Today’s art market is a complex global machine that consists of many moving parts in both the physical and virtual spheres. If you break it down to its most basic components, however, what it really needs to function are an interested buyer, a willing seller, and the offered art object. But in any transaction that takes place, there is another fundamental element that needs to be present: an agreement on the value of the work. It is no surprise, then, that with the growth of the art market, the field of art valuation has exploded in tandem. So, how can you succeed in this competitive field? What does it take to assess the value of a work? Where can this skill be applied? To get the answers, we went straight to Ann-Marie Richard, former appraiser and the Program Director of our Fine and Decorative Art and Design Master's program in New York.
First things first: know your stuff
How do you begin a career path to the field of valuation? Build up your knowledge base. As Ann-Marie explains, “If you’re going to be marketable, you have to be able to walk into an estate and say ‘ok, this is a 17th century painting, this is a 19th century piece of silver, and, wait a minute, this is a contemporary piece of bronze.” In other words, prior to choosing a category of specialization, become a generalist first: receive a sufficient education that will give you enough of an art historical background to assess a spectrum of items from different eras. But don’t let it stop there. You also need to understand the art market; art valuation is, after all, a business skill. If you can receive an education that gives you both the necessary art history knowledge as well as the ability to see it within the context of today’s art market, you will set yourself up for a successful career.
Bezoar stone with case and stand, 17th century / Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dig further: do your research
There are countless types of rare objects Ann-Marie has encountered in her valuation career and countless others you may come across as you enter the field. It is, as Ann-Marie puts it, “a lifelong apprenticeship” and you never stop learning, but it is impossible to know it all. This is where key research tools and skills come into play. The Internet can provide a lot of the answers about objects under question as well as art market subscription tools, such as Artprice and Artnet. But to really get the right answers, you need to consult a variety of bibliographical, auction trade, and primary art market sources, make sure to cross-reference (to cover all the bases), and paint a complete picture of an item’s past.
You also need to apply analytical skills to analyze the data you gather, as not all sources are created equal. “You need to develop a methodology of valuation,” Ann-Marie advises. Figure out which sources are most reliable, where you will start, how you will summarize the results, and most importantly make sure to take all criteria into consideration when conducting the research for your assessment—provenance, history of exhibition, scholarly publications, materials, dimensions, dates, and condition.
Think outside of the art market
Art valuation is an expanding field that is seeping out of its traditional borders of private and institutional collections, trusts, and estates. For instance, with the proliferation of banks, art advisories, and related businesses that lend money against works of art, there is now a growing need for knowledgeable professionals that can prepare appraisal reports for collateral loans and art leasing purposes. The growth of online art auctions has likewise contributed to the expanding need. The online space of art transactions poses a greater challenge for telling apart what is real and what is not; valuation expertise can help establish the correct value and mitigate the risk. A valuation specialist is also a frequent aid to lawyers, called upon to testify on the authenticity or value of a work in cases of equitable distribution, debt, damage, loss, or fraud. But, of course, valuation will also remain important within the art world. In fact, as Ann-Marie advises, it is an indispensable career prerequisite—in order to go about any of the professional art trades, one must learn the basic skills of valuation.
Written by Alina Girshovich