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Buying and selling artwork in SA

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20 Sep 2012

Whether you think art is an investment or a nice add-on to your home, sales of contemporary art are said to have increased year-on-year.

Douglas says decent artwork can be bought for a few thousand rand at Art Fairs and the best way to buy is to allocate an annual budget and spend at the Art Fair each year, where you have the biggest selection and best quality of artwork in the country.

According to Ross Douglas, director of Artlogic, South African art has shown an extraordinary return on investment with the likes of Irma Stern and more recently Robert Hodgins fetching spectacular prices at recent auctions.

He notes that with a broad range of collectors, the majority are generally professionals, entrepreneurs and high-end corporates who have been collecting art for a long period of time.

“We have, however, seen a recent wave of speculative collectors who buy for investment purposes only,” says Douglas.

He points out that the 5th FNB Joburg Art Fair which took place early this month in Sandton Johannesburg saw an increase in international visitors, curators and media.

More importantly, he says visitor numbers remained constant at 8 500 with art sales up by 25 to 30 percent from 2011.

“This year saw in the region of R16 million worth of art sold during the course of the Fair with the majority of sales taking place on the opening night - now one of Joburg's most sought-after social events.”

Asked on what has changed with regards to art investments post the global economic crisis, he says there is obviously less liquidity resulting in slow art sales figures. 

“Buying art is still strong because canny buyers know that a recession is a good time to buy art, as good works are more readily available.”

For those thinking of buying for the first time or adding new art pieces to their homes and offices, Douglas says it is important to form a relationship with a gallery you can trust.

South Africa has a number of reputable art galleries including the likes of Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg, Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Barnard Gallery in Cape Town and Bailey Seippel Gallery in Johannesburg, just to mention a few.

The above galleries exhibited at the 5th FNB Joburg Art Fair.

It is important to attend gallery openings as this gives one the opportunity to see and ask questions and engage with art curators as well as experts in art and collectors.

Also, read art publications and art websites to stay informed of what is happening and spending quality time at big events such as the FNB Joburg Art Fair allows for one to see and compare galleries and their offerings all under one roof.

I recently had the pleasure of wandering around the FNB Joburg Art Fair and what I personally found useful is to take someone with you as your views and thoughts on artwork will differ.

When buying a home, you think value and location, in art, try and think value and meaning for you and not other people.

A friend of mine seemed to have a penchant for unusual stuff, also I was intrigued by how he chose the artworks he loved, mostly from local artists and artists from across the continent.

He pointed to one artwork that particularly stood out for him as worth investing in for hanging in the lounge.

While it looked all serene with water in the background and a small boat (nothing visibly exciting for many people), it reminded him of home in Durban and spoke very much to him about his surroundings and familiar places.

For him, choosing artwork will depend a lot on what the message being conveyed by the artist is (although, often not clear) he agrees, one needs time to walk around, chat to artists and curators and thoroughly engage with different artworks being presented.

I think, like whiskey, one can acquire taste for art, you just need to be tuned in, when buying for investment purposes, you will need to see value in the artwork just as when you buy a home.

Think of it this way, when buying a home, you think value and location, in art, try and think value and meaning for you and not other people.

Douglas says decent artwork can be bought for a few thousand rand at Art Fairs and the best way to buy is to allocate an annual budget and spend at the Art Fair each year, where you have the biggest selection and best quality of artwork in the country.

A good original artwork is priced from anything around R5 000 to R10 000, he says.

Sponsors of the Joburg Art Fair, FNB notes an increase in sales of contemporary art although they are not able to provide insight to the overall trends in investment behaviour.

What is interesting is that the public has not lost interest in art attendance at galleries, art auctions and Art Fairs have not dwindled, he notes.

FNB chief marketing officer, Bernice Samuels explains that theJoburg Art Fair provides collectors and art lovers with a single point of access to galleries and artists with investment potential.

The bank proudly makes its contribution by promoting African contemporary art. 

The FNB Art Prize was also introduced in 2011 to give artists the recognition due to them.

The winner of the second FNB Art Prize was Zimbabwean born Kudzanai Chiurai who won a R100 000 prize as well as a booth in which to showcase his work at the Fair.

All galleries that take part in the Fair were given the opportunity to submit one of their artists for consideration

Chiurai has participated in a number of local and international group exhibitions, including the Dakar Biennale, Senegal, Africa now a travelling exhibition in Scandinavia as well as New Painting, a local travelling exhibition in 2006.

The Goodman Gallery exhibited his work at Paris Photo 2009, the 2010 Armory fair in New York, and Art Basel Miami Beach 2009 and 2010.

His work featured on two major international exhibitions in 2011: Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which has recently acquired Chiurai’s work for their collection.

His artwork hangs on the walls of New York's Museum of Modern Art and in Elton John and Richard Branson's homes.

This year,art sales at the 5th Joburg Art Fair were up by 25 to 30 percent from 2011.

Samuels says as a proudly South African Bank with roots that extend into several other African countries, they are confident that the FNB Joburg Art Fair will continue to bring buyers and sellers together to create a sustainable commercial endeavour. 

“Our aim is to stimulate the public’s interest in art by encouraging them to comment on selected art pieces.”

This year, she says they took to social media to get the conversation going, communicating the message that art is open to be interpreted by anyone and that one should not be scared to share one’s thoughts on an art piece. 

Celebrities including the likes of Francois Pienaar, DJ Sbu and Dion Chang, took the lead in getting the conversation going and their comments were posted on the FNB Facebook page.

On art investments, Samuels says FirstRand has one of the most comprehensive and diverse art collections in the country. 

When the bank was first approached to sponsor the inaugural Joburg Art Fair, the curator of the FirstRand art collection was tasked with auctioning some of the art owned by FirstRand in order to facilitate the sponsorship, she says.

The curator decided on a selection of five Pierneef paintings, which had a book value of R300 000 at the time and the auction surpassed all his expectations when a total of R13 million was raised.

“There is not one investment specialist or product in the world that will be able to match this return on any investment,” says Samuels.

Just as one would not invest in equities without knowing something about the markets, doing one’s homework will go a long way in ensuring that one invests wisely when buying art for investment purposes, she advises.

“However, this does not mean that we cannot purchase original art purely for the love of the art.”

 The beauty of the FNB Joburg Art Fair is that it caters for the serious investor, the art lover and even the art novice, she adds. – Denise Mhlanga

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