by Mary Fisayo
More and more investors are looking to the art market as a way to diversify their traditional investment portfolio.
This is a market that has seen exponential growth in the last few years, commanding increasingly high prices from investors from across the globe. Sotheby’s inaugural Modern & Contemporary African art auction brought in £2.26m in 2017. This figure rose to £5.1m in 2019.
Most of us reading this article appreciate art to some degree. We understand that collecting and owning art is enjoyable in itself. Whether it be the gratification we get in hanging art up in our living room or buying it to gift to a loved one, we appreciate the beauty that it brings to our world.
So how to make money off art?
I sat down with Oyinkan Dada, founder of POLARTICS, to discuss the topic of collecting and investing in art. We answered questions directly from our audience, to educate novice collectors on how to kick off their investing journey.
We also explored the contentious issue around ‘doing right by the artist’ and whether investing in art is ethical to begin with.
Can you tell us a little more about POLARTICS?
Oyinkan Dada: I kicked off POLARTICS in 2015 and it started off as a blog.
The blog really developed during my solo travel trips around Africa. I was inspired by different artists’ stories and, of course, their work. Building relationships with these artists, learning more about their works, and diving into this scene truly inspired me to bring POLARTICS to where it is now.
Today, POLARTICS runs as an online art gallery, making the art super accessible for the artists and viewers. We also hold exhibitions throughout the year, our most recent one was held in August 2019 in Lagos Nigeria.
Through POLARTICS, I represent a number of artists. Something I am very particular about is ensuring the artists I represent have exposure to a black audience. I believe that African work should be owned by black families in black homes. It is a circle that needs to be continued and it needs to be done intentionally. Not that I wouldn’t sell to someone of a different race, but if I do, I must be confident that they understand what they are buying.
Who are your favourite artists of the moment and why?
Oyinkan Dada: I can’t really list out favourite artists! My taste and ‘favourites’ are always evolving. Never set in stone.
Overall, I’m drawn to figurative painters and I also seem to have a specific eye for women artists.
I love Ekene Maduka (an artist represented by POLARTICS) as well as Toyin Ojih Odutola, just to name a few.
Do you believe it is unethical to buy art with the purpose of selling it for a profit in the future?
Oyinkan Dada: I actually do think it is, for the most part.
Buying art solely as an investment aim (like any other asset) I think defeats the purpose of the work in the first place. It can also be extremely detrimental to the artist’s career.
Think about it, If you buy an artist’s work today and their prices are driven up due to that investment mentality, it can easily become unsustainable for the artist to keep up with that growth. An artist usually looks for consistent and steady progression – they don’t want their growth to fizzle out mid-way through their career. When you mix the aggressive commercialising with the art world, it often doesn’t merge well. We need to strike a fine balance.
Some galleries actually hesitate in selling artist’s work to certain people because they are known as straight up flippers. Some even have people sign contracts to not sell within a certain timeframe. I personally steer clear from buyers who have this type of mentality as I’d rather find a fitting ‘home’ for the artists that I represent.
Which ‘up and coming’ artist do you believe has the potential to appreciate in the future and why?
Oyinkan Dada: It’s difficult to name names here. In general, apart from having skill and talent, the artists that you see perform well are those who have a strong sense of dedication to their practice.
They are constantly evolving in their work. Showing their works in several fairs and exhibitions.
I appreciate that a lot of people can’t spot this unless they have a personal relationship with the artist.
This is why research is important … Look at their exhibitions. Are they exhibiting in art fairs? Are they continuously producing work? Are they planning on being an artist in the future e.g. do they produce art as a ‘part-time’ hobby rather than full time?
The artists that I tend to work with will definitely be here for a long time. They are dedicated to their work and also have a great deal of professionalism.
What are your top 3 tips for someone looking to begin collecting art?
1. Research! Find out what kind of artists are out there and the kind of work they are producing. Look at art!… go for exhibitions and view art online. Use this research to figure out what you like and what artists you potentially want to focus on.
Becoming familiar with the art world is extremely important.
2. Apply that research and get out there. Going to exhibitions, art fairs. Speaking to dealers and artists themselves. Use Social Media! DM artists to go to their studio (if in the same city). See their work and see what they are all about.
3. Go with your gut. If you like something and you can afford it, you should collect it. That’s the first and foremost aim of collecting. Getting pieces that brings you gratification.
What’s the process for sourcing and collecting art?
Oyinkan Dada: You’ll find out how to collect the specific piece you want from the research (per above).
Sometimes the artists sell directly from their website or their studio. Sometimes the artist directs you to their dealer or representative. In some cases, you can buy directly via Art fairs.
How do you go about selling a piece of art?
Oyinkan Dada: It’s always important to be plugged into the market, especially if not selling through an advisor.
You can go through the informal route and sell directly to other people (friends or family).
You can go slightly more formal and make use of an advisor or sell through an auction house (in both cases, the 3rd party takes a small cut).
The bigger the artist’s name, the more likely you’ll go through an auction house.
If you’ve got a pretty substantial private collection, you can even think about making a website and selling online.
Nostalgia, Ekene Maduka, 2017
Agbogho Ga-Akariri Nka, Osinachi
When should you sell?
Oyinkan Dada: For one, the longer you wait, the better it is for both you and the artist.
There’s also always a turning point for an artist. Their career is usually signposted with a specific exhibition or release that solidifies their name and that’s the turning point of when their work truly begins to appreciate.
You should stay plugged in and try to identify this point. You’ll have a good idea of when this is – for instance, their work will start featuring in high demand auctions and their name will be a hot topic in social media.