The Art Of Profit
As the $8.5 billion U.S. fine art market rebounds, from sales that dropped by nearly half since 2008, analysts say we are seeing a surge in collectors seeking African-American Fine Art—especially scarce and important works.
In retrospect collecting art, especially works by African Americans and those in the Diaspora, was once revered as taboo and with little to no value for a serious collector. Now however collectors no longer consider African American art just a hobby. African American art has always played a tremendous role in the fabric of history not only in The United States but the world as a whole. There are a number of factors that have contributed to its continued popularity: President Obama’s selections of works by several artists, including Alma Thomas, to grace the walls of The White House; The National Museum of African-American History and Culture; and other major museums of artists like Cortez Curtis at the Museum of Science & Industry's Black Creativity exhibit.
On June 26, 2011 at Phillips de Pury & Co’s first contemporary sale at Claridge’s in Mayfair, a Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait sold for an impressive 2.1 million pounds ($3.4 million). A few years ago, Swann Galleries of New York City, one of the few auction houses that deal African American art, sold their highest painting by Aaron Douglass for $600,000 though originally priced for $100,000. And who could forget that in 1981 actor and philanthropist Bill Cosby purchased Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Thankful Poor from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf at a Sotheby’s auction for an astonishing $200,000-plus.
It seems that African American art is becoming more valuable monetarily and culturally. Bill Cosby who is responsible for this boom of early collectors in the 1980s before the prices skyrocketed.
But according to a preliminary sale in early 2011, Swann Galleries boasted a sale total of $1,259,034 with Buyer’s Premium of 148 lots with 116 sold at a 22% buy-in rate by lot. So this proves that, even in a recession, African-American art has proven to be a source of revenue for the proper investor.
On the other hand, you have those interested in preservation of history rather than the economics of it all because, as we’ve heard time and time again, one can never put a price on history. The purchase of a particular piece of art could save the work from being destroyed. If the right person makes the purchase, some sort of visibility could make the work more valuable in a sense,” Cortez Curtis says. “When pricing my work, there has never been an issue because I value it based upon the size, and complexity as well as art history."