Monday, May 22, 2006

Collecting nude and erotic art 

How much nudity should one's art collection contain? It depends on how often do you expect John Ashcroft for dinner. If you have no plans of getting a shot at (or getting shot by) the US presidency, you can probably safely surround yourself with nudes that would make TV crews wince otherwise (from staring). The ancient Greeks fought wars naked, and etched scenes of unmistakeable activity onto their art objects. The Egyptians put images of their Pharaoh indulging in sexual practices on their temple walls. And our Attorney General prostests for a justice statue's bare breasts? Perhaps it's the sight of justice that really jolted him... maybe they haven't met before.

Let's start by defining a few keywords. What is the difference between nude art and erotic art? Generally, nude art shows what somebody has, and erotic art shows (or suggests) what s/he got it for. What is an obscenity? A hard breathing call, collect. This being settled, we can move on to the question of art placement. Works of art that exhibit sensuality work the best in those areas of the house where the owner does the same. Discourse about their placement is usually bolstered by a glorious lack of forethought. If you disapprove the sight of naked sexual organs around you, what is that huge painting of a rose doing on your wall? You are looking at the vulva of a bush, enlarged twenty times, my friend. And look at your vase... a whole bouquet of REAL sexual organs, and you even smell them, or (haha!) put one behind your ear. To anyone with some sense (which apparently, excludes the Nevada County Board of Supervisors) this would smack of shameless sexual discrimination.

A lot of people seem to be shy when it comes tasteful nudity in art. In my town, whenever a work of art with sexual overtones comes up on a public art sale, one can hear giggles from the crowd. Then after I buy it, several of those people approach me in private and offer to "take that naked painting off my hands" for more. My advice is, if you (like them) are too shy to purchase risqué art publicly, get it on the Internet.

A celebration of human body in a painting or sculpture is electrifying. Sensuality stimulates creativity in every sense. It evokes love, passion and the creation of man. But is it good for you? As Dr. Karen Weatherby's studies discovered, looking at nudity is good for one's health. Therein could be the gist of the problem. If nude art killed 100,000 people a year, it would be a major, respected US industry, like tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, or the government. The fact that it's the equivalent of a daily 30-minute aerobic workout suggests it's a miracle the authorities didn't ban it yet. Get your artworks while you can.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Art Collecting as a Business 

"I love my business!" - says Joseph G (name changed) of Santa Barbara, California. "I have no boss, it takes me less than an hour a week, there's no chance of being laid off, and I just made $2875 with it today. It's almost three times what the President of the United States makes in a day. "

Joseph earns a comfortable living collecting art.

Originally thought as a pastime of the super-rich, art collecting has evolved into an online activity, embraced by an increasing number of Americans as a reliable source of income. People of all walks of life are buying fine art online, holding it for a year or more, earning a healthy profit on the resale. So why this new phenomenon isn't widely publicized? The reasons range from safety considerations to taxes, but even more amazing than the profits is the fact that most of these new online art collectors have no previous art experience. Most buy limited edition giclee prints of canvas. These are close reproductions of an original painting, and usually come with certificates of authenticity signed and numbered by the artist. After the limited edition is sold out, the prints often increase in value 200 to 400 percent.

Of course, no one can guarantee what sort of profit a sold out print will bring exactly, but over long term, art tends to consistently outperform stocks and even gold as an inflation hedge. Overseas, The British Rail Pension Fund invested about 40 million British pounds into multiple categories of art in the 1970s. It achieved “a return on its investment of 11.3% compound. In the United States, between 1999 and 2003, the Mei/Moses All Art Index rose at an annualized rate of over 8%. During the same period, Ten year Treasuries gained 6.7% a year and the S&P 500 declined 0.7 percent a year. Art was shown to outperform stocks and bonds over a 50-year period.

As illustrated by our previous article (Art Hoaxes, Farces and Frauds), you should use the same due diligence when selecting a work of art as when you select a stock or mutual fund. Check the artist's credentials, scrutinize the quality of the work and request the certificate of authenticity. You should be wary of any art dealer who refuses to put his authenticity claims in writing. Also, certificates are only as reliable as the firm that backs them. Don't be taken in by dealers who refer you to "art appraisers" who are on the dealer's payroll. If you buy any artwork attributed to a well-known artist, it is very important to consult a reputable expert, such as an art appraiser or museum curator, before finalizing the purchase. Ask the seller for specific information about the piece, including the edition size, the print medium (such as lithograph, etching, silkscreen, or woodcut), the year of publication, and the printer/publisher -- all of which will help an expert evaluate the work. Some states have disclosure laws that require the dealer to give you such information. These include Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. A dead giveaway of fraudulent offers is the high-pressure sales pitch: act now, or you will be passing up a terrific investment opportunity. Remember -- no offer is so good that it cannot wait for a cool professional examination. Ask yourself: if this offer is so good, why is a total stranger making the effort to sell me this investment?

In the 1989 edition of The Business of Art, art maven Jeffrey Deitch recalls his start in the art business and the prevailing views towards art at the time. “It was the inflation panic of the late 1970s-early 1980s that was the real economic fuel behind the new vitality of the art market. People saw their cash eroding in value and rushed to put their money into tangible assets such as art.”, he notes. Considering that the inflation of the 1980s was just a mild blip compared to the inflation on the horizon, investing in art for profit becomes an option worth of consideration by even the most conservative Wall Street purists. Besides,. no Treasury Bond will ever look as good on your walls as a Regina Fierro print...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Art Hoaxes, Farces and Frauds - a collector's introduction 

In a world where even the famous Moon landing seems to have been fabricated, is comes as little surprise that the art world has its equivalent share of rogues, pranksters and con artists. From the British Museum's now retired Etruscan sarcophagus (left) whose female figure wore nineteenth century underwear (ha ha!) to the latest Matthew Barney art installation of 7 guano dropping pigeons, we'll present here a little gallery of art hoax highlights for your amusement and enlightenment.

