“We find September, October, November is peak season; when the biggest exhibitions are launched and collectors are more active,” shares curator Ashraph, of A Space Inna Space in the Woodbrook Art District. His shows in 2019 support this forecast. “My second show in May sold 50%, the shows that had sales of 75% – 80% were in November.”
The question collectors often use to gauge their investment is, how does art by Caribbean artists acquire value? The playbook used by galleries in Trinidad & Tobago to address this question may vary from the guidance practiced elsewhere, but having this knowledge serves everyone’s best interest and may encourage change.
History affects value. A well-rounded collection gives a sense of the various approaches to a particular style. “Provenance (history of ownership) supports and can increase the value of a piece,” offers Eric Hanks, an art adviser for distinguished actors, doctors and athletes, this document establishes authenticity and identifies previous owners, “if they are famous it will positively impact the value.” Eldzier Cortor’s Portrait of a Woman, once owned by author Ralph Ellison, fetched U$110,000 at auction, it was estimated to sell for U$30,000.
“When provenance doesn’t pan out and the work seems suspicious it makes the piece seem stolen or fabricated,” adds Hanks. Appraisers gather provenance but are not obligated to authenticate art. They are expected to check the Art Loss Registry and the FBI’s registry of stolen works. “The burden of duty is much greater on the person authenticating the piece than the appraiser.”
Get the right appraisal. Yolanda and Greg Head, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, have been collecting African-American abstraction since 1999, “I have my collection insured. I look at the value over time [by] looking at auctions and auction records.” He also attends art fairs to see what sold. “It gives me a sense of how my art has escalated; every three to four years I have it appraised,” Head adds. Collectors must be clear about their use for an appraisal and disclose that to the appraiser, explains Halima Taha, author of Collecting African American Art. Appraisals can be for insurance against loss, inventory, or tax benefit when donating art to museums. Researching the comparable economic analysis is the same for all appraisals, but the approach to mathematical calculations vary, hence, specifying intended use is essential. An appraiser’s fee estimates U$150 – U$500 hourly based on expertise and resources.
Collectors on collecting. “Most of my people know what I sell,” shares Ashraph. “It’s kind of like a niche market.” Enthusiasts say ‘buy what you love’ because there is no fault-proof formula for what to buy and when to sell. Yet, collectors tend to develop a faithful strategy for collecting.
Former NBA player Elliot Perry, of Memphis, Tennessee, invested 11 years to grow his collection by contemporary and master artists, he investigates a dealer’s reputation and cultivates a relationship with dealers intent on “helping build a collection not just move inventory.” A good dealer “should have a feel for what you like.” Another attractive quality is “when a dealer is willing to lose a deal [by advising] you to go elsewhere because another gallery has a better piece.”
Nisha Hosein, of Soft Box Art Gallery in Woodbrook, begins the conversation by asking, “What do they want their collection to be based on. I recommend artists who produce quality work. When Al Aleaux came to me, I had been looking at the progression of his work over 10 years. Finally, last year we had a solo show. If we ask our collectors to invest in this artist, we want to make certain he will have more consistent work and the value would go up.”
Ashraph explains, “My prices are from TT$2,800 to TT$10,000, also there are established artists who are willing to do smaller pieces.” “There is a misnomer [that] collectors are plunking down thousands of dollars all at once,” shares Mr. Head, “galleries understand they have to ‘work with you,’ the code phrase for payment plan.”
Brenda Taggart Thompson and husband Larry, of Greenwich, Connecticut, have collected since 1977. “Books help refine your eye to see beauty in lots of places,” says Brenda, “not just where some gallery has decided it is.” The Thompson’s library contains African American Art and Artists, St. James Guide to Black Artists, Afro-American Artists: A Bio-bibliographical Directory, and Two Centuries of Black American Art.
Knowing the history adds value to works and allows collectors to have cross-references when they work with art dealers. “Attending lectures, going to museums, listening to curators talk about how [shows] are put together,” says Thompson, “are instrumental to a collector’s growth.” Mr. Hanks adds, “look at art wherever it may be, your understanding will improve and your collection will reflect it.”