him that a fair might be happening somewhere in the world every other week. “No matter the format,” he says, “the art fairs [invite attendees] to look, to learn, to ask questions, to compare.” Because there are so many galleries that can be explored in one space, “this is a good way to train your eye to understand major trends to discover lesser known galleries and artists as well.”
Consider attending auctions.
Some of the most covetable art may be found in auction houses, which guarantee safety, authenticity, and transparency regarding prices. Auctions may be done in person, on the phone, via absentee bids with the help of staff, and even online. “Believe it or not, you can find bargains, provided you do your research and have a pre-established budget,” Rudolf says.
That said, the art market does have a presence online, but it has yet to gain traction. Rudolf pins it on trust issues, because it’s difficult to gauge whether it’s worth spending so much money on something you can’t actually see. “You have to educate yourself,” he says. “It is very difficult to imagine someone at this point [paying] for an artwork over $50,000 [online].”
Pricing can be very arbitrary, but learning about the artist and the work you’re looking to acquire will help you make an informed decision.
Being informed is the most important manner of preparation to become an art collector. When it comes to the artist, pay attention to their age, education, awards, and exhibitions, which all say a lot about their credentials, success, and renown. “If a major collector has collected his work, then there might be an opportunity for him at some point to be donated to a major museum, for example,” Rudolf says. For non-living artists, take note of whether they were part of a movement or took part in other industries, such as film.
Conduct due diligence.
There’s one major question about the works themselves: Are they genuine? To be certain, you can ask for authentication documents, and inquire as to previous ownership and reasons for selling. The condition—if it has been damaged, repaired, or restored—is also important to note in the long run, as well as whether the work is one of a kind or it comes in editions.
“[Prices are] the most time-consuming, difficult task,” Rudolf says. “[This] requires a lot of experience, [which] can be acquired over time.” Once more, he stresses the importance of research: talking to people, finding out the reputations of artists and galleries, even how many artists a gallery represents and how detailed its website is. “If you see a [smaller] gallery with over 100 artists, that’s a bit of a red flag.”
Know that prices can be negotiated.
Once a deal has been made on the artwork, negotiating a lower price—with discounts of up to 15 percent—is possible, along with payment terms and installments. (Not at auction houses, however.)
Ultimately, the decision to buy is completely yours to make. “Building relationships in the art world is very important,” says Rudolf. This includes galleries, artists, collectors, and art consultants.
Art can be an investment, but try not to let that be your only objective for collecting. Take your time, be specific about your budget and what you’re looking for, and consider asking experts to help you find the right piece.
He adds: “There is also something I always recommend and that is look, look, look at the artwork as many times as possible.”
Another point Rudolf wants to make is that one shouldn’t treat art only as an investment. “Art can be an investment,” he says, “but it shouldn’t be the objective.” It’s preferable that a piece retain its value over time, of course, but the objective is not to figure out which artists will be worth a lot in the future. Instead, Rudolf advises: “Try to make [artists] successful so they’ll be worth more.”
In the end, good art tells a story—find something that speaks to you.
Rudolf says, “Look for an emerging artist that you like, that you can imagine living with [the artwork] in your room or in your living room, because if it ends up going down and being worth [nothing] after 10 years or 20 years, you will still be happy with it because you like it.”
It is, after all, Rudolf’s top secret for finding wonderful art for your collection. He concludes, simply, “Buy what you like.”