30 Oct 2017 | 11.40 am
Art Investing Back In The Picture
Interview with Art Summit Ireland co-founder, Con Quigley
30 Oct 2017 | 11.40 am
The art investment market took something of a mauling after the Celtic Tiger, bloated as it was by giddy buyers paying too much for generic work. But while it wasn’t a pretty picture in the recessionary years, the art market has been rebounding more quickly than many expected.
On November 3, Art Summit Ireland will aim to tempt corporates and individuals into a little artistic investing renewal. The second outing for the annual summit has a diverse line-up of speakers, among them Sean Rainbird, director of the National Gallery, and James O’Halloran, managing director of Adams auction house.
In the deluxe surroundings of The Merrion Hotel, attendees will hear panel discussions on art market investment strategies, maintaining value in art collections and how to create a ‘collector culture’ in Ireland.
The appetite for — and volume of — art investment in Ireland is still strong, even if values haven’t neared the boom-time highs seen a decade ago. Whyte’s auctioneers sold €1.2m in art after a one-night sale in September 2016, while €2m worth of art was sold between Whyte’s de Veres and Adams during their winter auctions in 2015. By contrast, through 2005, Irish art auction sales totalled nearly €22m.
Con Quigley (pictured) is one of the advocates for renewed art investment in Ireland. He’s a co-founder of Art Summit and a corporate finance partner with BDO in Ireland. Among his specialisms is advisory in art investment, but he harbours a personal love too for the liberal and fine arts.
“It’s true that while there’s a recovery in the Irish economy, the art market generally is less vibrant, except at the upper end,” says Quigley. “The higher-end art dealing doesn’t always get reported. Wealthy collectors are active and transacting.”
Quigley (53) has spent all of his working life in practice. He completed his chartered accountancy training with KPMG and worked in several different countries. He also founded several accountancy and investment firms, including Horwath Bastow Charleton, which merged with BDO in 2012.
Quigley’s art interests saw him become involved with EVA International, a prestigious contemporary art festival held biennially in Limerick. “I had been living in Limerick for several years and got very interested in EVA. I’ve been a treasurer for the event for the last number of years,” he says.
EVA International’s cachet among the artistic community is high – up to 3,000 international artists apply to exhibit in it every two years and only around 50 end up being selected. But among the general Irish populace, Quigley notes that it isn’t held in particular esteem.
“Businesses also didn’t get involved with EVA and I was keen to broaden its reach to corporates and the wider public. To do this, I suggested that EVA International help organise a separate art summit.
“EVA is very much a curatorial-led event; it’s not driven by the investment market and doesn’t have profit motive. But lots of people are interested in art from collector and investor perspectives. I thought that an arts summit could be a bridge to connect them to EVA.”
Quigley convinced EVA to support the inaugural Arts Summit last year, which he established with academic lawyer Rosanne McDonald. The 2016 event, which was held in Dromoland Castle, was a success but EVA’s board took a step back from it for 2017, fearing that it would be a distraction from their own event.
“They support Art Summit 2017 but are not a stakeholder,” Quigley explains. “We went ahead and organised this year’s summit in Dublin and we have garnered corporate support for it too.” Keanes Jewellers, BDO and Quilter Cheviot are among the Art Summit’s business backers.
Quigley says that the summit’s main goal will be persuading investors, corporate and individual, not to overlook the Irish art market’s potential, despite its size. “Ireland is a small market and there is a relatively small number of collectors who are market players. They tend to be quite discreet too, notwithstanding some well-known collectors such as Martin Naughton.
“There also isn’t a huge body of Irish art that is collectable. For the most part, ours is a ‘middle market’ Irish art market. Pieces will usually sell for between €1,000 and €10,000, with a few that go for between €10,000 and €50,000. The market is serviced by galleries and auction houses in the main.”
Corporates are more likely to get involved in art investment as part of their CSR programmes, says Quigley. For other businesses, such as banks, making an ostentatious divestment of their art collections during the recessionary years was all that the public would hear of their art market manoeuvres. “Financial institutions then and now tend to buy traditional art forms, such as paintings and sculptures,” adds Quigley.
“Video, installations and other modern forms are more challenging to buy, own and display, but you’ll find corporate players there too. The tech sector tends to predominate here; they link the link with creativity, which reflects their own attempts to commoditise innovation. So while you might not see tech firms buy Paul Henry paintings, you will see them sponsor performance art, get involved in Business to Arts programmes etc.”
Another message the summit will strive to get across is that a financial return should not be an investor’s principal reason for buying a piece of art. “On every level, it’s a bad idea to buy art only because you think it’s a good investment – you have to buy what you like. My gut feeling is that no matter how you start buying art, you cannot really do this without becoming emotionally involved in it at some level.
“We all know that there are houses around the world full of art that are owned by collectors who never see them. That’s a shame it happens at the top end of the market, among the less than 1% who can afford to do it. For the vast majority of people, they are on an emotional journey when they invest in art.”
Quigley acknowledges that emotional journeys don’t suffice for the many investors who want to frame their efforts in terms of financial return. In this regard, he adds that successful art investors are the ones that take the time to learn the ins and outs of the market. “Investing in art is similar to buying stocks and shares. If you’re buying these you have to spend time learning and understanding the market.
“You could say the same thing for art. If you have the money and interest to invest, you have to become very knowledgeable yourself. If you can’t make the time to do so, then you should really be working with an existing gallerist, dealer, adviser or curator – someone you can trust to help you spend your money.”
Big art centres such as London and New York might draw the more prominent art investors, but Quigley points out that the Art Summit will be encouraging Irish investors to pay closer attention to their home market first. “Ireland has two important advantages over the art markets you find in places like London. Firstly, while Ireland is small, it is a mature economy. We punch above our weight in art and there’s a vibrant scene here.
“Secondly, the art market is a global one anyway and you can be a player in it while based in Ireland just as easily as you can be from anywhere else. Ireland’s art scene is also a much easier community to get around; you can build relationships easily and the quality of arts education here is superb.”
Recent trends in the global art investor market have seen the value of classic cars – a staple among art collectors for many years – fall by 10% in 2016. Prices for fine art pieces also fell by around 6% last year. In Ireland, investment in paintings is strong across the board, says Quigley. “A recent exhibition of Paul Henry and Jack B. Yeats pieces stirred up interest again, even though there’s nothing new in looking at and collecting such works.
“We’re in a phase of recovery in the art market and as such, painting is first to show it. This is because paintings are the most accessible artworks for investors, but they also have the most variety, price points are accessible etc. There’s a long way to go yet before prices return to the Celtic Tiger levels but the Irish art market still has viable investment potential.”
The Art Summit takes place in The Merrion Hotel on November 3. Tickets start at €373.