Art Appraisals…Who needs one anyway?

This weekend I’m scheduled to give a lecture on appraisals at the Phippen Museum in Prescott, Arizona. The Phippen gave me the choice to speak on any one of four different subjects on art collecting. I deliberately chose appraisals.

Edvard Munch's, The Scream, auctioned at Sotheby's New York1) True, False or It Depends…You need an art appraisal if you have just purchased a painting at auction for $20,000. You want to have it insured.

 

Why? Well in a recent entry I stated for every ten people who contact me believing they have an original Swinnerton painting only one turns out to be an oil painting instead of a print. That’s only ten percent. Coincidentally, the same percentage applies to appraisal inquiries. I’m usually able to help just one out of ten.

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 2) True, False or It Depends…You need an art appraisal if you wish to donate a sculpture to a charity and claim it as a deduction on your personal tax return. You paid $500 for the piece ten years before. When you contact the gallery where you made the purchase they inform you similar or identical sculptures by the same artist are currently selling for $1,500.

 

“Why such a low number? Is your area of expertise limited to those artists whose work you represent?”, I am frequently asked. No. That’s not the reason. Although there are over 90,000 artists listed in Askart.com, the artist’s blue book online, I can still appraise the works of nearly anyone if 1) I know who the artist is and 2) I can find comparable sales data for the artist’s work

Number one eliminates most inquirers from becoming clients. On average, six out of ten individuals who contact me have no idea who created their art work. But having seen many episodes of Antiques Road Show, they believe after a quick visual inspection of the piece I will immediately be able to identify

1) the artist

2) the name of the work and

3) give a value estimate, hopefully in the six or at least high five figures. Too bad it doesn’t work that way in the real world. In most cases if the artist is unknown I can’t begin to help. Just to be sure, I’m always willing to look at some digital images sent via email. “What the hey”, I always say. “I don’t charge anything to look.”

JasperDAmbrosiRunningBuffalo_0003) True, False or It Depends…You need an art appraisal if you wish to donate a sculpture to a charity and claim it as a deduction on your personal tax return. You paid $1500 for the piece ten years before. When you contact the gallery where you made the purchase they inform you similar or identical sculptures by the same artist are currently selling for $15,000.

 

Now back to Antiques Roadshow. First, I enjoy the show. I really do. It’s just that it gives some people the wrong idea about what constitutes an appraisal.

“OK then, Mr. ‘Real World’,” you might be saying to yourself by now, “exactly what is a “real” appraisal???” It’s a good question.

Here’s one text book definition. An appraisal is “A written statement, independently and impartially prepared by a qualified appraiser, setting forth an opinion of defined value of an adequately described property, as of a specific date, supported by the presentation and analysis of relevant market information.”

Note some of the key words

• Written Statement

• Opinion

• Specific Date

• Relevant market information

In other words, an art appraisal is a written report which offers an informed opinion on the value of an item or items at a specific date. It is a legal document.

arizona art apprasiers4) True, False or It Depends…You need an art appraisal if you are going through a divorce. It’s time to “split up the stuff”. You recall having paid $12,000 for the painting which has hung over the fireplace for the last five years. However your soon to be ex-spouse, who wants to keep the painting, tells you he/she called the gallery where it was purchased and was told similar pieces by the same artist are now going for only $2,000.

 

So there are times when a client actually requires an appraisal report. However the starting point is always an item identified as a genuine piece by a listed artist. Note I say “a genuine piece”. Authentication is not the same as appraisal, but that’s a subject for another time(in the very near future, as authentication is a favorite of mine.)

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5) True, False or It Depends…You need an appraisal if you are the executor for an estate with total value in excess of $20 million. Included are several art works which were purchased at high end auctions and galleries over the last three decades. You have all of the receipts.

 

And what happens if I am not 100% sure of the authenticity of an item? Rest assured my report will include a clause stating if it turns out later the work is not created by the attributed artist the entire appraisal is null and void.

Ex Brother In Law6) True, False or It Depends…You need an appraisal if your ex-brother-in-law decides to sell you that “really cool painting” that used to hang over the fireplace at your sister’s house. But you have no idea what it is really worth. He says he will sell it to you for “just $25,000, and that’s a smoking deal.”

 

But let’s say you know your painting was created by the artist whose signature is on the canvas and you can actually recognize the signature too. That puts you in the top fifty percent in my experience. Do you still need to pay for an appraisal?

Ex Brother In Law7) Look who’s back…True, False or It Depends…You need an appraisal if you are contacted again by your ex-brother-in-law, only this time he is willing to sell it to you for “just $500, and that’s a smoking deal.”

 

Well it still depends. Many times I tell prospective clients if they’re just trying to get an idea what their piece is worth they can probably figure it out by doing a little research on the internet.  “So then what do I need you for?” you’re probably asking “when is an appraisal really needed, if at all?”  That’s a good question.

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8) True, False or It Depends…You need an art appraisal if you just inherited a life size bronze. You want to know if you need it insured and, if so, for how much?

Well if you’ve made it this far perhaps you’ve noticed the True-False captions inserted in between the text.

 

garage-sale-find-copy-copy9) True, False or It Depends…you need an art appraisal if you have just purchased a piece of art at a garage sale for $5. But you are convinced is worth “much more, perhaps several or even tens of thousands of dollars”. You want to have someone else confirm your “brilliance”.

If not, go back to the top and begin taking the test –now!…just kidding, the test is optional.

Interdasting10) True, False or It Depends…You need an art appraisal if you are an aspiring artist. You have created many works, all unsold. You want to have some of your pieces evaluated to help determine prospective retail price levels.

 

On the other hand if you have finished, the answers are below.

1. It depends…most likely True, but check with your insurance company for policy rider limits.

2. False

3. True

4. It depends…how much do you trust your soon to be ex-spouse? Might be a good idea to get an appraisal.

5. True…very, very true.  While the receipts are relevant information, per IRS regulations the valuations of the art work must be based on “the fair market value of the property at the date of the decedent’s death.”

6. It depends…how much do your trust your ex-brother in law?  Again, might be a good idea to get an appraisal.

7. False.  Why pay $200-$300 to find out the value of an item not even worth $500? (Note: assumption is your ex-brother-in-law is overstating the value of the piece.)

8. True.  The intrinsic value of the bronze alone exceeds the required limit of most insurance company requirements for a separate policy rider in my experience.

9. It depends. Do you want to sell the piece?  If so, any gallery or auction house that wants to represent the piece will give you a free evaluation.

10. False.  Again, any gallery who might be interested in representing the work (assuming one can be found) will likely give a free market evaluation.

In summary, if any of the following applies, please contact me. I can help.

  • You need a report to obtain insurance coverage
  • You want to donate a piece and claim a deduction in excess of $5,000
  • You are the executor for an estate which includes works with individual values in excess of $5,000
  • You want to sell a piece and the proceeds must be shared with a friend, spouse, ex-spouse or relative(s)

For most other functions, there’s a great tool out there on the internet and it’s free. Google. That’s spelled G-o-o-g-l-e. You can most likely find out the answer to many of your questions. And if you can’t find  anything about the artist on the internet the piece is probably not worth appraising.

One thought on “Art Appraisals…Who needs one anyway?

  1. I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people whose knowledge of appraisals comes from from Antiques Roadshow. I’m really interested, then, to read that appraisals are actually legal documents. I also appreciate your list of when your services are needed. My parents have some art they’re planning on donating that might be worth appraising. I’ll pass this info along to them.

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