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The Beginner's Guide to Art Investments: How to Invest in Fine Art


Exploring the market for an often overlooked commodity.


When most investors think of commodity investing, their go-to image is a gold coin or barrels of crude oil. But there are a number of other options that fall beyond the "standard" commodities. Many of these options fall under the "hard assets" category, as they are not traded on any sort of market, there are no futures or options, and the only way to establish exposure is to physically own the commodity. One of the most enticing hard asset investments comes in the form of fine artwork, as collectors have created a hefty supply and demand system as the years have gone by.

What Is Art?

No, we're not trying to be abstract, but it can be easy for people to pigeonhole art into just one category. The average person thinking about art is probably taken straight to famous paintings like the "Mona Lisa" and other works of that nature. But what many forget is that art comes in numerous forms. Sculptures, photography, glass blowing, and a number of other creative outlets can often be overlooked by beginners looking to get their feet wet with art investing.

For those just starting out, sculptures will often be above your capital spending limits, as these works can start at anywhere from $20,000 and skyrocket from there. Instead, newcomers may want to start off by looking at photography and paintings, as these are considered as more basic investments. Even glass works can come at low prices even from some of the most famous artists out there.

Art Investing: Advantages and Disadvantages

There are a number of pros and cons when it comes to placing your capital in a piece of artwork. Starting with the pros, one of the biggest draws to this asset is the fact that there is no underlying financial market to tinker with prices. There will never be a bad trade or a flash crash that will suddenly erase the value of your investment. Another big plus is the fact that you will physically own the work, meaning that you can ensure of its proper care and proper storage as opposed to placing your money with a broker or financial advisor. Art also has the potential to appreciate with time. Though it is not a guarantee, as art ages it often becomes more valuable simply due to the fact that time has passed since it was created.

For all of its upsides, art investing comes with a fair amount of hardships. For starters, art is relatively illiquid; it's not as if you can walk up to your computer and sell it within seconds. Turning over a piece of art takes diligent effort and most importantly, time. Another drawback comes from the actual storage of the work. While it is nice to be the one who overlooks the investment, there is always the issue of safe storage (which usually involves insurance) and making sure that no damage is done to the work. Finally, time can be a major hassle for investors. Finding the right piece of art takes time and careful research, a luxury that is not available to everyone. Also, turning a piece around and selling it is another major time commitment and is one that many are simply unwilling to make.

Best Practices

First and foremost, be sure that the art is something that you genuinely enjoy. The price of art is relatively unpredictable and is heavily based on developing trends; there's no guarantee that it will have appreciated in value (or even maintained its value) over time, so you may be stuck with the piece for the long haul. Another helpful tip is to always learn the artist's backstory, as it has a fair amount of weight in the resale value of a piece. Those with interesting stories behind their life or how they got into art tend to have higher values on their pieces; knowing the story behind a piece can be a major selling point for collectors.

As was previously mentioned, the price of art can be very trend based, so knowing when and when not to sell can make all the difference in an investment. You will also want to consider how you are going to store and protect the piece of art. Insurance is a must, but be sure to read all of the fine print, as damages caused from wildfires or seeping pipes may not be included in standard coverage plans. Another mistake that many investors make is lack of care when moving; improperly packaged art can easily be damaged or destroyed. There are professionals who specialize in safely moving valuable pieces from one place to another, and shelling out the money for them is overwhelmingly preferable to having the entire work destroyed.

Where to Start

Below, we list several resources to help you get started with your art investments.

  • Artnet: This website offers investors the chance to bid on and purchase various works of art from artists all over the world.
  • Artprice: A leading resource for art market information from all over the world, this site also offers investors the opportunity to hop in on various auctions and get their feet wet in the industry.
  • MeiMoses: This site focuses heavily on the financial side of things, as it even has its own art index which it pits against major financial benchmarks to compare historical performance.
  • Christie's: Featuring live auctions all over the world, investors will be able to find art of all kinds on this massive site.
  • Sotheby's: Another site in the same vein as "Christie's" that will be good for various investment types from all over the world.

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Editor's note: This article by Jared Cummans was originally published on Commodity HQ.
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