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FEATURE: Investing in art

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Buying art is an alternative to more traditional forms of investment. And it’s not just the preserve of the wealthy, as Barney McCarthy finds out

When you think of investing your money, you’re probably likely to think about stocks and shares. It may even be bricks and mortar, as buy to let has boomed over the past decade, but the chances are you won’t have considered heading down to an auction house or an art fair and grabbing yourself a masterpiece. However, with recent multimillion pound sales proving that the market is as robust as ever, you could be missing out if you don’t consider investing in art.

Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie’s Europe, says you can quickly find out what trends are channeling demand and driving prices in the art market. “Recently contemporary art, particularly Chinese works, has been creating headlines with artists such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Zhang Xiaogang fetching sums that would have been unimaginable a short time ago,” he says. “Indian modern art and Russian works from all eras, including pieces by the great jewelers Faberge, are also proving popular for collectors, while Middle Eastern art has been breaking records at Christie’s sales in Dubai.”

The price is right

But don’t worry if you don’t have millions to spend. A raft of fairs showcasing more reasonably priced art take place all over the country. The Affordable Art Fair (AAF) is one such showcase, and kicks off tomorrow (February 13) in Battersea Park, London. It features a line-up of paintings, sculpture and photography all priced between £50 and £3,000 and a specially curated section where you can spot emerging artists and possibly grab yourself a bargain.

Will Ramsay, creator of the AAF, says the event has broken down perceived barriers to the art world, namely expense and lack of knowledge. “Buying art can provide a lifetime of enjoyment and inspiration,” he says. “The fair has a price ceiling on the art show, so visitors know that everything is accessible.” The AAF takes place twice a year in London and annually in Bristol, Amsterdam and New York. 

A matter of taste

What sets art aside from other traditional types of investment is personal taste and involvement. You are unlikely to feel particularly passionate about a pharmaceutical company you have shares in, but it is easy to love a piece of art. Pylkkanen says it is important to think with your heart as well as your head. “The market is shaped by all kinds of very human emotions such as fashion and competition, making art a much less predictable commodity than others traded internationally,” he says. “Traditionally the most successful investors have also been those with a deeply held interest in acquiring art for its own sake. Buy what you love, buy the best you can afford, keep it for several years and you will not go far wrong.”

Spot the next Banksy before the hype explodes and you could make yourself a packet. But even if the value of your piece doesn’t soar, if you heed Pylkkanen’s advice you can feel content with just owning a work of art that you love. 


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