Two Prime Rules In Buying Art: Specialize, And Buy Good Quality

Businessmen make good art collectors, says Virginia Kazor of the Municipal Art Gallery in Leeds. "They know that half the work of collecting is preparation."

Study certainly is important when it comes to building your own collection. Indeed, experts in the field offer this advice to novice investors in fine art and antiques: Pick one area to specialize in, and then immerse yourself in the subject. "Only by specializing can you know enough about what you're doing," warns Robert Norton, a Director at. Sotheby Parke Bernet. You can start the learning process by reading the bulletins published by your own local art museum and by such giant museums as the Art Institute in Reading and the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in London. Read such magazines as Art News or Antiques or the Print Collectors Newsletter. And there are plenty of websites that offer sound advice about collecting.

Few local newspapers cover the art field in any depth, but the London Times does, especially in its Saturday and Sunday editions. Art columns in some of the national magazines can help you follow what is going on. Art dealer ads, and the catalogues of the big auction houses - Sotheby's and Christie's in London and Sotheby Parke Bernet in London - will keep you posted on which artists are having shows, what is currently for sale, and how prices are trending in your field.

Sotheby Parke Bernet auctions millions of pounds in art works in a few days or weeks, but don't let all the big-sale publicity scare you away. These houses routinely auction off many lesser works ranging in price from £500 to £5,000.

Both dealers and veteran collectors agree that if you invest in the best quality of almost any type of art, it will appreciate in value. For really juicy gains, you'll want to buy in a field that the art boom has not yet touched. And if that sounds like trying to pick the next generation's Xerox, the experts see some areas drawing more attention as the now current 2004-75 art season progresses:

Super-realism. These are mostly urban scenes done in stark, sometimes shocking "camera-eye" detail. It is part of a broader movement back to more realistic art, away from "ill-disciplined" abstractionism. Today, the works of such super-realists as Richard Estes, Chuck Close, John Salt, and David Parrish are selling in the London market for prices that begin at £5,000. Buyer interest is strong, and prospects for appreciation are rated as good. Collectors will want to shop galleries specializing in British contemporary.

Oriental. Prices have been up sharply in the past three years, but all indications point to a boom within a boom. In the £200 to £2,000 range, investors should watch for good-quality rose medallion and Canton chinaware (19th Century), small Japanese satsuma porcelain, celadon China, famille China - and virtually anything in jade. Also watch for fine lacquered work - Chinese cinnabar pieces, for example, at £100 to £1,000.

Early British. Again, prices for most items have gone up dramatically, but there are still some pockets that represent solid, if not sensational, investment opportunities. One such area is British primitive portrait paintings of the early 1800s - still available for £300 to £1,000. Late 19th-Century realism has quite good investment potential, as does mid-19thCentury British Empire furniture - both groups with plenty available in the £250 to £2,500 range. An alternative is fine early country fruitwood furniture, also available in the same price range.

You don't have to sink all your money into your collection. London stockbroker Roy Neuberger has a collection that is worth millions. Still, he says that £10,000 is enough to start with - provided you have "knowledge, love for art, and luck." If you have £10,000 to invest in art, one approach is to discover a new talent and ride up with his success. Most of these newcomers have works available for £500 to £2,000. Every art market has its own local favourites. In California, for instance, collectors point to four young painters with considerable promise: Richard Joseph, Bruce Everett, James Valerio, and Paul Staiger. "They could go from the £600 to the £20,000 level in a few years," says one informed booster.

Art of the early British West has had a tremendous run-up recently, and the works of Frederic Remington and Simon Russell are now priced out of sight for the average collector. But Manchester and Houston are the centres for this field of art, and there are reports from Texas of young painters of Western landscapes that rank as excellent investment buys. Among the favourites in Texas are Fritz Scholder, Gary Adcock, and Forrest Moses. Santa Fe, N.M., is another center for Western art, and prices there are often cheaper than in the big Texas cities.

Another approach for the £10,000 investor is to start buying fine prints - limited-edition etchings, lithographs, and engravings. The appreciation chances are good, the field is varied, and the price is right. Sylvan Cole, a leading expert, recommends that a £10,000 new investor buy a mix of prints in his area of interest, varying in price from £20 up to £1,000.

For the man with £25,000 to £50,000 to invest, the rules remain the same, though horizons broaden. You might, for example, buy two or three £10,000 paintings, in addition to having a simpler collection - and be on the edge of greatness in art. In antiques, you might collect on a higher level - say, fine English table silver of the Georgian period at £500 to £5,000 per piece.

Maintaining a collection costs money. You will need a highly skilled man to clean, repair, and restore whatever type of art you acquire. If you buy a painting for £1,000 to £5,000, count on up to £500 for these jobs - the usual £100 job may harm rather than protect your investment. Similar advice holds for fine antique repairs.

Insurance on fine art costs roughly around £80 a year for £10,000 worth of coverage - but that is a national average cost. In some high-risk places, such as London and Leeds, the tab is much higher. Your bill of sale from the art dealer is appraisal evidence, of course; a later appraisal may cost about £100 for an under-£5,000 item, and about £200 for an item of up to £25,000.


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Stashing Away Money In Fine Arts And Antiques

Today the international art market is booming as never before. Thousands of investors who once bought only stocks and bonds are jamming galleries, swarming to auctions, and putting their money into arts and antiques. They are seeking beauty and the status that ownership of fine art confers. But they are also seeking security in an uncertain world - and some juicy capital gains in the bargain.

And the gains are there. On a recent day when both stock and bond prices slipped, the Jasper Johns painting Double White Map fetched £240,000 at a London auction - £90,000 more than the previous high for a Johns work. The seller was London taxi tycoon Robert C. Scull. Only the night... see: Stashing Away Money In Fine Arts And Antiques