Book Review - Art Collecting Today

The Financial times has a review of the new book by Doug Woodham, past president of Christie's Americas on collecting, and who states "buying art is easy, sell is hard".

Amazon states on the book

Important topics covered include:

  • How to evaluate, buy, and sell art while avoiding costly mistakes and time-consuming roadblocks
  • How the market works in practice for essential artists like RenĂ© Magritte, Christopher Wool, Amedeo Modigliani, and Yayoi Kusama
  • How collectors can be taken advantage of, and the actions they should take to protect themselves
  • Why tax laws in the United States reward "art investors" yet penalize "art collectors"
  • How cultural property laws impact the market for works by such artists as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol
  • Advice for new and prospective collectors
Only $16.99 on Amazon, click HERE to order.

The Financial Times reports

Several books about the notoriously opaque art market claim to be user-friendly, but Doug Woodham, who was president of Christie’s Americas between 2012 and 2014, may be the first to produce a truly hand-holding guide. In Art Collecting Today, Woodham explains what a gouache is (opaque watercolour); urges readers to “please use Google images” to give visual context to artists he highlights; and heads one chapter beautifully simply as “Buying is easy, selling is hard”.

It’s all rather refreshing and is a quick way for a would-be art buyer to get at least a smattering of informed opinion. For those more au fait with the art market’s quirky ways, the opening chapters are perhaps less engaging, covering general topics such as the types of collectors (he separates these into three “species”: Connoisseur, Masterpiece and Marketplace) and the differences between art galleries, fairs and auction houses.

Within these chapters, Woodham’s time at Christie’s comes into play when he offers something of a defence of the auction house’s role valuing the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection in 2013. Around 2,700 works were considered for sale, to alleviate the city’s estimated $18bn of debt, alarming many in the field, although Detroit’s eventual “Grand Bargain” agreement meant that this didn’t, and no longer can, happen.

There is also, generally, no love lost for rival auction house Sotheby’s, with a section on its misjudged $515m backing of the Alfred Taubman collection titled “How the largest guarantee in auction history went awry”.

Early on, Woodham dismisses the well-worn advice to “buy what you love” as “generally terrible advice for new collectors”. He clarifies, “They can waste a lot of money on infatuation . . . Before buying something that is financially meaningful, [buyers] should seek input from those with more knowledge and experience”, and separates out who these people could be.

The central part of the book includes six well-informed market analyses — for Christopher Wool, Amedeo Modigliani, Yayoi Kusama, RenĂ© Magritte, Ruth Asawa and Elizabeth Murray. These tick off pertinent issues such as fakes in the market, pricing and how taste can change. Woodham describes Murray’s work, for instance, as “almost too joyful and colourful” for today’s taste; enthusiasm for her work has waned since the artist’s 2005 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art although, as he writes, “Nothing about her work has changed, except the context.”

He peppers the rest of the book with thornier issues, subheaded as “Scoundrel’s Corner”, highlighting hidden arrangements and sweeteners within transactions. These include introductory commissions, enhanced hammer deals (where a seller gets a cut of the buyer’s premium at auction) and the so-called “Unicorn”, which combines an enhanced hammer with a guarantee.

The book doesn’t flow particularly cohesively and is more a gathering of insights from someone in the field, rather than a structured thesis. Most entries are short and there are bullet points, checklists and tables throughout. These include Woodham’s own rankings of living artists, based on their Instagram followers, and dead artists, based on the number of social media hashtags. Their inclusion encapsulates Woodham’s welcome and modest invitation that readers dip in and out of his confidence-building book to suit their needs.
Source: The Financial Times 

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