The Ups and Downs of Investing In Art

Go With The Flow But…

I got involved in art without having any idea about auctions, art prices and artists. Hard work, strong interest pushed me forward soon. I witnessed ups and downs of several parts of the art market and I got to know where to go further and where to say enough of this.

I witnessed the strong upward performances of Swedish, Spanish, Oriental, Greek and Russian art and their fall in a spectacular way, similar to their meteoric rise. Fortunately for me, I was not caught in any of the falls except one, which has trapped me in now and I cannot see how the end is any nearer now than five years ago.

I got involved into Greek art in 1988 and the rewards were very good as the market was non existent at auction and when I got involved. By 2004- 2008 it went ballistic but with me unable to follow the frenetic upwards trend. However, I was one of those who moved the market in London and the sale at Sothebys in May 2004 had about 1/10 of the sale belonging to me.

Why was I in a rush to sell everything, I do not ask me. I foresaw the best prices to coincide with the Athens Olympics of 2004. Indeed they were top prices but not the prices that were to follow in the next five years for Greek art.

The Greek Sale, Sotheby’s London – 10th May 2004

The jitters and worries were aplenty. Hanging from one sale in order to recover invested money and finance the rest of my projects for the Olympics was dangerous. I desperately needed money to keep the operation going, the bankers happy and the artists working for me in Athens employed and content. Hope was my best companion in life and it nearly always supported my efforts and causes. It kept dreams alive!

Two o’clock! Sotheby’s room at Olympia was full. The Greek collectors gathered in their dozens ready to spend and invest in Greek art. Many familiar faces attended, close acquaintances sat nearby ready to bid. Pretending to be in a happy mood was part of the art of doing business, but I was worried, very worried. Thirteen investments for sale, thirteen worries to live through. No exaggeration!

The bidding was brisk from the start and spread well between telephones and audience. Soon enough, it became evident that the sale would be fine, if not very good. Less worried, cool and composed I waited for my turn to celebrate a little. Cool, but for how long?

The little Geralis from Montreal was lot seven and the first to be sold from my property. I sat motionless and waited with great expectation and apprehension. Bidding in the room, phone bidding and soon the beautiful painting had climbed to the reserve of £3000. No worries there! Slowly and gradually it climbed to £4800 and the Geralis from Canada became indeed a good present from IEGOR. That was a very good result that calmed me down a little and made me feel hopeful about the next twelve pieces. I could not be on edge throughout a sale of 172 lots, could I? Well yes, I could, and I was to the last minute, since the Doukas Still Life was lot 170.

I was particularly anxious about the four Zenetzis paintings and the small pair of Kalogeropoulos paintings. Would they sell? Would the price bracket of my contemporary artists improve? My fears were unfounded as all the Zenetzis paintings sold very well with the impressive, ‘View of Monastiraki with the Acropolis Beyond’ selling at £4400, a record for the artist and an impressive percentage profit for me. Kalogeropoulos’ pair of marine paintings, only 30×40 cm each, sold for £2200, which represented a great 500% profit.

Vasilsi Zenetzis, similar to the one sold

Leon Kalogeropoulos, Big canvas similar to the pair of small paintings sold

How could I worry about the Fassianos minute drawing of a woman in pink, which cost me just five hundred pounds in Paris two years earlier? Punchily estimated at £1000-1500, it sold very well at £2200.

Most paintings sold well and nearly everything sold to expectations. I was disappointed with the major investments in Xenos and Kanas, purchased in Athens, which returned negligible profits. The sales total of £34,000 minus the commissions and expenses of Sotheby’s was very good. I was left with a net return of £30,000 plus two unsold paintings. I was absolutely thrilled with 100% profit. Years and months of work had paid me handsomely and boosted my confidence and finances. But how long would that situation last? I could not control spending the money on everything I saw and I liked. Whether that was for better or worse, I still do not know.

Every sale and every purchase is a page turned and a new lesson in trading. The May sale at Sotheby’s was very didactic:

· The art of Zenetzis and Kalogeropoulos was a sound investment returning me more than 500% on the initial outlay. It justified my strong views on investment in contemporary art at studio prices. The future looked promising for both artists!

· The Internet had contributed significantly to the profits. The brothers Geralis, Apostolos and Lucas, returned 200% and 130% respectively.

· Private purchases in Athens left much to be desired. The disappointing sales of the Xenos, Kanas and Doukas showed that I had paid too much for them. Time to give up that way of investing, or rather be less open-handed.

Twenty years after I had ventured into art and after so many years of experience I was still learning. Life is a never-ending learning experience either you are twenty, forty, eighty or a hundred. The memorable May sales became history with plenty learned. I had no time to relax and enjoy a little the rewards of my hard work as the Olympics in Athens were approaching fast and other purchases were pushed my way. No rest for the high aspiring art investor especially when money was sitting in the bank!

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