The Importance of Art

gallery 5George Thornton Art, Nottingham

An auction of contemporary art at Sothebys this week provoked some thought about how an artist, or even a piece of art gets classed as ‘important’ and actually what this means to the art buying audience. The auction at Sothebys was described as ‘a considered selection of artworks from Post-War innovators through to a new generation of artists working today.’ Prices ranged from thousands to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and many of the pieces auctioned sold for well in excess of their estimate, some reaching fifty percent in excess of the upper limit. None of the artists included in the sale were the superstars of the modern art world – no Koontz, Haring or Rothko – and yet those included were described as ‘important’ – and this seems to be the factor that pushed so many of the prices achieved above the upper estimate price.

Sothebys

Taking a look at some of the works sold, mostly abstract, modern works in this instance, I got to thinking about how the art buying public might possibly be persuaded or influenced to buy ‘important’ works. Discussion in the gallery on this topic centred on the reasons why people buy art. Three main answers to that – because the audience like a piece; because the audience has a ‘space’ that a piece of art fits into; because the audience views art as part of their investment strategy. And we agreed that it is the latter that is the most likely reason a buyer would be influenced by a view from someone in authority – like an art auction house or a dealer – whose opinion they trust. Fair enough, but would the first two reasons for buying art not be arguably more compelling? Buying art as investment, especially as part of a strategy for use of one’s investment funds, is fraught with risk and potentially could lead to disastrous consequences. One can only wonder what the collectors of Rolf Harris’ work are feeling in the light of recent events for example, and if pieces are being purchased only for their perceived value designated thus by ‘experts’ do the investing audience actually LIKE what they’re buying? Or are they just going on trend or analysis and not caring about the aesthetic value of the art they are buying. I would argue that it’s more important to actually own pieces of art that evoke a response in the audience, that fill a space in the collector’s heart, and not in their investment strategy. One may or may not end up with a piece of work that increases in financial value but the buyer who purchases pieces that provoke a feeling, or a way of seeing something differently, is intrinsically more valuable to the owner and the asset has more value than can simply be measured in financial terms.

Clearly I’m biased, but our customer base is one that values the intelligent, affordable art that we offer. Frequent introductions of new artists of interest, and operating totally independently the Gallery offers a refreshing art buying experience, one based on helping you find the pieces that you will love and cherish, regardless…

Below is a little flavour of what to expect from George Thornton Art.

Just DesertsSweet Desserts by Xue Wang. Original Oil on Board

EL 10-442 100x76cm

Meadow Lane by Gail Troth. Original Acrylic on Canvas

Heading down to the Line

Heading Down to the Line by Jan Nelson. Original Acrylic on Canvas

Bold & Beautiful web file

Bold and Beautiful by Dean Fox. Signed limited edition of just 45 copies on paper.

16b

Barn Owl by Stephen Rautenbach. Original Bronze sculpture

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The Problem With Provenance

When buying artwork we all like to know the provenance of the piece. Who made it, is it a new piece and if not who owned it beforehand?
Having read an article in the art review this week, it got me thinking just how important it is to make sure you know about a pieces provenance before agreeing to buy it. Here is a little example of how provenance could affect you…

Not knowing the provenance can be a terrible business. Recently Steven Brooks, an art collector from California attempted to sell a piece entitled ‘Allegorical Portrait of a Lady as Diana Wounded by Cupid’ by Van Loo (featured below). Brooks however came unstuck when Christie’s refused to sell the piece after doing a bit of research into the painting. They discovered that the piece was once owned by the Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering. This has simply rendered the painting worthless as it is now presumed Nazi loot and has put a cloud on the title. Brooks is now in the process of trying to sue Sotheby’s for not doing enough to research the paintings past in the first place. He bought the painting in 2004 from the auction for £57,600 and had no idea of it’s Nazi past. So far,no rightful claimants have been identified and non have come forward. If this remains to be the case, it is unclear what will become of the piece, its past makes it unsellable until it can either be proved Goering purchased the painting legitimately, restoring the line of title or the rightful owner identified. Either way, Brooks is certainly likely to loose out.

This may not however be the end of the road for ‘Allegorical Portrait of a Lady as Diana Wounded by Cupid’. Although it may be of no use to Brook’s,should the rightful owners of the piece be found and the painting returned, then its value could increase exponentially. This was true of the Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’, despitelooted by the Nazi’s, the piece was eventually restored to the rightful owners following a grueling court battle. The story captured the headlines at the time and the painting became iconic and culminated with it being sold for a record amount when put up by the new owner. Another famous example of this is Mark Rothko’s ‘White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)’, this is another piece that can be found on the worlds most expensive painting list, selling for a staggering 72.8 million dollars. This price would arguably had never been reached at the time, were not for Rockefeller (featured above with picture) being its prior owner. Rockefeller’s ownership of the painting has become so synonymous with the painting that it is now popularly referred to as the ‘Rockefeller Rothko’.

Provenance therefore isn’t just a past, but also a story. One which can have either a positive or negative effect on the art it uses to tell it.
Provenance is important and it shouldn’t be ignored. It usually only requires a small amount of research and doing it should could either save you money or unravel an exciting and interesting past that could even increase the pieces worth. The provenance of new original pieces may just be a receipt to begin with, but its how that work is used, wheres and it hung and who owns it in the future.