Rarity is Driving the Art Market – artmarketblog.com
One of the trends that has emerged since the art market began to soften is the increased desirability of works of art that that have not appeared at auction for a long period of time or have never appeared at auction. Such works are usually given the term “fresh to market” by the auction houses although an exact definition for a “fresh to market” work is unclear. This means that the use of term can be abused by unscrupulous dealers or auction houses who wish to lure buyers to a particular work . Technically, a work that is “fresh to market” would be a work that has not appeared at auction more than once but it seems that if a work has not appeared on the market for twenty years or more that the term “fresh to market” can legitimately be used in relation to that work. Another term you may see used in relation to art is scarcity which has a similar meaning to rarity except that scarcity is used more to refer to a lack of supply that does not usually take into consideration the characteristics of the object it’s self. Scarcity is used to describe antiques more than original works of art because most antiques were produced in significant numbers making the number still in existence particularly important to value.
The longer it has been since a work of art appeared at auction the more buyers will be attracted to a work. This is mainly due to the fact that many buyers equate a long period of time since a work of art was last put up for sale with rarity as well as a certain level of urgency. This urgency is brought about by a perceived possibility that the work may not be put up for sale again for another long period of time or may never appear on the market again as may be the case if snapped up by a museum or public gallery. There is also a particular level of prestige and desirability associated with works of art that have been in the possession of one person or entity for a considerable period of time. When a work of art is referred to as being rare it is usually because it is rarely put up for sale as opposed to the more common definition of rare which refers to the existence of a limited number of a particular object. Since an original work of art is rare by it’s very nature the number of times it has been put up for sale becomes one of the defining characteristics of a work’s rarity. Works that have been in the possession of one person for a long period of time also tend to have better provenance than those works that are constantly being bought and sold. It is also quite common for works that have not been on the market for a long time to have been part of a single owner collection. Works from significant single owner collections are always highly prized as the collectors have usually made an extra effort to get the highest quality works and the most significant works as well as works that have excellent provenance all of which are characteristics that make a work of art more desirable.
At a time when people are having to justify their purchases far more than they did prior to the financial crisis one of the determining factors when deciding whether or not to make a purchase is the rarity. The question that people are asking when deciding whether to buy a work of art that is having the greatest affect on the art market is “If I do not purchase this work at this current time due to the financial crisis how likely am I to be able to buy a similar work once the financial crisis has ended?”. The answer to this question may very well depend on whether that particular work of art appears on the market on a regular basis or whether similar works appear on the market on a regular basis. In a nutshell, a buyer is more likely to purchase a work regardless of the current financial crisis if the purchase of that work represents an opportunity that is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. There are of course many other factors that can give the perception of rarity but you will have to wait for a future post to hear more about those.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.