Jake Biddington's Art Investing

Mega $$$$$$ vs. Medium $$$: Price Structure in Art & Antiques

Editor's Note: This archived article was first published in 1998. While annoyingly flip in tone, its points remain valid.

A beleaguered hedge fund manager sold his antique silver collection at auction a few weeks ago. He was quoted in the NY Times bemoaning the fact that his entire collection had fetched about the price of one mediocre Impressionist painting.

This guy's lament does raise an interesting question: What determines whether a painting or antique trades for $millions or for $thousands?

Here's my list of what determines the mega-bucks versus medium bucks in art & antiques pricing:

1) A Pretty Face (art world parlance=decorative)

Consider Impressionist paintings: above all, they are pretty. Nearly anyone looking at nearly any quality of Impressionist painting has a visceral "Oh how lovely!" response to their luminosity and pastel colors. (Contrast this viewer reaction with that elicited by dark, northern European Old Master portraits: "Wearing that collar, you'd be grouchy, too.")
Conclusion: If a work of art is easy on the eyes, it's a lot more likely to trade for mega-bucks.

2) Easy to Love (art world parlance=accessible)

Impressionist subject matter most often involves landscapes or pretty nudes. Nearly everyone on the planet can personally relate to these themes.
Depictions of nature are not culturally/religiously specific like the skewered saints of Italian Baroque painting. (Viewer response to a martyred saint: "I don't care how well it's painted, a guy being skinned is disgusting!")
Naturalistic subject matter also avoids the social caste problem. (Viewers' response to a finely-wrought, 19th century silver epergne: "A centerpiece? That thing is bigger than my whole dining room!")
Conclusion: If a work of art is easy to understand, it's a lot more likely to trade for mega-bucks.

3) Cool Quotient (art world parlance=curatorial fashion)

Consider the Getty Museum: Major instititions have major endowments which, despite recent stock market reversals, have reinvested interest income that continues to produce vast profits. (Just try bidding against a major museum at auction; you'll be lucky to get your paddle warm.) Many institutional buyers have virtually unlimited resources.
In the museum world, as elsewhere, money equals influence. Major museum curators are arbiters of taste for their professional peers in less prestigious posts. In securities charting, we would call this a self-reinforcing trend.
Conclusion: If a museum seeks it, an art work or antique trades for mega-bucks.

4) Star Quality (art world parlance=a name)

Consider Van Gogh: If that ear story hadn't gotten around, we would all be thinking of Vincent Van Gogh as some moderately talented, 19th century painter with a repetitive handwashing disorder.
But the story did get around and his obsessive personality became transformed into a metaphor for artistic heroism. You get books, you get movies, you get songs and--pretty soon--you get blockbuster museum shows.
Conclusion: If the artist develops a cult-of- personality, his work trades for mega-bucks.

MORE Jake Investing:
PPP Test: Judging Quality in Contemporary Art
Art, Time and Technology
American vs. European Paintings
Jake Biddington's Art as Entertainment
Jake Biddington's Vetted Antiques & Art Shows
Jake Biddington's Patent Numbers as a Dating Tool
Jake Biddington's Hard Assets as Portfolio Diversification
Jake Biddington's Buying Fine Jewelry at Auction
Jake Biddington's Long Term Investing
Jake Biddington's Short-Term Investing
Jake Biddington's 2000 Predictions--Future of the Art Market

Jake Biddington's BENTLEY Art & Travel Series:
Restaurant Guide to Buenos Aires--2007
Northwest Argentina: Tucumán, Salta & Cafayate
Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile
Tigre, Argentina--Day Trip from Buenos Aires
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina--Weekend Trip from Buenos Aires
Colonia, Uruguay--Overnight Trip near Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires--Basic Guide
Travel Guide to Montevideo, Uruguay

Other Archived Destinations:
Visiting New York City 2007
Visiting New York City 2006 (Archive)
New Haven, Connecticut
Cultural Touring along Spain's Costa del Sol
Touring in Lisbon
Touring in Milan
Touring in Antwerp
Touring in Barcelona
I-80 Park City to New York City
Tourism New York City 2003 Update
Tourism New York City 2002
Hudson, New York (Columbia County)
Tourism Rome 2002 Update
Hartford & Wilton, Connecticut
San Francisco Jackson Square
New Hampshire Route 1A
Morris County, New Jersey


Here at BIDDINGTON'S, our work is also our play. When we're not exhibiting and discussing art online, we're learning about wonderful objects in shops, at great shows and in museums--or simply exploring the world's fascinating cultural diversity. In this article, Jake Biddington offers tourist information and descriptions of this interesting destination.

Contact Jake Biddington about His Travels

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