In recent art world news, following strong sales in 2017, the international auction houses are said to be “feeling bullish” once again.  Last Friday, Christie’s announced that it had sold about £5.1 billion or $7.3 billion of art and collectibles worldwide (up 26 percent from 2016) in 2017.  Phillips saw a similar improvement over 2016 sales with auction and private sales of $708.8 million (up 25 percent from 2016) in 2017.  As both auction houses are privately held, neither one disclosed a profit or loss.  Publicly traded Sotheby’s will disclose its financial results for 2017 at month’s end.

The $450.3 million fetched in November for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” helped propel Christie’s auction sales by 38 percent along with 65 lots that sold for more than £10 million.  Many of the auction house’s lots were supported by financial guarantees.  The strong sales signify that the art market is surging.

Auction houses among the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have high overheads with business models that haven’t changed much since the 18th-century.  A primary challenge is that they keep up with the upward trajectory growth of global wealth and earn money from it.  Each auction house has its own unique strategy in doing so.

In particular, Phillips’ key selling category is 20th-century and contemporary art that raised $421.8 million at auction last year (or 60 percent of the annual total).  Phillips complements its art auctions with sales of 20th– and 21st-century design, photography and prints, and generates further revenue by sales of watches and jewelry.  Phillips has held just two online-only auctions in collaboration with Artsy last year.

In contrast, Christie’s attracts new buyers through its own well-established program of online-only auctions.  Last year, Christie’s held 85 digital sales of luxury goods and lower-value collectibles fetching £55.9 million or about $80 million.  Although this accounted for only one percent of annual total sales, it represented 37 percent of the auction house’s new buyers.

Last December, Sotheby’s announced that it had sold $4.7 billion of art and collectibles at auction in 2017 (up 13.1 percent from 2016).  While this was below Christie’s auction sales of $6.6 billion, Sotheby’s has diversified into other areas, including financial services, art advice and managing artist estates, and image recognition technology.  Sotheby’s upcoming financial results for 2017 will disclose the amount of its revenue derived from such 21st-century business models.

But for the moment, the 18th-century model of live auctions continues to do nicely [for the auction houses], tracking global economic growth.”

It remains to be seen as to how technology is going to change things, but it would seem that it could streamline and add efficiency to the art buying process and attract a greater reach of new buyers, particularly the future generation of art buyers and collectors.

 

In recent art world news, Sotheby’s posted a $23.5 million net loss during the traditionally slow third quarter, up 57 percent from last year, announced by the auction house in its quarterly earnings call last Friday.  The “net loss of $0.45 per share beat expectations that foresaw a $0.67 per share drop, and the revenue total of $171 million was ahead of the anticipated figure of $110.9 million.”

The increase was attributed in part to the inclusion of Hong Kong fall sales in the financial period along with an atypical $7.4 million tax benefit.  Sotheby’s had built a reserve to defend against a potential tax liability and has since reversed the reserve with the one-time liability now past the statute of limitations to challenge.  In effect, this action gave the auction house a one-time cash infusion during this traditionally slow period in the summer months.

Sotheby’s executives were cautiously optimistic in addressing the quarter noting that “both sales in Asia and sales of contemporary art are up from a year ago—at this point last year, both sectors were trending down from the year prior.”  The auction house acknowledged that the while it benefited from the change in timing of the Hong Kong sales in the third quarter, the fourth quarter will be “negatively affected” with the exclusion of the Hong Kong sales.

The third quarter is typically the slowest period of the year as it accounted for less than five percent of the auction house’s total sales last year.  Sotheby’s total consolidated sales, which include auctions, private sales and inventory sales, are up 13 percent nine months into this year.

 

In recent art news, a vibrant painting of a skull, “Untitled” (1982), by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s last Thursday evening and earned the distinction of becoming the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.  With last week’s sale, only ten other works have surpassed the $100 million mark.

The buyer of the Basquiat painting was Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who identified himself as the successful bidder through a recent post on his social media account.  In his post, Maezawa said “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece” and added “[w]hen I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art.  I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

Incidentally, it was Maezawa who set the previous auction high for Basquiat in which he paid $57.3 million for the late artist’s 1982 painting of a horned devil at Christie’s last year.

This latest Basquiat acquisition by Maezawa is intended for a planned museum in his hometown of Chiba, Japan.  Maezawa said in a statement that “[b]ut before then I wish to loan this piece—which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years—to institutions and exhibitions around the world.”

It remains to be seen as to whether one art collector makes a market as it will take another significant Basquiat work to test the sustainability of this $100 million level.

