A Guide to the Art Market in 2023 and How to Invest In Art
Brett Gorvy began his career as an art journalist after having studied art history, which has captivated him since a young age. Later he joined Christie’s as the International Head of the Post War and Contemporary Art Department, rising to the position of the Chairman of Christie’s and leading the auction house to its first billion-dollar auction week in 2015. Today, Gorvy is Owner and partner at Lévy Gorvy Dayan.
Demand Within the Art Market
Gorvy explains that art not only brings ‘status, incredible knowledge and pleasure to one’s life’ but that also, as the value of works of art increases, art has become a very important asset class.
Gorvy puts across the point that while the art market is ‘international and very broad’, big price changes generally occur as a result of market actions of a small number of players. In other words, when the art market moves it is typically as a result of one individual making a big purchase.
Gorvy provides the example of Ronald Lauder’s purchase of a Klimt painting for reported $135 million in 2006 as creating a new incentive for the ‘ultra-buyer’, as they could now compare their purchases. Gorvy notes that within six months multiple paintings sold for over $100 million, using the Klimt painting as a comparable.
Similar growth in the art market has, according to Gorvy, occurred in the aftermath of the 2008 fall in the market both ‘because of the recalibration of the market that had occurred, but ultimately also this new blood that had come in at each time’.
Further, Gorvy mentions that the number of old master paintings on the market is very limited as majority of old master paintings are already in museums or private collections. Gorvy cites the example of a Picasso sold at an auction in 2010, explaining that if one were to do a cross-section of this marketplace ‘there were the titans of their own domains, all coming to the auction market, all coming to the art market to compete against one amazing trophy’, which shows just how small the market is for old master paintings.
“If you look at those five or six individuals fighting for that one Picasso and then you ultimately translate that to a whole market, at all levels, you can see basically how the power of one particular economy can take over.”
Gorvy explains that this is what happened with Asia in the last few years and that a similar growth happened in Middle East at the end of the 2010 period. In Gorvy’s words ‘when you have, the cross-section of all activity, you realize it's in the hands of a power base like a new buying market that's coming out of Asia, which basically overtakes everything else.’
Supply within the Art Market
Gorvy, firstly, discusses that when looking at the overall history of art markets ‘there’s always a moment of fashion’. In other words, the attention of the market focuses on one artist, or one movement, which sets the fashion of the time.
“Is there still a marketplace as broad and as strong for that individual artist who might have been taken up to a very high level because of this fashion base but ultimately needs something more substantial to actually have a longer career position?”
Gorvy highlights that any kind of ‘big jump into a marketplace by a broad group of buyers means that you have amazing activity’. However, the question then becomes whether this is sustainable.
Gorvy suggests that this sustainability is not just about creating one body of work, but rather it is about ‘creating a whole body of trajectory over decades.’ This, Gorvy argues, is as only a small number of artists are given focus in museums if one looks at the history of museums. Thus, he points out that it is important to differentiate between fashion and art that is fundamentally something much greater.
Gorvy explains that there are two parts of the art market: the auction houses and the private market. He goes on to explain that the majority of day-to-day activity between art dealers occurs in the private market behind closed doors. Gorvy, further discusses the art market during the covid period.
During this period, as Gorvy explains, the auction world has fundamentally changed. This was as before the total number of people that could fit into an auction room was probably around 600 people and it would be specialists with clients on telephones who would be bidding in a live auction. It was suddenly that the auctions would reach 150,000 viewers and the auctions themselves would take much longer.
"A normal auction would be around two and a half hours. On these online live auctions, they would be five or six hours because people just didn't have needs to go home.”
This transformation had a significant impact on the competition and mainly the depth of the bidding. In Gorvy’s words ‘the greatest game changer in a way for the auction houses has been this ability to literally become universal, to have that access point at all times of the day’.
An important question in the art world, is what creates the trigger to buy a specific piece of art. Gorvy points to the competition created within the auction environment as the key element in giving the buyers confidence in their valuation. This occurs in an auction environment as in Gorvy’s words buyers can see that ‘someone else wants the painting or the work of art as much as you’.
Another important feature of the art market are art fairs since they create an entire community of art dealers and buyers migrating depending on the key moments in the art market calendar. The art fairs because of implied competition create an environment where a decision needs to be made about a painting in a short period of time hence creating another trigger to buy.
“So, whether it is London for the auctions in February, March, or whether it's New York for May, or whether it's the art fair in Basel in May, June, these are all moments in the calendar that if you are part of this world, you will want to participate in all these different elements. Ideally, you'd want to be there live in person.”
Gorvy further explains that trigger to buy ‘in many cases, is about how you get someone to stand in front of a work of art’. It is in an art fair that since people ‘center on the same object in a crowded booth’ market prices are pushed to a higher level. Hence art fairs try to create ‘that notion of desire and urgency to make a decision which ultimately prompts both a sale but also the strongest price possible.’
In addition, Gorvy discusses the use of guarantees in auctions. These guarantee a minimum price that a seller will receive for a painting regardless of what happens in the auction. Gorvy provides the example of the Paul Allen collection sale as a guaranteed sale.
What is Art Fractionalisation?
Art fractionalisation allows individuals to buy shares in iconic artworks, that may otherwise be out of reach, by dividing ownership of paintings into a set number of shares. It has become more common in recent years thanks to platforms like Mintus or Masterworks.
To achieve fractionalisation, Mintus for instance sets up each artwork as a company structure. When an investor buys shares in a painting they are buying part of a company, just like traditional equities. The difference is this company’s value is determined by one asset- an artwork.
Gorvy is the Chief Curator at Mintus, and sits on their board. In the episode, he explained why he joined Mintus and how fractionalisation is revolutionising the marketplace!
Fractionalisation can benefit artists, as well widening access to fine art ownership. Gorvy explained how artists can retain a share in their work of art if they can sign works of art directly to Mintus’s platform. This creates an opportunity for the artist to profit from any increase in the price of the work of art. While this is a very new aspect of the marketplace, unlike in traditional galleries selling new artists’ works where the artist typically retains about 50% of the selling price of the work of art, through Mintus an artist can retain a fractional percentage of their artwork.
Mintus is a UK art fractionalisation start-up, founded in 2019. They employ over 25 people and are based in London. They are a challenger brand to US-based Masterworks (who claim to have $850m in assets under management, with 320+ blue chip paintings in their catalogue).
Overall, Gorvy covers in detail both the demand and the supply side of the international art market. Moreover, he explains types of market exchanges as well as the transformation of auction houses due to the COVID pandemic, and what creates a trigger to buy a given artwork. Lastly, he explains how fractionalisation is disrupting the market for all participants.
By Jan Ptacin, who has completed work experience at the Money Maze Podcast. Jan is currently a third-year student at Durham University, studying PPE. Outside of his degree Jan is interested in investing, having been a team leader of a team which reached a global final of an investment competition organised by KWHS in high school. He also enjoys art, hiking and fine wine as hobbies.
DISCLAIMER: Mintus Sponsored the Money Maze Podcast in 2022/23, and we featured a well-received interview with their CEO, Tamer Ozmen, in 2022.
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When Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger was bought for $179 million, at that time, a world record for an artwork sold at auction, the spotlight shone on the world of art valuations, and this episode’s guest, Brett Gorvy.
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