Today's art market is a complex global machine that consists of many moving parts in both physical and virtual spheres. Broken down to its most basic components, however, what it really needs to function are an interested buyer, a willing seller and the offered art object. But in any transaction that takes place, there is another fundamental element that needs to be present: an agreement on the value of the work. It is no surprise, then, that with the growth of the art market, the field of art valuation has exploded in tandem. So, how can one succeed in this competitive field? What does it take to assess the value of a work? Where can this skill be applied? To get the answers, we went straight to Ann-Marie Richard, former appraiser and the Sotheby's Institute of Art director of the Fine and Decorative Art and Design Master's program in New York.
First Things First: Know Your Stuff
How do you begin a career path to the field of valuation? Build up your knowledge base. As Ann-Marie explains, "If you’re going to be marketable, you have to be able to walk into an estate and say, 'Okay, this is a 17th-century painting, this is a 19th-century piece of silver and, wait a minute, this is a contemporary piece of bronze.'" In other words, prior to choosing a category of specialization, become a generalist first: receive a sufficient education that will provide enough of an art historical background to assess a spectrum of items from different eras. But don't let it stop there.
Understanding the art market is also important; art valuation is, after all, a business skill. Receiving an education that offers both the necessary art history knowledge as well as the ability to see it within the context of today's art market will set up the foundations for a successful career.
Dig Further: Do Your Research
There are countless types of rare objects Ann-Marie has encountered in her valuation career. As she puts it, this field is "a lifelong apprenticeship" where the learning never stops, but it is impossible to know it all. This is where key research tools and skills come into play. The Internet can provide a lot of answers about objects under question, as well as art market subscription tools such as Artprice and Artnet. But to really get the right answers to paint a complete picture of an item's past, a variety of bibliographical, auction trade and primary art market sources should be consulted and cross-referenced.
Make sure to apply analytical skills to analyze the gathered data, as not all sources are created equal. "You need to develop a methodology of valuation," Ann-Marie advises. Figure out where to start, which sources are most reliable and most importantly, make sure to take all criteria into consideration when conducting the research for an assessment – provenance, history of exhibition, scholarly publications, materials, dimensions, dates and condition.
Think Outside the Art Market Art valuation is an expanding field that is seeping out of its traditional borders of private and institutional collections, trusts and estates. For instance, with the proliferation of banks, art advisories and related businesses that lend money against works of art, there is now a growing need for knowledgeable professionals that can prepare appraisal reports for collateral loans and art leasing purposes.
The growth of online art auctions has likewise contributed to the expanding need. The online space of art transactions poses a greater challenge for determining what is real and what is not; valuation expertise can help establish the correct value and mitigate the risk. A valuation specialist is also a frequent aid to lawyers and called upon to testify on the authenticity or value of a work in cases of equitable distribution, debt, damage, loss or fraud. But, of course, valuation will also remain important within the art world. In fact, as Ann-Marie advises, it is an indispensable career prerequisite – in order to go about any of the professional art trades, one must learn the basic skills of valuation.
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To learn more about the factors that determine an object's value, watch The Value of Art, an original ten-part video series featuring global Sotheby's specialists from across categories, presented by Sotheby's Financial Services.