ART WORLD Q & A: Edition 12


For this first Art World Q&A of 2018, I’ve invited the Resident Art Advisor for the Sagamore Hotel in South Beach, Sébastien Laboureau, to provide his expert opinion on how to approach the ever changing art market this year and the importance of Urban Art when beginning your own collection.

1. How has the art market changed over the last 20 years?

The art market has changed drastically over the past 20 years… First in terms of size and overall value, for example the size of the contemporary art market has at least multiplied 20 times in terms of total revenues at auction globally over the course of the last 20 years… Values for many artists have increased ten or twenty-fold, like for example artworks from Jean-Michel Basquiat, or Keith Haring, and many others… Second in terms of market structure, the market today is more transparent and liquid that it has ever been, with easy access to all auction sales through online databases, and numerous new sales platforms, making the buying process more consumer-friendly and approachable. This incredible growth is notably driven by a massive entry of new collectors from all over the world and at all market levels (both lower end and higher end), it is a global phenomenon, the strong development of art fairs globally, the construction of new museums, the growth of online sales platforms. Of course, the art market is also much more publicized today than it was then when it was more reserved to an “elite”, nowadays, social media platforms, the numerous museum shows dedicated to well-known artists, are driving new buyers at all levels.

2. Who are the contemporary artists that will stand the test of time and why?

This is the right question… there are so many artists nowadays, so many art fairs, so many online platforms, it is more and more difficult to differentiate those artists who will stand the test of time from others… The reality is that nobody truly knows in the complex and rapid world into which we operate, but this is the absolute question for a collector who is willing to collect on the long-term.

There are no simple rules, but rather a set of circumstances… Is the artist represented by a well-established gallery, is the artist motivated and committed to his work, is the artist creating a set of work that can be qualified as innovative and impactful, is the artist art-educated and well aware of where his works stand in place of art history, is the artist already involved with the secondary market, and collected by savvy collectors…

Many artists are knowing extended notoriety through social media platforms, outside of the “traditional” gallery platform, I am not sure those artists, who are sometimes already selling their works at high prices, will stand the test of time…

3. What is the difference between market and value in the art world?

All value and pricing related questions are very tricky in the art world… Pricing does not always meet the basic economic equation that consists in balancing demand with offer… there are many parameters involved and multiple platforms that still make the art market quite inefficient in terms of pricing. Let’s say the market value is whatever a buyer is willing to pay for an artwork, this number is still highly dependent on the sales platform (auction, market, private market, online, art fairs, galleries,). The value is, to my point of view, a more theoretical concept attached to more objective matters, whether it is replacement value, fair market value, insurance value, it can only be attached to artworks from artists that pertain to the secondary market, with a strong track record at auctions. This question is more tricky for artists who are only present in the primary market, in that case, the galleries are fixing the prices, and sometimes in a very erratic manner, the key parameter here is the reputation of the galleries themselves and their ability to drive their artists’ careers.

4. What role do you think taste plays in the decisions that important collectors make when buying new work?

TASTE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MATTER FOR REAL AND TRUE COLLECTORS. Of course, value is an important matter that goes hand to hand with taste, but in my experience, real collectors and serious buyers are always driven by what they truly love and by their personal taste. Important and true collectors are buyers and not sellers, and they are chasing the works that will enrich their collection in a cohesive matter.

5. What would you buy with $10k, $100k and $1 million?

My current advice to all collectors is to educate themselves with the “urban art” movement, that to my point of view, is one of the most relevant movements right now in the art world, it is global, it is linked to our modern societies, and it is extremely dynamic. Out of the 10 most sold artists at auctions in 2016, by number of lots, there are no less than 4 urban artists, including Keith Haring, Shepard Fairey, Kaws, and Banksy. Those artists, and many others already, have a very dynamic and active auction market. They are collected widely, and will with no doubt increase in value tremendously over the course of the 10 next years.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of buying at auction versus buying through a commercial gallery?

A collector nowadays should purchase through all channels, at galleries, at auctions, online, depending on what she/he is looking for. The auction market is very liquid, there are numerous auctions everyday all over the world, it sometimes allows collectors to purchase vetted artworks at a very reasonable price, depending on the competition in the auction room or online. Buying from a reputable auction house gives you some guarantees on the quality and the authenticity of the artwork, but still any collector should carefully do their own due diligence, notably in terms of authenticity and condition of the work. Buying through a commercial gallery is also critical to the good health of the art market, it allows for a more direct contact with the artist, and the person who represents him and supports him. Building a long-term relationship with a credible and serious gallery also allows to follow the career of the artist, allows to buy and potentially resell, and supports a strong cultural local ecosystem.

7. What criteria do you use in judging art?

We are not here to judge art. It is a highly subjective matter, subject to cultural differences, art education, and personal taste. I would rather come back to more basic language linked to liking or not liking art, it is about taste education. Any form of artistic expression is relevant if it finds its public, and purchasing any artwork, depending on the context, can provide infinite pleasure and personal satisfaction. However, depending on taste and purchasing strategy, I do use many parameters to identify artworks for my clients, studying in details the artist’s resume, its overall portfolio, and the credentials of the gallery that represents the artist.

