The Emer Gallery is one of Belfast's longest-established galleries, operating from newly-expanded premises on the Antrim Road. Founded by Michael Flanagan in the mid-1980's, the Gallery is associated with many famous Irish artists including Markey Robinson, Basil Blackshaw and Noel Murphy. In this edition of Ulster Business, the gallery's manager, Eimear Flanagan gives her view on the current state of the art market, where it's going and what the discernible buyer should be on the lookout for.
People always ask me is art a good investment? And I tell them that the cardinal rule in art is that you should never buy solely for investment purposes. If you don't like it, don't buy it - it's that simple. But, like wine and Guinness, it can take time to develop a taste. If at first you think you don't like a painting - it's important not to jump to judgment. Making an informed and balanced decision on art is as important as the initial gut instinct 'to buy or not to buy'. In addition to knowing you love the work, buying a piece by a professional artist should contribute to its long-term value.
For many people, art appears unaffordable and art galleries stuffy and unwelcoming. This isn't the case - there are art lovers across Ireland who, simply through their love of painting, have built up significant and important collections over the years, and they haven't earned the millions that many people think it takes. The Emer Gallery is particularly aware of this 'stuffiness' and it prides itself on removing that nonsense from the gallery.
The famous Vogel collection of contemporary art in the United States was put together over a period of decades by a married couple who worked as a post-man and librarian respectively. They lived on one salary and put the other into their passion for art! They eventually built up a collection of almost 5,000 paintings which they subsequently donated to the nation.
There is no doubt that the recent financial crisis has taken its toll on the art market. Like any asset, art is susceptible to the volatilities of the marketplace. Each artist is unique, though, and not all collectible artists will experience a price correction in a downturn. Indeed it is the higher end, quality pieces than can continue to demand high prices regardless of what is happening in the economy.
Why buy art? Anyone with an original painting knows how good it looks. And with works starting as low as £400 you'll find that a piece of art can cost less than a few rolls of wallpaper - the only difference being your painting will look a lot better and last a lot longer. From a corporate or business point of view, buying or leasing a collection can set an office or business apart from competitors.
While making decisions purely for investment purposes is a no-no, there is no doubt that the value of a painting often appreciates with age. In fact, I'd go as far to say that of all the things you buy this year, unless you're buying acres of farmland, it's the only thing that will likely appreciate over time, or at least hold its value. Having that type of asset on a balance sheet these days is something which will brighten up the eyes of any banker, and with interest rates on cash at rock bottom, buying art can be a more effective way to store your money. Most art galleries offer art consultancy services, and will guide you in the right direction on decisions involving any spend, large or small.
Don't be intimidated by art or any gallery. Art dealers are keen to answer questions from those who are new to buying or collecting art. Don't force yourself to like a work just because 'it's popular' - trust your own gut and your 'eye' will develop from there. Once you have a bit of an eye it is only a matter of time for your wallet to follow suit.