Art Valuation, a necessary headache

Photo by Peat Bakke Some rights reserved

Photo by Peat Bakke
Some rights reserved

This last month I’ve been asked to appraise an acquaintance’s collection and im being faced with the difficulties that this entails.

First of all let me make it clear that I am in no way an appraiser, my trade is contemporary art, however this person trusts my taste and knowledge and entered into this agreement knowing this.

In any case it got me thinking on how volatile and complicated it is to assign value to a work of art. Unlike graphic design you can’t just add up time worked, intellectual time (time spent thinking on the project), and costs. Factors such as fame, current fashionable trends, cultural value and artistic skill amongst others. All of these are impossible to assign definite monetary values to, and whats worse even when a value is assigned, this value is temporary as these factors fluctuate as trends change, appreciating and depreciating the value accordingly.

It’s because of this that several artists I talked to seem to dislike the process or find it as an unnecessary annoyance, and that they should be allowed to determine their own prices. And while I agree that even the best appraisal is subject to suspicion, specially when large sums are involved, the practice of art valuation is necessary, specially as time passes and separating the wheat from the chaff becomes easier through the test of time, as it allows the trade of art objects.

And this trade is nothing new, wether the intention is religious, political or aesthetic, art has been commissioned, sold and traded as a commodity for a long time. If art is not traded then It is hoarded and kept as a show of personal power instead of a cultural contribution to the entire world, its messages would become diluted. Thus I have no problem with the sale of art, but I do think it needs better regulations and more transparency so that sellers and buyers know WHY its valued at one price and not another and having to take the word of someone who might not have the good of buyer and seller in mind.

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3 thoughts on “Art Valuation, a necessary headache

  1. Peat Bakke says:

    Hey there — this is Peat Bakke. I took the leader photo for this article, and the donor of the print being appraised in the photo. I was having it appraised for tax purposes, so I got to know the process reasonably well.

    The bottom line for a valuation is the price that the piece would be expected to fetch if it were put up for sale, and for the IRS’s purposes, this means getting a range of quotes from third party art dealers who deal in similar pieces, and the value of historical sales (if any). The appraiser manages all of the research and presents the findings, but has to be a “disinterested” party with no personal attachment to the value of the object being appraised.

    It’s a pretty clinical process, and explicitly does not take into account the artist’s perceived value of the object, nor a speculative future value of the object.

    As such, it could be a very disheartening process for an aspiring artist who hasn’t found their market!

    If you’re an artist concerned about the value of your work, there’s only one way to bump that number up: get your hustle on. 🙂

    (If you’re at all curious about the story behind that photo, it starts here: http://peat.org/2010/12/16/pauls-photograph-part-1/)

    • Rene G. Cepeda says:

      In my case I’m the poor sod asked with appraising and selling the pieces, I had to do both because the man who brought up the pieces to sell was VERY selective on who could enter his house and wouldn’t let anyone else in to do the appraising. It was a very complicated thing to be honest.

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