8. What criteria do you use in pricing art?

There are many criteria to be used to price artworks, the most important one being to understand which art markets the artist pertains to… Does the artist have a well-established secondary market? If so the best way is to check comparable artworks that previously sold at auction. If not, the market is organized by the artist’s galleries, and it is mostly about knowing what sells and for how much. There is no easy rule, nor rules that do not involve a matter of subjectivity, ultimately the price is the price that any buyer is willing to pay for a given artwork…

9. What is long-term market value largely dependent on? How relevant is long-term market value with the fluctuation of auction prices going up or down each season?

One needs to be cautious about market fluctuations… The reality is that there is not “daily” price fixing in the art world, and by nature, prices are volatile and changing between platforms. One cannot say that prices fluctuations are seasonal, the reality is that no artwork is exactly comparable to another artwork. Even prints from the same edition, and different numbers never have the same provenance history, nor condition issues, hence the fluctuations and prices. All the more than the market is not perfect; a very comparable print can sell at much higher price within an auction sale where there is a bidding competition for such lot. It is quite clear however, that over the long-term, well established artists with deep secondary market tend to increase in value, driven by an overall increase in demand globally…

10. What determines the commercial value of art?

This question is a bit redundant, most of concepts attached to value have been addressed in previous questions.

11. How are art fairs shaping contemporary art? What is the primary role of art fairs?

Art fairs are now a critical sales platform for the art world. There are numerous art fairs happening all year-long and all over the world, opening market windows for thousands of galleries, artists and artworks. They are extremely important in the way the art market works today, and even more for buyers to be able to purchase artworks within market windows where dealers are motivated to sell, and compete against each other. It brings fluidity to the market, and I strongly advise my clients to buy at art fairs as they have a unique opportunity to compare, to speak with dealers, and to purchase artworks at competitive prices from motivated sellers.

12. What are your favorite online venues for buying art?

The online market platforms have been developing strongly for the past few years. On top of the “traditional” platforms that mostly sell online like artnet and artsy for example, most “brick-and-mortar” art institutions also have online platforms, including many commercial galleries and auction houses that regularly sell part of their inventories online. I advise only experienced buyers to use those platforms as it is always more complicated to “apprehend” an artwork online, and to make the right purchase at the right price.

13. What do you look for in the art you collect?

I mostly buy what I love from artists and dealers I know personally.

14. What is the best advice you can offer to someone who is ready to start collecting contemporary art?

My best advice is first to attend as many art events as possible, art openings in galleries, art fairs, but also go to museums and try to understand better one’s taste and objectives in starting a collection. Then, I must say that the best collectors are often the ones who work with the best art advisors. The art world is so vast, that one must be very involved to build an expertise. The art world is also misleading in the way that it seems very approachable, but the reality is that there are a lot of rules and codes that one can only learn with time and relationships. As a consequence, hiring an art advisor can allow any buyer to gain considerable time and will allow a beginner collector to acquire more knowledge and experience in a limited time and often save money in purchases. It is mostly about understanding one’s tastes and adapting the budgets to various objectives that are not always cohesive, in a constantly changing world, which is not as easy as it may seem. However, collecting can provide infinite pleasure, can be shared with friends and family, and can also in some instances result in wealth expansion.

About Sébastien Laboureau

Sébastien Laboureau holds a degree in Civil Engineering from Ecole des Mines de Paris and a Master of Science in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics.  He benefits from an international experience in Management Control (at AXA Group) and Investment Banking (Mergers and Acquisitions at Goldman Sachs). Long-time, art enthusiast and experienced art collector, he is an art consultant located both in Miami and Paris, with partners in Latin-America and Asia, trusted advisor of private collectors, and various institutions all over the world. He speaks English, French, and Spanish. Sebastien Laboureau is a certified appraiser for the IFAA, International Fine Arts Appraisers.

He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Arts and business Council in Miami (Americans for the Arts, 501c3) and sits on the Creative and Design committee of the Beacon Council, and an art consultant for URBAN ART FAIR and leading art galleries in Miami, NYC, LA, and BOGOTA, a global ambassador for STREET ART FOR MANKIND.

Sebastien Laboureau has been recently chosen as Resident Art Advisor to the Sagamore Hotel, the ART HOTEL in South Beach for over 16 years, leading, in partnership with new ownership an ambitious artistic program including art exhibits, music, dance, and various performing arts experiences.

As a respected and independent expert on the art market, he is a keynote speaker to various private banks, family offices, art fairs and public institutions to give lectures and conferences on the art market and on selected art history topics. He specializes in the topics of Art & Finance, Art investment, Pop Art, Urban Art, and any topics related to the secondary market. Sebastien Laboureau, as a street art expert, was most recently featured in USA Today for his selection of the “10 Best: Cities to see Street Art”. He has been interviewed by many major international press outlets such as The NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, Le Figaro, BBC News, CBS 4, ARTE.

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