November 15, 2019

Wealth Matters: You Want to Buy Art. Is It About Love or Money?

Lam, who died in 1982, was Cuban by birth and grouped with other Latin American artists at auctions, which drew a specific collector. But he was later seen as a modern artist, because he was a friend of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and other midcentury artists. As his artworks moved to more popular auctions, their value has doubled or tripled in a decade, Ms. Bscher said.

A similar shift happened with Picasso about 15 years ago, she said. Collectors did not want to buy his work created after 1965, when the artist was in his 80s and seen as past his prime. At the time, the artworks were inexpensive, but they have since risen in value.

Her advice: “If you buy the period of an artist that is not in fashion, you can make a great investment.”

There are of course plenty of collectors with enough wealth to not really care about the short-term hit in value that the work on their walls may take. Hilary Geary Ross, an art collector and the wife of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said she had always loved the work of René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist, and began buying his work when she and Mr. Ross married in 2004.

She has 36 pieces by Magritte, worth in excess of $100 million. They include famous works like “La Clairvoyance.” The billionaire couple have rarely sold any of their works, but Mrs. Ross said they did take advantage of the 2008 downturn to buy paintings.

“People come to us with them, because they know we like them,” she said.

In distressed markets, social concerns may keep some people from working with auction houses. They can try private sales — as happened with the Ross’s acquisitions in 2008 — to sell something quietly.

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