The art dealer versus the art-market journalist. In the lecture theatre of the London Art Fair last week the scene was set for some vigorous debating. Melanie Gerlis, Art Market editor of The Art Newspaper, had just published a book which dared to question the value of art as an investment, and she was being pitted against an art dealer! The punters queued around the corner, squeezed into every inch of standing room and camped on the floor in anticipation of some serious controversy. Surely, quipped referee Iain Robertson, sandwiched between the two protagonists, this was the book that no dealer would want on its stand at the Fair (given that provocative question-mark in its title)?
Calmly initiating the debate, Melanie Gerlis set out her position. No doubt that art had value of all kinds, she said – social, aesthetic, personal – but it was just that when compared against other asset classes it didn’t really hold up. It was simply too risky an investment proposition. How do you accurately measure art’s monetary value? There is so little reliable data available. Unlike, say, property, art has no use, and unlike gold it can’t be readily sold. It eats up a collector’s resources in maintenance costs. And it’s impossible to get a proper sense of the state of the art market. Because actually there is no single art market – there are thousands of individual markets, for different periods, styles, artists, works.
What did the art dealer think about all that? There is very little that I disagree with in Melanie Gerlis’s book, Jamie Anderson of Waterhouse & Dodd responded graciously, because it is very rare that art purchases are driven by investment. And quickly the debate morphed into a fascinating discussion, amongst experts, of the pitfalls and peculiarities of buying and selling art, covering the art market’s lack of regulation, the hidden workings of auction-houses, the effects of globalisation, and the strange phenomenon of the contemporary-art market.
Buy this book, urged Iain Robertson, summing up. It will be a bestseller.
Lucy Myers, Managing Director
Art as an Investment: A Survey of Comparative Assets by Melanie Gerlis. January 2014. 234 x 156 mm. 192 pages. Hardback 978-1-84822-134-5; ebook PDF: 978-1-84822-153-6; ebook ePUB: 978-1-84822-152-9. £30.00