Changing Environments in the Global Art Market

Grace Harlow, MA

Associate Fine Art Appraiser

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During a lecture on the changing environments of the global art market, Evan Beard, a National Art Services Executive with the U.S. Trust, shared an interesting statistic: 60% of lots offered in this past weeks contemporary evening sales at Christie's and Sotheby's were backed by guarantees. 

The statistic is at first surprising considering that the use of such a practice, where auction houses or a third-party will offer sellers a guaranteed minimum price for an artwork to entice consignments, is a relatively new and sometimes controversial strategy.  

However, the increasing use of and reliance on guarantees perhaps highlights the sizeable shift in collecting practices and motivation within the fine art market. 

For years connoisseurs and aesthetes, who spent considerable time training their eye to discern quality and purchased art for emotional and aesthetic reasons, dominated the collecting industry. Now, Beard suggests that these individuals are increasingly superseded by trophy hunters and enterprising collectors, who purchase works from in-demand artists and quickly resell them at a hoped-for substantial profit or amass large collections that are then exhibited in purpose-built museums (Eli Broad and Christian Boros come to mind). 

The rise of so-called 'art flippers,' private billionaire art museums, and third-party guarantors speaks to the increased overall global wealth and can be possibly explained by a phenomenon known as 'the wealth effect,' where individuals with expansive disposable income are spending more money as their assets increase. 

It seems that collectors are becoming more conscious of art not only for its aesthetic return but also its financial possibilities as an investment tool. Where previously there was no real emphasis on art banking, now the U.S. Trust currently holds around thirteen billion dollars from art lending according to Mr. Beard. Art is no longer just a form of social and cultural capital but now functions as a form of currency used to unlock capital. 

The shift in importance from asthetic to more financial concerns within the art market is important for appraisers to understand. Collectors now operate under a different psychology with a new set of motivations. Being aware not only of cghanging market conditions and trends, but the reasons why these evolutions occur will allow appraisers to better communicate and ultimately manage their clients' expectations. 

Art appraisal & Conservation

Dr. Elin Lake-Ewald addresses the most frequently posed questions concerning Conservation:

What is the difference between conservation and restoration?

  • Conservation is the process of controlling the environment around an object to slow its decay
  • Restoration procedures seek to return the object to its original condition, and preferably, its original usage.

For instance, a textile 19th-century American quilt that appears age darkened and sagging on its hanging apparatus may need only professional washing and backing to brighten up the cloth and alleviate the strain of hanging on the wall. This is considered conservation since there will be no alteration to any portion of the textile.

If on the other hand, the quilt displays signs of extensive moth damage and small sections must be replaced or repaired, the repair work is considered restoration. There will have been one or more pairs of hands, other than those of the original maker, that have worked on the quilt.

How to find the “right” conservator?

Our response: The best way to choose a conservator is to ask more questions. For instance, ask a professional you may hire for the job:

  1. What type of training he or she has had to perform this task
  2. The length of his or her professional experience
  3. If conservation is the focus of work or do they wear many hats, such as appraising, dealing, etc. 
  4. Experience in working with the kind of object for which the client seeks help
  5. Membership in professional associations having a code of ethics 
  6. References and previous clients
  7. Availability for the assignment and hourly fees
  8. Responsibility for insuring an item, conservator or client
  9. Arranging for transportation, conservator or client
  10.  If an appraisal of the item is required before restoration begins

What should the client expect from the conservator?

  1. Personal examination of the object prior to suggested treatment
  2. Cost of the treatment and time frame
  3. Documentation should be provided following the completion of treatment, including both written and photographic records
  4. Disclosure of risk involved in undertaking restoration or conservation
  5. Information as to cost of transporting artwork and who is responsible, client or conservator

How do you find a professional conservator?

  1. A recommendation from someone who has used the conservator with successful results with the same type of object
  2. Contact with local museums for recommended practitioners
  3. Request that the artist, if living, restore the work of art. However, since the artist has rarely had conservation training, technical problems may arise from going this route.
  4. Contact with The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and FAIC Conservation Services Referral System

AIC is the national non-profit organization of conservation professionals. There is a Conservation Services System (CSRS), but the inclusion of a conservator’s name on the list does not imply professional endorsement since the list is created from information provided by AIC members and has not been verified further. The conservators are grouped according to categories of Fellow, Professional, Associate, or Associate that reflect varying levels of experience, professionalism, and professional recognition. 

How to prevent problems in conservation?

  1. Select a conservator who specializes in either painting or ceramics, paper or three-dimensional objects, not all of them. A jack of all trades in this field is invariably a master of none.
  2. If an appraiser provides a report that recommends restoration, the client should be provided with the name and contact numbers of the conservator, as well as professional treatment proposal and direct cost. The client should be able to deal directly with the conservator.
  3. Avoid having the conservator express an opinion about loss in value following restoration since this is within the province of the appraiser, not a conservator. It is a normal reaction for a conservator to believe the results of his or her work will do wonders for a damaged piece; an appraiser may take a less subjective viewpoint. For instance, damage to the paint layer of a monochromatic painting, such as those by Yves Klein, Brice Marden, Ellsworth Kelly or Robert Mangold is difficult to inpaint or compensate and will always reflect light differently than the untouched portion when viewed from an oblique angle.
  4. Always disclose restoration. If a sale is considered in the future, it is best to hold on to the conservation report to pass on to the potential purchaser who may elect to bring in his own conservator to look at the artwork prior to purchase. Full disclosure is the only ethical, and reputation-safe, procedure for either dealer of collector.

