Buyers more cautious, but art prices head up recovery road
By Marilyn Bowden
Art consultants and gallery owners agree that while buyers tend to be more cautious now than in the heady days before the recession, art prices are slowly recovering.
"There is always going to be a balance between new, young collectors and more seasoned buyers," said Dora Valdés-Fauli, principal of Dora Valdés-Fauli Art Services and director of Artéamericas, a major Latin American art fair that takes place in March.
"But in general, people are buying more carefully in the art market, which has been affected by the economic downturn in the same way as everything else has been.
"It's logical that the way we make decisions has become more conservative, whether we're talking about the art market or real estate."
Ramon Cernuda of Cernuda Arte, a gallery in Coral Gables specializing in the exhibition and sale of Cuban paintings, said caution is evident in the kinds of works that are selling.
"It depends on the pockets of the buyers," he said, "but all else being equal, people will go for the better-quality works or better-known periods or series of an artist.
"We see much more action with established names and recognized masters, and less in areas of emerging or mid-career contemporary artists. Nineteenth-century art and Old Masters have done fairly well.
"If you have quality work that you are offering at a competitive price, you will make the sale."
Among those who can afford major works, "it's not a time for mediocre-quality art," said Evelyn Aimis, a private art dealer based in Miami. "For museum-quality art — a Picasso or a Monet — there are lots of buyers.
"There are also lots of young collectors and new collectors, and they want young artists' work that is reasonably priced.
"It's when you get into mediocre works by well-known artists or works by young artists whose prices were raised too quickly that there is resistance. I think 2008 was the real bottom," she said. "There are reasons to be positive about the direction of the art market, though it may not recover completely for a very long time."
While the recession definitely has its impact, Mr. Cernuda said, "people are gradually becoming accustomed to the new economic realities, and those with disposable incomes are coming back to the market."
The second half of this year has been better than the first half, he said, and an improvement over 2009.
In view of the instability of other markets, Mr. Cernuda said, "Art is a very safe place to put your money." Shares of Sotheby's, he said, have quadrupled in a little over a year. "That gives you an idea of how the world is perceiving the potential of art in the near future."
Recently, he said, a Chinese vase and a Wifredo Lam canvas broke records at auction.
Though auctions, Ms. Valdés-Fauli said, may not be the best measure of valuation.
"I've been in the art market for 30 years," she said, "and at auctions, the feral combat that can happen can raise the price without really being a serious thing in the art market. Hype is part of the art market, like any other."
"Auctions," Ms. Aimis said, "sometimes bring abnormally high prices, whereas at an art fair, pricing is generally more realistic.
"I think the dealers at art fairs now are savvy. They know the feeding frenzy is not as active as it was, and they are really watching their prices."
Art fairs in this country continue to attract European collectors, she said, because of the strength of the euro against the dollar, "but if they are going to put out a fair amount of money, they're certainly looking for quality."
Art fairs, Ms. Valdés-Fauli said, "are a very important part of what happens in the art world right now. They give people the opportunity to look and to compare and see trends. It's a wonderful opportunity, and Miami is golden with everything that happens during Art Basel. We're very fortunate to have these platforms for the exchange of information about art."
Ms. Aimis called Art Basel the most important fair in North America.
"It's always a very exciting event," she said. "While there may not be as much buying as three or four years ago, for those interested in art, it's the best way to be informed."