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Book Review
‘How to Buy and Sell Art’ by Michael Reid
For several years, importance of art as a tangible asset was ignored. Unlike other traditional or even alternative investment avenues, it did not receive attention of most market experts. Art as an asset class remained on the periphery largely because it was not as closely analyzed and tracked as most other investment options and even commodities, especially in India.

Of course, wealthy individuals and premier institutions like museums have always been acquiring paintings and other forms of art, largely thought to be beyond the purview of masses. Thankfully, the situation has changed in the last decade or so – both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The art scene has become much more democratic. Furthermore, insight into mechanics of the art market, a more professional approach, an extensive coverage and research to meet the norms of mainstream financial markets has drawn more people to art.

Simultaneously, the art market has become more liquid and transparent in nature. Many parameters, indices as well as auction benchmarks have been created for the purpose of tracking the trajectory, history, provenance and sales trends as a natural response to the growing interest in art. Now, novel analytical frameworks and methodologies are constantly being developed for more dynamic art market research.

Lack of knowledge is no more a hindrance thanks to the Internet and several insightful publications on art. In fact, much is now being talked and written about the international art market, with everything easily available in public domain. Professionals with excellent background and solid expertise in the contemporary art world readily provide a well-informed analysis. ‘How to Buy and Sell Art’ by analyst and scholar Michael Reid is a perfect example of this new trend. Using his vast experience and analytical abilities, the author has come up with an excellent resource to grasp the intricacies of contemporary art market from the point of view of a layperson.

Explaining the motive of the book (Publishers: Allen & Unwin), an introductory note states: “The art world can be intimidating even for the experienced buyer let alone the aspiring albeit ambitious collector. With this witty handbook on the exciting world of collecting, the author arms keen buyers with a no-nonsense, informative roadmap to the finer aspects regarding the buying and selling of art.”

After a decade of practical experience with Christie's London, Michael Reid decided to turn an art market commentator, educator, and dealer and consultant, to advise both private and corporate clients. He regularly contributes to several prestigious art publications. The point he underlines in his insightful document is to look beyond the headline-catching auction prices, and focus on your own objectives as a collector. As he suggests, if you are prepared to conduct independent research, you can dig out truly talented artists – ones for the future - with works of attractive price tags, and with exceptional quality.

The book rightly mentions that the key to successful collecting is to work out your approach towards buying or selling art. You may acquire art purely out of passion, enriching your precious collection irrespective of market conditions, or you may want to buy art for diversifying your investment portfolio. Whatever be the motive, it’s essentially a long term process. As it emphasizes, being able to buy with a clear focus will turn the simple act of buying art into collecting art. Obviously, much depends on the optimum mix of both quantitative and qualitative research tools coupled with an in-depth knowledge of how the contemporary art markets work.

Then there are issues like documentation and provenance papers, sale deeds, certificates of authenticity, art insurance etc. In this context, the book underlines the importance of tangible art valuation drivers to decide and discover the right price of a work. It draws our attention to parameters, which serve as the basis for measuring the influence of intangible valuation drivers, such as provenance and irrational premium. All these aspects have made the role of the gallery owners and dealers that much more critical.

Michael Reid in this significant document offers advice on everything from when and when not to buy art, artists to keep an eye on, collecting categories, fakes, tax and superannuation matters and collecting groups. No matter what your budget or your collecting inclination, ‘How to Buy and Sell Art’ provides precise answers to all the doubts and issues you might have regarding the art market. It recreates the experience of a young art collector’s maiden visit to a gallery as well as the way the high drama of an auction room plays out.

The author helps us fathom the varied dimensions of today’s complex art market and guides us through the complex, albeit fascinating maze of art investing.