Should I invest in art for my home?

Private Property South Africa
Martin Hatchuel

Putting up the right art on your walls adds the finishing touch to your home, but how do you choose the right piece?

Right. You’ve bought the house, and you’ve got the lounge suite. Now you want to invest in art for the walls - but where to start?

"Well", says Trent Read, "that depends - because art works (paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics) aren’t always bought for their investment value."

Trent is a fifth generation art dealer with international experience who now owns Knysna Fine Art (www.finearts.co.za), which he opened in 1997. Recognised as one of the country’s leading galleries, it specialises in contemporary South African artists, but also exhibits works from other parts of the world.

“The average painting isn’t a collectable piece, and that’s cool,” he said. “Most people buy art and put it up because it gives them pleasure. But just as you don’t necessarily expect to sell your sofa at a profit after ten years, you wouldn’t expect to sell the painting you bought to match it at a profit, either - and that’s also cool, because like the sofa, it’s a kind of consumable, and it’s given you joy over the years.

“The paradox, though, is that art can be your finest investment - and the right piece has the potential to appreciate at a faster rate than your home.”

This doesn’t always happen, of course - but Trent cited the example of works by Irma Stern: “An Irma Stern that sold for fifteen thousand rand in the mid ‘70s - which was a significant amount of money at the time - will fetch fifteen or even twenty million today.”

ENORMOUS FUN

Trent said that while collecting art can be a phenomenal investment, it’s also “enormous fun” - but doing it successfully is “about the mindset, and about buying intelligently.”

This requires that you inform yourself about art and the artists who appeal to you, and that you “get to know the right people, and educate your own tastes.”

It can become a passion, of course - as collector and art philanthropist, Michael Audain (who served as chairperson of the National Gallery of Canada from 2009 to 2012) said: “I buy art in order to live with it at home or in the office, never to store it away in a vault. In fact, living with art has been one of the great joys of my life. It is a private pleasure, however, and not one that I have an urge to inflict on other people.”

“Many private collectors know far more about the art they’re interested in than people like myself do,” said Trent. “They have the time and the money to invest in acquiring that knowledge - whereas we have to have a broader understanding of the market.”

Given that you do know what you’re doing - or you’re prepared to accept advice from the right quarters - Trent said that buying art for investment can take one of two paths.

“You can either invest in the blue chip artists - which requires deep pockets, but you’ll be rewarded with a steady appreciation in value - or you can buy someone at the bottom.” (That is, a relative unknown whose obvious talent sets him or her apart.) “If you bought a Phillemon Hlungwani three years ago, you’ll get three times your money today,” he said.

· Schedule your fun: Top-class commercial galleries are usually lively, active places that offer regular revolving exhibitions, openings, walkabouts with featured artists, and other events. Bookmark art.co.za for up-to-date information about the art scene in your city.

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