It was reported that Basquiat’s “Untitled” painting set a number of records last Thursday night at Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary auction of which include “for a work by any American artist, for a work by an African-American artist[,] and as the first work created since 1980 to make over $100 million.”

Last year, according to Artprice, Basquiat became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating over $170 million in sales from 80 works, and the artist’s auction high has increased an impressive tenfold in the last 15 years.

Sotheby’s auction last week fetched a total of $319 million against a low estimate of $211 million with 96 percent of the 50 lots sold in which 60 percent of the lots reached prices above their estimates.  Contributing to its success, Sotheby’s had a number of works in the “middle range around $5 million to $10 million” that were attractive to the market.

 

 

U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, will host a panel discussion at the JAMES A. MICHENER ART MUSEUM in Doylestown, PA on “Effectively Managing A Fine Art Collection” on May 17, 2017 from 5:30 P.M. to 7:30 P.M.

The panel will be hosted by ERIC J. ABEL, Private Client Advisor at U.S. Trust and feature EVAN BEARD, National Art Services Executive, U.S. Trust; RAMSAY H. SLUGG, National Wealth Planning Strategist, U.S. Trust; and CINDY CHARLESTON-ROSENBERG, Founder and President, Art Appraisal Firm, LLC. The panelists will provide updates on trends in the art industry, the importance of appraisals and proper planning for collections, and how to address issues related to conservation and restoration of fine art.

The event is by invitation only. Interested parties should contact Eric Abel at 610-567-4735 or at eric.abel@ustrust.com.

The James A. Michener Art Museum is located at 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA 18901. This event is a great opportunity to learn about art connoisseurship while enjoying the Michener Art Museum and its wonderful collection of Bucks County gems.

In an art market that has been defined by the uncertainty of world events and declining inventory, it was reported earlier today that Sotheby’s announced fourth quarter earnings of $65.5 million, which is an increase over that same period in the prior year.  The auction house had a loss of $11.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2015.  Sotheby’s adjusted net income for 2016 was $99.6 million, which is down from $143.1 million in 2015.

Sotheby’s has been working to counter this softening in the art market by diversifying its business.  In particular, Sotheby’s recently acquired art authentication firm, Orion Analytical, in addition to acquiring Amy Cappellazzo’s art advisory business last year.  The auction house further acquired Moses Art Indices, which monitor the auction business, and hired Christy MacLear, the chief executive officer of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, in an effort to expand its advisory services for both living artists and artists’ estates and foundations.

Further, although there is a widespread reluctance on the part of auction houses to give away profits through guarantees, Sotheby’s president and chief executive officer, Tad Smith, indicated earlier today that the auction house would use such guarantees when necessary.  With the expertise of Sotheby’s team, Mr. Smith affirmed that “we can confidently offer a guarantee to the seller and hedge it on the other side.  Used prudently, guarantees are good for consignors, collectors, the market overall, and investors.”

It will be interesting to see whether the other auction houses will follow suit in using such guarantees in future art auction sales this year.

Support of living artists can be rare.

Everyone knows the cliché “starving artist.”

However, things are about to change across the pond.  Last week, London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced a new program designed to fund artist’s studio space through the financing of a special trust.  The trust known as the Creative Land Trust has been established through public and private dollars to keep artistic talent in the city of London and to avoid artist flight due to astronomical housing costs.

Somerset House Studio, a mixed used historic building along the Strand, is the first to reap the rewards.

This is an encouraging step in ensuring that there is continued investment in the arts. Large American cities like Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco among others should take notice and strive to make similar investments.

Forbes recently published an informative online piece on a new IRS Revenue Procedure that makes the use of Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs) as a means for tax deferral more achievable for art and collectibles.  CRTs are generally used by those who are charitably minded and wish to sell a highly appreciated asset without having to pay a significant capital gains tax bill.

If the appreciated art is sold unconditionally by an art collector, the art collector, of course, would be responsible for income tax on the gain in the year of the sale.  However, if the appreciated art is sold by a CRT, which is typically exempt from state and federal income taxes, the gain is taxed over a period of time as distributions are made from the CRT.   In the meantime, the complete amount of sale proceeds unreduced by taxes can be reinvested by the CRT.  Moreover, in the year the art is sold by the CRT, the art collector is eligible to take a charitable deduction on his or her individual tax return in which such deduction is based on the remainder value of the CRT that is projected (based on specific IRS formulas) to be given to charity.

So exactly how does a collectibles CRT work?  Generally, art is transferred to the CRT by a collector and that art is sold by the trustee of the CRT who reinvests the proceeds in a portfolio of stocks and bonds.  As discussed above, the transfer of art to the CRT and the subsequent sale of the art will not result in a current capital gains tax bill for either the art collector or the CRT.

