Abigail Esman’s impassioned speech is worth taking note of. The unexamined assumption here is that art market talent—the ability to buy and sell the right works at the right time—is based upon art historical or critical judgment. Some is clearly required but its not always clear that the best art traders are those with the keenest critical vision.
Esman wants to believe that the “best” works of art are the most valuable. That may be true in hart historical terms but not necessarily in market terms. Art works with the biggest price tages are rarely the most significant works by that artist:
Richter has actually been the star of the art market for quite some time now, leading Bloomberg to refer to the artist as “the most bankable” of the moment. (Why do I cringe at the thought of an artist being “bankable”?) […] In other words, the art-as-investment meme is here to stay. Like it or not.
Yet almost all of these reports fail to address the critical point. They offer the who, the what, the where and when and how: but few, if any, ever explain thewhy. Why do the record-breaking works achieve such stand-out results? Why do buyers engage in battle over one Richter and not another? Why is Richter so valuable in the first place, and why did the Bonham’s sale fail so miserably when the others did so well? Understanding these factors is key to safe art investment – and similarly, only those who can fully appreciate the distinction between one work and another are likely to make such investments safely (not to mention finding the most enjoyment in the art they buy along the way). This, quite simply, is why the world’s biggest art buyers, the royal family of Qatar, have taken on some of the most knowledgeable talents in the business to advise them. But there are other, more rewarding ways, available even to non-royal : Look. Observe. Study. Read. Watch. And get thee to a museum – as many and as often as you can.