Investment for art's sake

JUNE 2010

SHARES are volatile and property bubbles have burst. When it comes to art, investment is in the eye of the beholder. How do we value art, which Pablo Picasso called ‘a lie that makes us realise truth?’ Gold Coast Business News speaks with a local gallery owner, a CEO Institute executive and the managing director of a publicly listed property group, all of whom share a penchant for supporting creativity.

WHAT makes art investors tick and why have the savvy ones have been so bullish of late?

Gallery owner Critton Astras says there is a division between art for art’s sake and art for profit.

“If it’s under $10,000 people are buying with their hearts but when it’s over $10,000 they are searching, looking for answers for its future,” he says.

“At this time of the year people are looking at different investments, it might be super or a different investment to the property market, but there are facts that show if you compare the art market to the property market there will always be an increase. By a rule of thumb art values have doubled every five years.”

Art was affected by the financial downturn like any high end product and its value to buyers should go deeper than percentage returns. He advises that when paying a large sum it is important to track the history of the work.

“Overall, you’ve got to love it because you’re going to have to wake up to it or see it in the office every day, and if you’re in a couple you’ve both got to love it or else you’ll never hear the end of it,” he says.

“If you’re buying something for $100,000 it’s about providence, providence, providence – where is the history of the piece? Was it in a private collection, was it auctioned? It’s like shares because you can look at that history and know that information.”

For CEO Institute Queensland chief executive Sue Forrester, the worth of her private collection is irrelevant. She’s not interested in speculation.

With a keen interest in abstract modernism, Forrester says there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art, just what you like.

“When it comes to a passion for art and investing in art I don’t support speculating for profit, as it’s different to the share market – it’s very irrational as an investment because it’s not based on hard data,” she says.

“I wouldn’t sell even if it did appreciate – art can be associated with memories, some good, some bad, but I would find other assets to liquidate before my art collection. Collecting art is certainly more driven by hearts and not by the head and certainly not by the bank account.”

Urban decoration

From a diamond quilt installation at Royal Pines which cost $2.5 million to the commissioned works of renowned sculptor Alexander Knox at Chancellor, Sunland Group managing director Sahba Abedian says the presence of art is about decorating civic spaces.
“As part of our philosophy we place great importance on sculpture at entry points in all our estates,” he says.

“They can cost anywhere between $400,000 to a few million dollars and that’s something that some companies might not feel is important, but we do as it adds immense value.

“When I was living in Melbourne there was the notion that there should be a great deal of urban art within the city context, but I felt why should it be restricted to the fabric of the city itself? Why not extend that to the suburban environment?”

Abedian cites examples of art such as an artistic hedge that floats in space at Sanctuary Cove and sculptures that depict the Western Grass Plains of Melbourne at Arbour, as integral to Sunland’s identity as a developer.

“Is it an asset? It is for Sunland because it is who we are and we’ve been able to define ourselves and meet client requirements – I feel it’s of upmost importance to create a civic place that respects the creative world,” he says.

“What I’d like to see on the Gold Coast is greater efforts for a more cultural and artistic environment. If you look at major capital cities and our neighbour to the north in Brisbane, where they have large civic spaces, museums, centres for the arts, galleries, performing arts precincts, we as a city don’t provide that level of amenity to residents. But it’s not a privilege; it should be a right for the public to enjoy.”

From sculpting identity to framing artistic expression, the scope and impact of art knows no boundaries.
Astras Galleries sells ‘a lot of paintings’ for around the $20,000 mark, but has sold some at up to $2 million a piece.

Astras points out that most galleries support particular artists to nurture their careers and has seen emerging artists’ works whose values have gone up consistently at 20 per cent per year. He’s sees prospects in promising talents Steve Tyerman and Joel Rea, but he does sell their work after all.

Forrester meanwhile gets a buzz out of attending lesser-known exhibitions and donating money to the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation.

“I like to support emerging artists, I get a buzz from going to small local art galleries because it’s great to see the arts community, and until they make it they’re the ones living off bread and cheese,”
she says.

“Whilst they have great works at more glamorous exhibitions, it’s not about being seen wining and dining and talking about how much your collection is worth – I’d rather be drinking a cheap beer on the pavement with a local artist.

“But if I wanted to treat art like an investment I’d treat it like any other investment like shares, debentures, or bonds – you do your research, you speak to the experts and there’s some great magazines to be found in newsagents too.”

With a private collection that includes works from Graham Fransella, Roy Jackson and Cynthia Breusch, it has to uplift and inspire when she walks past it – the same principles that apply to business.

“I personally think and know that people come to work for their career and to be stimulated, but people are social animals and the environment they work in is very important,” she says.

“I think art should stimulate, excite and challenge the workforce, and most big corporates do have money they set aside for that.”

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