As Milton Berle remarked, "Van Gogh painted 72 pictures. As of this morning, Americans have 423 of them." One prankster whom we can thank for this state of affairs is Otto Wacker, a German art dealer who became famous for selling fake Van Goghs.The most telling part of the story is that the art experts have not been able to reach a consensus ever since if some paintings in his collection were genuine or not. Another merry prankster is Han van Meegeren, painter and night club manager, who sold his fake Vermeer (right) to Nazi art looter Hermann Goering for millions of Dutch guilders - paid to him all in counterfeit currency.

We could ponder who paints worse fake Picassos? A Hungarian-born painter, Elmyr De Hory, or the Master of Cubism himself, Picasso? Towards the end of his life Pablo Picasso admitted that from the time of Cubism onwards he did not consider himself to be an artist. Having realised that the more ridiculous and outrageous the work he produced was the more the dealers and buyers paid him, he settled into being a well-paid court jester, a purveyor of "modern art" being a "farce d'atelier" (artist's prank).Yet, his creations still keep appreciating in value, just like Piero Manzoni's who in 1961 produced and tinned 90 tins of 'artist's shit ' (30 grams each) and sold them at the price of gold.

In spite of being an obvious hoax, a visual comment on the art business, the price of Manzoni's canned poop still increases yearly. One fetched $67,000 on an 1991 Sotheby's auction. At least Manzoni had the honesty of labeling his article for what it is, unlike the respected Manhattan art dealer whol sold forged impressionist paintings labeled as authentic. (You can read about his arrest and similar cases at ArtWatchdog.com.) The art dealer apparently ended up, like Manzoni's masterpiece: canned. The morality: if someone offers you a stupendous antique $9 million Leonardo Da Vinci painting of a John Deere tractor, think twice.

Let's end our voyage in the land of art hoaxes with a happy example. The last hoax on our list comes courtesy of Banksy, alias Banksymus Maximus, who once hung his own painting in the Tate Gallery in London in October 2003. The staff didn't notice the DIY extension of their inventory until the picture fell to the ground days later. After repeating the same prank in four New York galleries, Banksy returned to London to supplement an exhibit of cave art with a paleolite of his own creation, depicting a cave man with a shopping cart. This one stayed on exhibit for 3 days before somebody noticed a slight tinge of historic anachronism.

What do these hoaxes, pranks and pull-ons teach us? There are many pranksters out there in the world of art, some of them nice, others harmful. If you simply dive in and invest money on some talking suit's advice, you might end up burned. When art forger Otto Wacker went down in flames, some former directors of the Bank für Deutsche Beamte, who had been investing in his paintings on behalf of the bank, were sued. When Elmyr De Hory was apprehended, the willing duplicity of several art galleries become exposed. How do you protect yourself from being taken advantage of? Buy directly from the artist, and choose a work of art that you enjoy. If you are reading this page, there are quite a few good artists within a mouse click's reach. I promise none of their work smells.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How To Collect Art - 3 Essential Tips 

A wise man once said that a marriage is a public expression of a private desire. Collecting art is a similar expression of one's private desires. When you buy a work of art, you express your wish to enjoy it repeatedly, because you like it, it makes you feel in some way that you want to experience more.

People collect art for other reasons as well. Some identify with the message it carries, others pursue the investment angle: art can grow enormously in value. A modern drawing bought in 1993 for a mere thousand dollars has grown to $25,000 in value past year tax free, and the art market never had a crash like the stock market always does. This said, never forget what art collection is about. It's about you. So without further ado, let's start with a brief "Art Collecting 101" to help you have the best results - and a good time.

Art collection tip #1: What to buy

You can study art for years, the final decision boils down to the same thing. Get a work of art that you like, one that made you feel good in some way. Art affects you even when you are not looking at it, just stand, sit or do something near it. People in a room painted with vivid color have been measured having a higher pulse than people in a room painted with muted, cold colors. Any work of art you hang on your walls becomes a part of your life, a source of comfort and happiness, peace or strength or spiritual enlightenment - whatever it made you feel that you bought it for. Even if you consider buying a work of art just for an investment, remember: if you don't care for it, how can you be sure others will, for it to raise in value?

Art collection tip #2: Money

If you do want art that appreciates in value, the $69.95 framed print from Home Furnishings Megastore is not likely to increase in value to $25.000 in your or my (or this planet's) lifetime. Such items are mass products created only for a certain kind of customer who purchases things based on getting the cheapest price. A clientele of this type would never allow a drastic increase in value, it doesn't fit their notion of "good deal". So if a $69.95 print is what you buy, a $69.95 print is what you'll always have. To buy a work of art that appreciates in value requires either a minimum four-digit budget - or tremendous luck.

Art collection tip #3: Unexpected benefits

When you put a work of art up at home, you become a part of the creative process. As you arrange it with the other elements, you become an artist: you are creating a new mix of messages, colors, shapes, emotions, inspirations in your home that did not exist hours before. Did you know that a rich visual environment serves your own health and has anti-aging properties? Laboratory tests with animals show that an environment full of visual stimuli resulted in a stronger immune system and longer life. A new work of art is an opportunity to make your life richer, more interesting and healthier. You discover new things all the time. Did you know that almost any work of art comes to a whole new life when lit by the rays of the setting sun? (Yet, if they get direct sunlight all day long the colors will eventually begin to fade.) A work of art is like a living creature, it interacts with everything around, and the interaction goes both ways. It isn't just an object like any other, it's a door to a whole new world. Enjoy the trip.

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