Ahead of an event aiming to get more people interested in collecting the work of artists from the West Midlands, Anna Blackaby looks at the reasons people buy contemporary art
As the cold, dark evenings start drawing in and Government spending cuts bring an icy midwinter chill to the economy, the timing seems perfect for an event entitled The Witching Hour.
Taking place from November 11 to 14, it aims to prise open what to many can seem like the daunting and exclusive world of collecting contemporary art.
The event celebrates the talent based in the region – including names like Hurvin Anderson, Richard Billingham and Gillian Wearing – and also offers a chance for visitors to acquire their own slice of contemporary art.
Midland collector Paul Cooney has been interested in contemporary art his whole life and since taking retirement from car giant Jaguar, his passion for collecting has intensified.
Among his varied collection feature several drawings – he particularly likes non-figurative pieces – as well as a great deal of glassware.
“I enjoying having the pieces on the walls,” he said. “I tend to buy quite a lot direct from the artists – I always find it fascinating to have a conversation with the people who actually made the piece.
“And it’s also great to know I’m rewarding talented local people.”
As well as the pleasure gained from owning a piece of artwork, for some, collecting contemporary art can be an investment in the same way as putting money into bricks and mortar or stocks and shares. According to the last RICS survey of the art market, the value of art and antiques continued to rise despite the economic downturn, driven by price increases at the higher end of the market.
Silver and jewellery remain the most popular sectors, rising in value in line with precious metal prices.
But Alex Reynolds, associate director of the Birmingham office of investment specialists Smith and Williamson and board member of the Grand Union gallery in Digbeth, said it was rare to find people collecting art purely as an economic investment.
“It’s quite a specialist area – the people who do it focus a lot of attention on it. You’ve got to really know what you are buying,” he said
“If somebody becomes critically acclaimed for some reason, these things jump in value but it’s very hard to predict who is going to become critically acclaimed. The reality is that most people start off just by buying a picture they like. There’s no point buying a piece of art to hang on the wall if you don’t like it.
“After a while people go from amateur collector to something a bit more professional when they are a bit more experienced and can look at it longer term. But even then it’s a pretty specialist area.”
Lee Benson, director of Number Nine The Gallery in Brindleyplace, said there were three reasons people bought contemporary art from his gallery.
“One is for the pleasure and it doesn’t matter what price,” he said. “Two, they want something to look nice and add to the atmospherics.
“And number three is to invest.”
Mr Benson warned would-be collectors that there were certain things to take into consideration when treating contemporary art as an investment.
“They have to look at the reputation, age of the artist, their history and provenance and which museums have been buying their works,” he said, citing sculptor Ralph Brown as an example of a good artist to invest in.
“He is very investable. I sold a piece four years ago for £23,000 and the last of that edition is on sale for £48,000. Work from a quality artist and which is in low numbers in the world is investable.”
The recession has taken its toll on the market, Mr Benson said – but that could offer an opportunity for investors to grab a bargain.
“I think people are nervous – I don’t think people are feeling the confidence and are splashing out,” he said. “The majority of people are cautious and the bottom end of the market has completely stagnated, but £2,000 plus are still quite happy to buy.
“This is the time to buy. I think in recessions in the past people have done well and have thought ‘cor I was lucky to get that.’ If the market is booming prices are even higher.”
Mr Cooney offered this advice to would-be collectors: “I always say to people if they are thing of buying a piece of art – if you like and can afford it, buy it. If it subsequently goes up in value that’s a bonus.”
* The Witching Hour takes place from November 11 to 14. It includes a four-day curated group exhibition at Waterhall Gallery in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
A series of satellite events will also take place during four days involving partner arts organisations - Grand Union, Ikon Gallery, MAC, New Art Gallery Walsall and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. It is part of Art of Ideas, an initiative funded by Arts Council England and managed by Arts & Business.
More information at the website