A.C.E.: Why Collect Contemporary Art?

A.C.E. Series: Why Collect Contemporary Art?

We chose Contemporary Art to kick off our Arts, Culture and Education Series, because it’s exciting, massive – and also confusing. To get a handle on the topic, we turned to Morgan Rigaud, who has extensive experience working with living artists. Rigaud is an art appraiser, historian, university instructor and managing director of Cincinnati-based Bryson Estates, a history company providing archives, collection management services and appraisal reports for fine and decorative arts, collectables and antiques.

Let’s start with the basics. What defines contemporary art?


It’s un-established; art that has not yet been canonized. So inherently, engaging with the contemporary art market means you are taking a risk, but there’s also high reward in incentivizing that risk.

Does it mean that the artist has to be living?


Contemporary is the art of now, and that is primarily living or recently-deceased artists.

So if something isn’t established, how do you determine its value?


There are a number of factors. A big part is the artist’s pedigree – their CV. It’s not an exact science when it comes to identifying value for a contemporary artist, but I would bet on those who have dedicated agents, estate management or gallery representation, because you know that there is someone who is committed to furthering the legacy of that artist. You need to consider association: where did they go, where did they show, and who did they know? It’s all about gauging the frequency of their exposure to the largest audience possible.

What else can determine value?


People don’t like that I say it, but contemporary art can be driven by social circles. If a well-known or high profile collector buys a work, it impacts the esteem and the regard in which the artist is held. That’s part of the artist’s curriculum vitae and a way to evaluate a living artist’s potential. An example: John Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century, he was the sculptor of the pope. The Roman Catholic Church was the greatest patron of the arts for centuries and they made careers. The Jeffrey Deitch/Jeff Koons patronage relationship is probably the best example of what association can do for an artist today. Or take private collectors: a celebrity collector or artist can have a hand in influencing the market. Think of Leonardo DiCaprio, James Franco, or the art of George W. Bush.

What did you observe about pieces in this sale?


I was generally attracted to the colorful works in the sale, like the Sarah Sandin portrait, which is visually interesting. Red is one of those colors that activates us, and portraits of women are typically more desirable. I was also interested in the rubber wrapped globe as a form. And any work that is abstract expressionist in tone is going to have an audience. I think millennials and Gen X-ers appreciate that school.

Does subject matter make a difference?


Subject matter can drive the view of the work far more than the artist, the reputation, the canon or the history. The Derek Jeter piece by John Stango is a good example of a case in which subject matter could generate a larger audience than simply the artist’s reputation.

How does size factor in?


The size drives the sale depending on who your buyer is. “Who’s your buyer?” is the first question I ask. Institutions and facilities have capability to house giant works — private residences don’t. So you realize your opportunity to sell paintings to private collectors is going to be the opportunity of frequency, which tends to encompass works that are 36” x 36” or smaller.

What about mediums?


It always depends on the artists – what are they best known for creating and working in? You have to look at the total body of their work and understand why people think they’re important. Printmaking materials from the 20th century tend to be less lasting, versus a painting, which is made to last longer than we do. Conversely, buying a medium for which the artist is lesser known is a great way to own one of their pieces at a lower price point.

What should people keep in mind as they navigate risk?


One thing I never want to lose in this conversation is that if you really buy what speaks to you in color, form and subject matter, then you’re not actually taking that great of a risk. You’ve found something you love, that sings to you.

You’ve invested, collected, curated and now it’s time to flatter your art with a frame fit for a masterpiece.