Posted on Monday 22 November 2010 by Ulster Business

Landscape for Kitty

Colin Middleton's "Landscape for Kitty"

Ulster Business talked to art dealer and agent Dickon Hall to find out why the value of art moves independent of the economy and whether buying art is only for the super rich.

At a time when corporations such as Bank of Ireland and AIB are selling off their art collections to raise cash, it may be surprising to learn that investment in art remains more popular than ever. The record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction has been broken twice in the past year despite recessionary gloom, illustrating that the value of art tends to defy the pervading trends in the economy. "The top end of the market, post-impressionist and modernist pictures, has not really stopped because there's so much liquidity among the mega rich internationally," says fine art expert Dickon Hall. "On a basic level you have an object that is becoming rarer, and as you get further away historically, its value becomes greater. It is also a very transferable object." Hall has over 15 years experience in the local and international arts sector. He co-founded the Ava Gallery in Clandeboye Estate and has curated exhibitions of work by major twentieth century Irish artists and British and European masters. The Dickon Hall Ltd gallery in the Crescent Arts Centre opened last year and is currently housing an exhibition of works by the Northern Irish artist Colin Middleton. He says that in the boom years the value of Irish art went through the roof due to interest from overseas, sometimes unjustifiably so. "In the last decade Irish art has been looked at as though it is different from art, that being Irish gives it some kind of quality. But you can't look at Irish art without being conscious of the broader world," he says. "Usually five or six artists of a generation go on to become of any significance. The problem of the last five or six years was that everything done by ‘an artist' was important. Nobody was actually looking at the originality or historical significance. There were not enough dealers or collectors with experience." While some collectors are only interested in the "trophy" pictures by well known artists such as Middleton, Jack Butler Yeats, Walter Osborne, Paul Henry and Louis le Brocquy, Hall notes that other less celebrated Irish artists such as Nevill Johnson are now beginning to become more desirable in the market. And the cost of starting and maintaining a collection need not be prohibitive, he adds. "You can literally buy in at any level, because you can spend £200 very well or you can spend £200m. Even in the last year when you've had wealthy people pulling back from everything except charity, why do they keep investing in art? It's because there's a spiritual dimension to it. Often history backs people who buy with a purity of vision and against fashion," he says. "Sometimes the best collections are people who have 8 or 10 paintings and will occasionally sell one to buy another. They are chasing a vision of what they want to achieve with their collection." While he hopes the likes of the Bank of Ireland sale stimulates interest in the market, he warns that auctions can skew prices upwards as people get caught in bidding wars. Galleries, in contrast, will work with collectors to help them understand an artist and the price structure of their work, and Hall recommends those artists likely to see a gradual increase in price. "A collector should never rush into it," says Hall. "We'd rather sell to someone on their 10th visit and keep selling to them than rush them into buying. We're very conscious its not just about the enjoyment of the picture and being able to show it off when you get home, but also that they need to have spent their money well. You invest in an object with a view that it might become more desirable."

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