Revealed: How investing in art could make you a fortune

An artist shares his artwork with a potential buyer.
Your love of art could turn out to be a lucrative investment. Photo credit: Getty.

Although people buy art more for enjoyment rather than as an investment, over the long-term, that 1970s relic or family heirloom could be worth a fortune.

Newshub spoke to an art gallery owner and the managing director of an auction house to find examples of artworks that have increased in value over time and how buyers might spot them.

Gary Langsford, a director of Gow Langsford Gallery, said that people buy art for a variety of reasons, including to decorate a new home, enhance the garden, add to a collection or invest long-term.  

"The themes can be figurative, abstract, works on paper, paint or sculpture," Langsford said.

As they're less-established, spending money on younger artists is likely to be more of a gamble, whereas well-known artists have a better chance of being sold for a future gain.

"A Colin McCahon 'Rocks in the sky' on steinbach paper, if bought in the 1970s, would've cost around $300 to $600 and now would be between $350,000 to $450,000," Langsford said.

"A [quality] Don Binney painting from the 1960s might've cost $3000 to $4000 and today could be worth $500,000. 

"While there's a speculative aspect to buying art, generally speaking, people buy art for a very long-term hold."

Leigh Melville, managing director of Art+Object, said that when valuing artwork, the top three things she looks for are "Provenance", "Condition" and the "Maker".

"The artwork's history and authenticity, or the story of who it has belonged to will always contribute to its value," Melville said.

"If an artwork has not been well cared for, it's value may be diminished," Melville added.

Additionally, artists that are highly sought-after command a premium value - and they may be worth a lot more in decades to come.

"The most noteworthy example [is] Colin McCahon’s 'The Canoe Tainui', purchased in 1969 for $550 and sold by Art+Object in 2016 for NZ$1.62 million," Melville said.

As art auctioneers typically use data from previous auction records and private sales to determine its value, people are advised to research the approximate value of an artwork before deciding whether to buy it.

"With a more expensive artwork, I would hope to see [that] the artist has an extensive exhibition history with a well-known gallery where their work is/has been regularly sold, artworks by the artist are regularly traded at auction [and] the artwork is in excellent condition," Melville said.  

How to spot art worth investing in  

For people starting out in buying art, Langsford suggested visiting public and dealer galleries and talking to the dealers to get a sense of what's happening in the market.

"Get yourself on a mailing list, know what exhibitions and openings are coming up and see what sells - some artists sell out even before they open the show," Langsford said.

To identify emerging artists before buying, people are encouraged to watch the artist's career. If their artwork is picked up by a bigger gallery, showcased at museums or at overseas exhibitions, these are positive signs.

"Andre Hemer is the main example of an emerging local artist," Langsford said. 

"Toby Raine has [also] become very popular very quickly."

Looking at an auction website can also be a good way to find out how much an artist's work has sold for in the past.

"The auction history section on Art+Object's website allows buyers to research all the prices fetched by individual artists," Melville added.

Although a certain artwork may hold it's value or even increase in value over time, art is a changing landscape and future profit isn't guaranteed.

"Many factors contribute to the value of an artwork and the sands are constantly shifting.

"We try not to talk about art as an investment as no one has a crystal ball and unfortunately we are not able to predict the future," Melville said.  

On the plus side, as it's not affected by a falling sharemarket or the forces of supply and demand, enthusiasts hoping to generate a profit could find it's worth holding out.

"Art is for the patient investor who is prepared to wait for perhaps 10, 20 or more years to see the investment mature," Melville said.

Before people decide whether to put their money on an expensive artwork, Melville has a few words of advice.

"Do the research, be confident you are buying a good example of the artist’s work and be comfortable [that] you're spending wisely. 

"Perhaps most importantly, buy something you love that is going to challenge and interest you over time," Melville said.

Whilst the validity of choosing conventional methods of saving and investing can't be disputed, for enthusiasts willing to put the work in, viewing art as both a hobby and a potential sideline investment is not such an abstract idea.