The CRT then makes a series of annual payments to a non-charitable beneficiary, usually the art collector who created the trust (or a family member) for his or her life or for a term of years.  The annual payments to the art collector or family member will be made from the CRT’s portfolio of assets, and the amount will vary depending on the structure of the CRT.”

This new change by the IRS is considered to have come at an “opportune time” with the Federal Reserve expected to increase interest rates later in the year as CRTs are most effective in higher interest environments.  In the meantime, art collectors may wish to consider this new IRS Revenue Procedure as we wait to see what happens with federal interest rates in the months ahead.

 

 

 

 

The New York Times recently featured an interesting article on the rapid growth of free ports around the world used by collectors and dealers for the temporary storage of art works.  Many would be surprised to learn that more than a million of some of the most treasured art works ever created, such as ancient Rome treasures, museum quality paintings by old masters and an estimated 1,000 works by Picasso, are crated or sealed in tight storage vaults within the walls of such storage facilities.

With the rise in the price of art, masterpieces and other exquisite art works are increasingly being stored away in free ports by collectors who are interested in seeing such works appreciate in value rather than filling up wall space to be viewed.  As collectors become more financially savvy with art being treated as a capital asset in their portfolios, free ports have effectively become the support for all of this.

This recent upsurge in the use of free ports by collectors has led to concerns over the use of such storage spaces for illegal activities as well as worries in the art world on the effect such wholesale storage has on art itself.  Within the last few decades, a small group of free ports have increasingly served as “storage lockers” for the wealthy.  Free ports are geographically located in tax-friendly countries and cities and offer attractive savings and security to collectors and dealers alike.

In addition to the at least four major free ports in Switzerland that specialize in the storage of art and other luxury goods, such as wine and jewelry, there are four more free ports around the world, including Singapore (2010), Monaco (2012), Luxembourg (2014), and Newark, Delaware (2015).

Out of concern that these rapidly growing private storage spaces could become havens for various illegal activities (i.e., contraband, money laundering, etc.), Swiss authorities initiated an audit back in 2012, the results of which revealed a significant increase in the value of goods stored in some warehouses since 2007 with an increase in high value goods such as art.  The audit estimated that there were more than 1.2 million works of art in the Geneva Free Port alone in which some of the art has not left the facility in decades.

Many in the art world remain critical of free ports.  With many valuable masterpieces being stored outside of public view, critics argue that works of art are created to be viewed.  Those who disagree point out that paintings are not a public good as much art work was created as private property. Others say that free ports represent a financial system in which investors lack a connection with the art they purchase, but recognize that the storage warehouses enable responsible collectors to manage their art collections and limited wall space.

Collectors and dealers often decide to utilize the free ports for the storage of their art for more common reasons than tax avoidance.  Some collectors and dealers simply have no more room in their homes and galleries.  In a free port, their valuable art works are protected in climate-controlled environments behind fire-resistant walls and often under video surveillance.  Some of the free ports even have viewing rooms where collectors can view their art and show it to potential purchasers.

According to an officer of the Geneva Free Port, as a result of the audit, the Swiss have been working to address concerns over the lack of transparency.  As of this September, all storage contracts will require clients to allow inspections of any archaeological artifacts they would like to be stored at the facility.

Only time will tell whether additional free ports across the world will take steps towards increasing transparency as to inventory and ownership as collectors and dealers continue to store their valuable art works in such warehouse facilities.

Southwest Airlines’ Heart of the Community program, launched in 2014, has given a $200,000 creative place-making grant to Minneapolis’ Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Last year the Hennepin Theatre Trust spearheaded two mural projects: a five-story-high mural of Bob Dylan (corporate sponsor: Goldman Sachs) and a smaller pop art style mural (corporate sponsor: American Express). It continues to run the ongoing Made Here urban walking gallery project. The trust is seeking public input on how best to use the grant.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the irrevocable trust, a common estate-planning tool, is increasingly being used by art owners as a tax-savings measure.

Here’s the gist.  An art owner gifts ownership of his or her painting or art collection to an irrevocable trust.  The painting is no longer part of the art owner’s estate, and so the value of the estate is reduced for tax purposes.

In addition, the painting is appraised at the time of the gift.  The amount of the appraised value above the $14,000 annual exemption from gift taxes will be deducted from the art owner’s lifetime combined federal gift-tax and estate-tax exemption (currently $5.45 million).   If that exemption has already been used up, the art owner will pay tax on the gift – however, this tax liability will likely be less than if the art owner keeps the painting in the estate.

Read more here.