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The Good Life: Art Works

Is art the investment you've been searching for?

Jul 2, 2014

by Alberta Venture Staff

The Good Life Happy Hour Boarding Pass
“The Mountain” by Edmonton artist Sean Caulfield
Photograph Ryan Girard

With global stock markets dangerously frothy, bonds at the tail end of a generation-long rally and talk of a housing bubble growing louder every day, it’s difficult for investors to know where to put their money. One asset class you might not have considered – or considered enough – is art. Not only can it appreciate in value – for example, the value of Calgary artist Chris Cran’s work has increased more than tenfold over the last 20 years – but it also has the considerable advantage of looking better hanging on your wall than your mortgage documents or a framed stock certificate.

Bear in mind, though, that collecting art is a buy-and-hold – and hold, and hold – ­proposition. “It’s definitely a long-term investment,” says Colette Hubner, one of the directors of Calgary’s Wallace Gallery. And while the market for art isn’t as transparent or liquid as the stock market, there are a few factors that inform valuations. “It has a lot to do with national and international exposure, how well they’re promoted and what they’re doing,” Hubner says. The presence of an artist’s work in a prominent collector’s personal gallery is another important sign. As always, nobody ever went broke following in the footsteps of the smart money.

Like more traditional forms of investing, there are blue-chip names, such as originals from widely collected artists, and speculative punts like newer artists with a limited following. And as with stocks, a balanced portfolio should contain both. But regardless of whether you’re looking to buy a Chris Cran piece or find the next Chris Cran, it pays to do your due diligence. “Talk to the directors at the galleries. A lot of people feel that there’s some sort of snobbery, or that they have to be afraid to approach the directors because they feel they don’t know anything,” Hubner says. “But I would love to be able to have people come in and ask questions.”

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