That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:
Recently an Andy Warhol painting sold at auction for $195 million, the highest price ever for a 20th century artwork. A dance hall-themed painting by Ernie Barnes went for $15.3 million, 76 times the original estimate. The Macklowe collection sold at Sotheby’s for $246.1 million, the most ever for a single collection.
First, savings are still high due to stinted consumption from the pandemic. And many of the wealthy have been buying additional homes and wish to furnish them with art.
Second, the recent run-up in inflation rates around the world has intensified the search for hedges. There are few true inflation hedges, and crypto now has been knocked out of that role. But art can serve as an inflation hedge in almost any environment.
Art gives its owners the pleasure of looking at it on their wall, and no rate of inflation can take that away. It is both an investment and a form of consumption, and the latter is quite protected against any macroeconomic conditions. When all else fails, spending money is one surefire inflation hedge. Art also happens to be a durable asset, so the expenditure is not entirely wasteful.
Art isn’t always about the enjoyment of the buyer. Many art collectors, especially in the upper tiers of the market, keep their art in tax-free storage and use it to make questionable donations to charity, “flip” it for a fast profit or resell it on the “gray market.” I don’t approve of these methods, but they too can be lucrative in a volatile market where valuations are more subjective.