Essentials for Conservation Framing

  1. Have the framer use recommended methods and materials for conservation framing, matted with acid-free buffered mats and backboards, and with Japanese paper hinges held in place with cooked starch paste.
  2. Separate artwork from glass either with proper matting or a fillet. 
  3. Use glass or acrylic glazing materials over artwork to protect against environmental elements. Acrylics should not be used for charcoals, pastels or chalk drawings since they can striate static electricity.

Selected Conservation Terms

  • Abraded: Loss of media and/ or paper fibers caused by friction
  • Acid: A substance with a pH below 7.0 that weaken cellulose in paper, board, and cloth
  • Alkaline: Substances with a pH above 7.0 that may be added to materials to neutralize acids
  • Buckling: Soft random distortions of the support
  • De-acidifications: Chemical treatment that neutralizes acid in paper and deposits and alkaline buffer
  • Faded: Loss of color
  • Fill: Replacement of lost support material
  • Foxing: Yellow/ brown circular staining of paper
  • Fugitive: Unstable media or color
  • Inherent Vice: Material of method of construction in an art object that causes or aids deterioration of the object
  • Mat Burn: Darkening of support caused by contact with acidic vapors
  • Neutral: Having a pH of 7.0, neither acid nor alkaline
  • Preservation: Activities associated with maintaining materials for use, either in original form or some other format
  • Reversibility: Ability to undo a process or treatment with no change to object
  • Secondary Support: Mounting support, stretcher, backing or backboard
  • Skinning: Abrasion where thin layer of support surface has been removed
  • Surface Cleaning: Removal of accretions by mechanical means


Laura Stirton Aust, ARTcare Inc.,

Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

Thompson, Tatyana M., “Dilemmas of Compensation in Contemporary Art, Western Association for Art Conservation Annual Meeting 1993, pp 29-32

Case Studies in files of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc., New York

Erik Paol's Thoughts on Art Basel 2017

Erik Paol is a Certified Appraiser 17th - 20th century Fine Art. Has held positions at auctioneers Van Ham, Cologne; Dorotheum, Vienna; Bonhams, London. Expertise in complex litigation & finance, public domain & cultural heritage, artists' estates. Specialization in corporate collections and large volumes appraisals. 

Not having been to the fair for a few years (perhaps a bit cooled-down), I was glad to enjoy the fair again thanks to some really inspiring exhibits and some good shows at Beyeler and Tinguely:

1.  Shame on me; haven’t noticed this lamp earlier. But it takes the satellite-fair Design Miami in hall #1 in order to find out that Dutch Studio Drift sells this object in the US for already over a decade now! Real dandelion-seeds filter the harsh LED-light, seen at Carpenters Workshop Gallery/ London.

Art appraisal

2.  A major sale at Design Miami was this impressive dining table and ten chairs (1960) by Brazilian designer Joaquim Tenreiro, sold by R & Company/New York to a Dutch buyer.  

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3.  Sorry, my chauvinism doesn’t stop here; I was particularly happy to see that 1960’s and 1970’s Conceptual Art from Holland was doing great; this is a still from the 4 minutes 16mm movie Nightfall (1971) by Bas Jan Ader, seen at Metro Pictures/New York (digital edition of three, €120k).  

4.  Yes, another example of Dutch Conceptual Art; a photo collage by Jan Dibbets titled Big Comet (1973), seen in hal #2 at Peter Freeman Inc./New York:

But here stops the Dutch promotion. As appraisers, I think, it is wise to ask as many prices as possible. A few years ago, my partners and I appraised a collection that also contained a nice series of Date Paintings by On Kawara.
Conclusion; that it’s about time to re-assess the old values for these two paintings.  
They were offered at €1,2m each, illustrating the strength of Conceptual Art.

What I perhaps missed in the past and absolutely enjoyed this year’s show were plenty of examples of timeless eclecticism:

5.  For instance Victoria Miro Gallery/London, that were best known for the Kusama shows, represents the Milton Avery Estate in Europe (and Alice Neel’s). It makes Art Basel a symphony, seeing these fine works from the 1940’s amidst cutting-edge contemporary art:

6.  More Art Basel versatility; a smashing work by Julian Schnabel (1990) at Almine Rech/Brussels and, yes, even sculptures (€200 to 400k) by American Outsider artist William Edmondson (ca. 1940) at Salon 94/Paris:


7.  Eclecticism also reached another satellite-fair; Liste, the art-fair for the less-established galleries. Peculiar enough, some southern-European galleries showed talent from the ‘70’s and ‘80s. Nogueras Blanchard/Barcelona, for example, showed exquisite Typings by American Autiste Savant Christopher Knowles from the mid-1970’s at prices between €7,5-€10k:


8.  Fondation Beyeler had an extremely well-hung Elsworth Kelly-room:

Beyeler’s first photo exhibition, the Wolfgang Tillmanns show was super-impressive:

Last but not least, the Tinguely Museum treated the art traveler with an exhibition by the controversial artist Wim Delvoye (the pig-tattooist, all about eclecticism and ornamentation):




Vladimir Kagan's Art Show

O'Toole-Ewald Art Associates Inc. (OTE) appraisers visited Vladimir Kagan's Art Show opening at Carpenters Workshop Gallery on 5th Avenue. Photos of last creations of our friend Vladimir Kagan, a giant in 20/21st furniture design. One is a mock-up of a desk that will be cast in bronze, the other a futuristic sweep of curved wood upholstered in white leather.

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