By analyzing the performance of early-20th-century British economist John Maynard Keynes’ art collection, and comparing the collection with the simulated performance of thousands of hypothetical art portfolios, economists David Chambers, Elroy Dimson, and Christophe Spaenjers have found that the art market is structured much like a lottery.
Relatively few winners (artists and their collectors) reap enormous gains; the majority of artists are marginal to the overall value of the market.
The Keynes collection was studied as “one of only two complete, or near-complete, financial records of an art collection from initial purchase to final valuation.”
The analysis and comparison with hypothetical portfolios reveals several features of the Keynes collection with implications for the broader market:
- Purchase channel. Paintings and drawings by Degas, Cezanne, Picasso, and Braque—were largely purchased at auction, where Keynes may have spotted bargains. The works he acquired through other channels, through dealers and on the primary market, underperformed relative to his auction purchases.
- Concentration. 80% of Keynes total spending on art went to just 10 works
“Changes in the total value of the Keynes collection are largely driven by changes in the market value of a few artists, such as Braque, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and Seurat. Conversely, what happens to all the lesser-known artists…is not an important driver of returns.”
The fact that much of the value of the Keynes portfolio lies in a small number of key works, and buying them required significant upfront investment, suggests that successful arts investment appears to be a pastime for the already well-capitalized.
Well-positioned and deeply informed insiders may, however, take advantage of the information asymmetries of the opaque art market, such as knowing when a work might become available or where a willing buyer lies, to effect savvy purchases and “buy low.”
See: “Keynes’s Art Collection Shows Why Art Investing Is Like the Lottery” | by Anna Louie Sussman, Artsy, 5 April 2017
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