Monday, May 21, 2012

Collecting Fine Art: A Time in History

"In early 1928, Archibald Motley scored a commercial success at a New York gallery, selling twenty-two (22) of the twenty-six (26) canvases exhibited for a profit of around sixty-five thousand dollars ($65,000)." This statement has been a recurring thought since I read it a few weeks ago in The Life, Art, and Times of Joseph Delaney, 1904- 1991 by Frederick C. Moffatt (The University of Tennessee Press, 2009). Although the statement does not directly relate to Joseph Delaney, it does speak to the art scene in Chicago in the mid-1920s   and demonstrates how the "Chicago Art Institute had become a magnet for promising African American artists, including William M. Farrow, Charles C. Dawson, Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Richmond Barthé, Ellis Wilson, Alice Evans, Pauline Callis, [and others]...." Also, worth noting is the fact that in 1925, "an association led by Farrow and Dawson founded the Chicago Art League for the purpose of disproving a prevailing white conviction that insisted people of color were incapable of creating art." Joseph Delaney was in Chicago during this time period and lived there for four years, 1925-1928.

Another reference to Motley's New York exhibit of 1928 was mentioned in an exhibition review (Studio Museum in Harlem) written by  Michael Kimmelman and appeared in the New York Times (April 17, 1992), "Motley honed his skills as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. He slowly developed a reputation, exhibiting his work in group shows at the institute and by the mid-20's in and around New York City. In 1928 he had what was to be his biggest success, when the New Gallery (George Hellman, president of gallery) on Madison Avenue displayed 26 of his paintings, including portraits, genre scenes and five works that focused on African themes."

In order for me to  clearly understand what $65,000 represented in 1928, I needed to translate that dollar amount into contemporary market dollars. Using an online calculator that factors in the inflation rate over the years, it was determined that $65,000 (1928) is approximately $819,538 in 2010 dollars; 2010 was the latest update for the calculator used. This dollar amount simply reflects dollar value for the time period in question, and does not take into consideration the appreciated value of the 22 piece of art over the past 82 years.

As I reflect on African American art, and its monetary value in today's market, I wonder what would be the current day value of Motley's 22 pieces of art. How much have they appreciated? How is that value determined? Are there instruments that appropriate value of an artist's works when there may not be a long and substantially strong auction history? Is fine art an investment class? Because art is extremely vulnerable to fluctuations, particularly in taste, doesn't this make it a high- risk, speculative investment? If art were used to diversify a portfolio, what percent of the value should include fine art? What is investment-quality art (as it relates to African American art) and is it available to the small collector?

On a personal level, I am still of the persuasion that the profit potential of collecting art is a secondary consideration. Regardless of the collecting model or areas of concentration, the primary purpose is that you like the art, and feel comfortable living with it. Then, the artwork becomes a statement of the collector's taste. In spite of my personal beliefs, there is a growing segment of collectors who believe and operate on the premise that collecting fine art has investment potential, and serves as an alternative investment tool within a portfolio. As I read more about art collecting as an alternative investment, I will share articles via Twitter @blackartproject.  

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