This giant warehouse of Pier 92 is humming with activity. It is the site of this year’s Armory Show. The Armory is the oldest, largest and one of the most high end of all the fairs. Staff clad in black are poised to help visitors through the maze of gallery booths showing Contemporary art. Near the entrance hangs an 8 by 11 and a half-foot painting of navy blue flowers on a black background, a painting by Donald Sultan called “Navy Blue March 13.” Gallerist Carl Hildebrand is taking a moment to consider it… the dark colors aren’t winning him over.
“I think what is selling interestingly enough are the pieces with kind of a positive vibe,” he said. “I believe that with the economy and the world political events, people are looking to be inspired and motivated.
Hildebrand works for the Peter Tunney Gallery in Miami. Tunney is an artist and former Wall Street banker. His paintings consist of positive messages like “Remain Calm” and “We Live in a Beautiful World.” Hildebrand saysthe work has attracted new buyers.
“I’m seeing first time collectors spend 3 to 5,000 dollars on their first piece of art,” he said.
That’s a lot of money for most people. But it shows that in the art world, increased sales may not be the work of the wealthiest collectors alone. Hildebrand thinks these smaller-time buyers are betting on Tunney’s future as an artist.
“Not only do they like his work, they see investment in not only him but in his career, understanding there’s a trajectory there,” she says.
For some collectors, this means they may make more money selling Tunney’s work at a later date.
Longtime collector Mickie Piccuro has watched this happen for a while. Today she has a purposeful walk and a maroon pashmina draped around her shoulders. Her interest is photography and she rarely misses an Armory show. She says the mood here has changed in recent years. “It’s not romantic anymore, it’s very businesslike,” Piccuro said. “I have friends who really made a fortune buying art at very low prices and then resell them 5 years later, much more expensive.”
This buying and selling is the lifeblood of the art market and it slowed dramatically as the financial crises set in a few years ago. In 2009 the art market was down 20%.
“This year it started to rebuild, our index was up 16.6%, so its starting to come back.”
This is retired New York University Professor Michael Moses. The index he’s talking about is called the Mei-Moses index, which he founded with a colleague. It logs art sales at auctions world-wide and tracks their returns. Moses uses it at his consulting firm Beautiful Asset Advisors, where he helps clients accurately assess the value of art.
“I think the notion of art as an investment is growing, but given its relative lack of liquidity you always have to buy what you like because you’re going to be with it for a long period of time,” he says.
Moses realizes that that is why most people buy art. It is also what makes it a complicated asset. Unlike a stock or bond, the owner of a piece of art may love it so much they want to keep it, no matter how much its value appreciates.