23 Nov 2009

Understanding art prices

(By Nalini S Malaviya)

Now that the art market is beginning to look up, there is a lot of interest in understanding the intricacies of the market. The pricing of artworks has been a component that often requires a greater understanding of the market dynamics in order to analyze it. And, even then it may not appear entirely rational, as it is not completely deterministic or quantifiable.
Many people fail to comprehend the logic behind art prices and their upward movement due to its multivariate nature, there are a certain amount of elements that influence it. Also, it is important realize that there is a difference between the commercial price of an artwork and its value. The price of an artwork is determined by physical attributes such as market conditions whereas the value is its perceived worth or a subjective opinion of the viewer.
Typically, the price of an artwork depends upon the medium and size of the work, previous price points, its rarity and the artist. Art prices in the primary market are driven essentially by the artist and the gallery, whereas prices in the secondary market are often driven by demand. For instance, in an auction there is a reserve price which is estimated for a given piece of work prior to the auction, and its subsequent sale price could be much higher, sometimes in multiples of the reserve price. The sale price is driven up by the demand and may be a result of competitive bidding.
It has also become common to estimate prices of an artwork based on per-square-inch / foot or centimeter. And, some auction houses tend to follow this system of computation as a basis. However, there are no standard formulae to evaluate the price or value of an artwork, and hence the discrepancies that are seen in the market.
As a buyer it would be wise to crosscheck comparative prices before making a decision, but at the end of the day, if there is a particular piece of art that you wish to own, be prepared to pay for it.
(Published in Financial Times)
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