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As the worldwide art market evolves into a overabundance of electronic visages with assorted highs and lows, characters and players, dealers and collectors, artists and critics; I cannot help but constantly come back to the key point of the art market:

Which one is more important and more valuable, the ‘distribution value’ or the ‘artistic value’ of artworks?

The distribution value as defined by its market value and its artistic value as defined by its creative value. The distribution value may also be defined as its earning power; the ability to generate income based on its sales potential in a commercial setting. Historically the commercial setting revolved around artist representatives, gallery and museum venues. The Internet has redefined the art business model and has had its enviable share of successes, but the Internet has also shown calculated art market weaknesses.

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Think the Medici family of Florence

There was a time when works of art were symbols of prestige and standing in a society; art was prized and shown in homes and in benefactor museums where their worth and importance was relative to their historical ‘artistic’ value.

Whereas today the right works of art from a highly regarded period and in the appropriate style by a renowned artist who may or may or be deceased, as death is no longer a value added point, have become the ‘blank’ checks of recognition. Time, style, and name recognition were the three mandated checks to social significance and importance in the reputation of a collection of art works.

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Status Trophies

Beginning in the mid-1980s important select works with provenance, and today not so substantial works, have soared dramatically in value and have been transformed from a collector’s status trophies into financial investments capable of successfully hiding and obscuring the actual whereabouts and location of immense wealth.

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The Panama Papers

The papers have revealed there is enough art in ‘private’ collections to fill a plethora of new and developing private museums in the West and in the East. The Panama Papers also shows the extent to which art has become an asset commodity – its value used for everything from the guarantee for a line of business or family credit, a contentious item or a settlement factor in a divorce, or a privileged maneuver to hide proceeds from illegal drug and gun sales.

However, in the end we must return to two key points: First, the art market measures the distribution value of available works, not the historical value of art works. And second, value is in and of itself a subjective evaluation – you can ask one art expert what something is worth and another expert will give you a value that is significantly different, both higher and lower.


When two art evaluators discuss the value of the art, how many opinions do you have?

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About the Author

Lawrence Klepper

Lawrence Klepper

As an artist, Gallery Management Instructor, Gallery Director, Independent Curator, and Special Exhibitions Coordinator for City art museums, college art galleries, and commercial galleries in Califor...