What Good Are Art Appraisers

And Why Do We Need Them?

Works of fine art need to be valued or appraised for a variety of reasons during the course of their existence. The professionals who typically do this valuing are known as fine art appraisers. In order to do their jobs well, they need up-to-the-minute price information about whatever works of art they're appraising. And the best resources for that are knowledgeable fine art professionals. Unfortunately, some of these art world insiders are not fond of cooperating, and at times choose opaqueness over assistance when it comes to answering appraisers' questions. And when art professionals choose not to cooperate, determining accurate dollar values becomes more difficult, sometimes much more difficult.

In spite of this, art price secrecy continues to be a fun game that many insiders love to play-- and an obstacle for the rest of us-- this game of, "I know how much it's worth and you don't." As long no one outside the inner sanctum needs to know how much art is worth, insiders can play all the price games they want among themselves and can be as secretive as they want. Nobody cares what they do in the privacy of their own galleries or art studios or collections or cabals or whatever. They can completely ignore the rest of the world if that's what's important to them, and they often do.

But sometimes art issues spill over into the real world-- the outside world-- beyond the exclusionary confines of the cliques. People who know little or nothing about art sometimes need to know how much it's worth and why. Who are these people and why do they need this information? Here are some examples:

* Insurance companies that need to know how much art is worth in order to write policies for fine art owners.

* Insurance adjusters who need to know how much to pay out on claims that are being made on either lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed art.

* Insurance companies that need to decide whether to pay claims or dispute them.

* Attorneys who are hired to assist with cases involving art.

* Judges who need to rule on cases involving art.

* Attorneys, mediators, or private parties who are attempting to resolve disagreements or disputes involving art.

* Accountants and tax preparers who need accurate art value information for inheritance, tax preparation, donation, or other accounting purposes.

* People who inherit art and need to know how much it's worth for tax, sale, or other transactional purposes.

* Fine art owners who need to know whether their art is worth donating, and if yes, may need formal donation appraisals to be prepared for the IRS.

* Family members who are dividing up estates that include art.

* People who want to know whether their damaged art is worth repairing or should be replaced.

* People who want to replace stolen or destroyed art with comparable works of similar value.

Appraisers serve the essential purpose of not only obtaining the necessary information, but even more importantly, translating into language that people outside of the inside art world-- people who often know little or nothing about art--can understand, appreciate, and act on.

Before I continue here you might be wondering, "Why is he so upset?" Well the answer is simple. In order to do their jobs right, fine art appraisers such as myself occasionally have to ask gallery owners, artists, or other knowledgeable individuals how much certain works of art are worth. Unfortunately, way too many of them force appraisers to jump through all kinds of hoops to get that information or give appraisers a hard time rather than cooperate.

For instance, they say they have to check the records and will get back with the answers if or when they can, they say the person in charge of prices isn't available, they become difficult to reach, they stop responding to requests, they put appraisers off for weeks or even months with promises that they'll get to it, they ask for all kinds personal information about the art that owners may not be willing to share, or worst of all, they never bother responding to appraiser inquiries in the first place.

All appraisers need are simple answers to simple questions, answers these professionals know, answers they can almost always provide easily, effortlessly, and instantly. But for whatever reasons, they won't.

I don't think a lot of these people understand the problems they cause by being uncooperative. So let me help you here. By not providing the price information appraisers need, you essentially force them to make statements or include conditions in their appraisals that certain sources of accurate price information were either unavailable or unwilling to assist.

But wait. There's more. By refusing to provide appraisers with the price information they need, you force them to use less reliable sources. And less reliable sources typically lead to less accurate appraisals. For example, in a situation where an artist's gallery is unwilling to provide retail prices for an insurance appraisal, an appraiser may be forced to rely largely on whatever price information they can glean from the Internet. If online prices are too low, the appraisal will likely undervalue the art, which means it'll be underinsured. It may result in the owner not being able to replace the work or recoup full cash value if they have to make a claim. It may even result in questions about whether the art is really worth what it sold for in the first place, or what it's selling for now.

Galleries, artists, art consultants, and other knowledgeable professionals who choose to be secretive about what they sell, represent, produce, or know about, only create problems for themselves, and interject uncertainty into the markets for their art. Forcing other people, no matter who they are, to guess art values almost always works to the detriment of everyone concerned. The lack of accurate information does nothing to maintain either the health of the art market or the trust that people need to have in it in order feel confident when buying art or making any other monetary decisions about it that they may be required to make.

Fine art appraisers are an essential bridge between the arcane and often opaque art world and everyone else. They help all of us understand how the art world works, and in so doing, help make the art world make sense. Every time you cooperate with their requests and assist them with their needs, everybody benefits. So do us all a favor and help. You'll be glad you did.


In case you're interested, I appraise art all the time. If you need help with any appraisal situation, email or call 415.931.7875.

Richard Prince art

(art by Richard Prince)

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