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BMO Harris Private Banking

BMO Harris Private Banking

November 21, 2012 11:13 ET

BMO Harris Private Banking: Brush Up Before Bidding at Art Auctions

- Almost one-third of Canadians include art, coins, stamps and wine as part of their financial wealth

- Canada's art auction market valued at $62 million

- Due diligence essential to making wise art investment

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 21, 2012) - The art world was stunned earlier this month when Sotheby's in New York recorded its highest-ever sale for postwar and contemporary fine art at US$375.1 million. Christie's sale in the same category fetched US$412.3 million, the highest total ever for an auction of contemporary art. The record for a Canadian painting at auction is $5.1 million.

According to BMO Harris Private Banking, almost one-third of Canadians include investments such as art, coins, stamps and wine as part of their financial portfolios; fine art has proven especially popular.

With three of the major auction houses in Canada - Heffel, Joyner and Sotheby's - kicking off their fall season of Canadian fine art auctions this week and next, investors here are expected to spend even more than the $62 million they did last year to acquire works of art for pleasure and profit.

While investing in art may sound like fun, it is important to understand the market before participating in a live or online auction.

"Whether you are looking to invest millions in a Picasso or hundreds for an emerging artist's work, art buyers must do their due diligence," said Richard Mason, Head of Investment Management, BMO Harris Private Banking. "It's easy to get caught up in the emotion and excitement of a professional art auction, but be forewarned: liking a particular work of art doesn't necessarily make it a sound investment choice."

Anyone looking to invest in art -irrespective of income level - should consider the following:

  • Reputation Required:
    • When buying art, consider reputable auction houses. Auctions are a transparent market, providing buyers the confidence that they haven't paid too much. They also employ specialists who understand the market as well as the artwork.
  • Pre-Bidding Checklist:
    • Before bidding, talk to a specialist at the auction house to get more information.
    • When possible, view the artwork in person; photos do not always do justice.
    • Check out Internet databases to compare prices (some are free while others are by subscription).
    • Ask for provenance and a condition report before bidding.
  • Bidding Rules:
    • Set a limit and stick with it. Tell your spouse, friend or agent that you will not go above a certain price.
    • Understand that a buyer's premium will be added to the "hammer price."
    • If you are worried about getting caught up in the ego and emotion of a live auction, place an absentee bid.
    • If no one else makes an opening bid, consider not bidding; you may be able to acquire the piece post-auction at a better price.
  • Buying Tips:
    • Not sure what to bid on? Look for pieces you love. Look for an artist who is about to have a major retrospective at a public gallery. But don't go "off-genre"; buy the artist's typical works. If the artist is known for abstract work, don't buy a landscape or portrait from an earlier period; go with the artist's best period.
    • Buy pieces in good to excellent condition.
    • Ensure the piece was examined under UV light for signs of previous conservation/restoration.
  • Win Big:
    • If you are the winning bidder, have the piece insured immediately.
    • Arrange delivery from a reputable art transport service.
    • Ask the expert at the auction house if there are any issues to consider for your artwork, such as restoration and ensuring archival materials are used.
    • Keep records of purchase and photographs of the piece.

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