Art World Forum transcribes some key points raised by Serge Tiroche, Co-Founder of Art Runners and The Tiroche DeLeon Collection, at South Island Art day held at Ovolo Southside on Thursday 23rd March.
As an avid collector with significant insight, what would you say the pros and cons of modern vs contemporary art collecting are?
I come from a family of modern and impressionist art collectors and therefore consider myself fortunate enough to have had experience in both areas. I have been collecting and investing in contemporary art, over the last 6 – 7 years and the differences are huge. First of all, it very much depends on what perspective you’re taking. From an investment standpoint, contemporary art forces you to take a lot more risks on the survival of artists in the market. Even so, it is interesting to identify emerging artists early on in their career who are financially promising.
With modern masters, assuming you know how to do your due diligence, the returns are smaller, liquidity is less, risk is lower. Personally, trading in impressionist works is an obverse strategy; perhaps a nicer way to invest but it is less interesting.
With several years under your belt, what advice would you give anyone starting out as a collector?
When you become a collector of contemporary art, you have to have a lot of time on your hands, not just money. You need to be involved in the artist’s career. Do the art fairs, the biennales, the exhibitions… Buying a Picasso is easy; you put it away from 10 years and wake up 10 years later and it’s probably worth 50-100% more than what you paid. Contemporary art is a completely different ball-game.
With years of experience how do you decide what to buy?
I need to meet the artist multiple times and see whether there’s any intelligence and depth in the artwork that is being made; that there is ambition and knowledge of what is happening in the art world and how it operates; that there is sensibility towards working with the various elements needed to make you successful. It’s about being aware of how the ecosystem works. Artists who do not have a deep understanding of how it works have a lesser chance of success.
To pass that stage with someone like me who spends 300 days a year at least looking at art, means that it is an exceptionally talented case, and that is just the first hurdle. I then go into more depth.
In terms of artistic practice and creative genres what medium would you typically go for? Do you have an interest in video art for instance?
From an investment standpoint, collecting video art seems to be a harder asset class. Generally, I think that artworks that are sold in editions have less investment potential than unique artworks. I personally prefer video works that do not have a narrative. If they do, they give me the sense of a documentary. It therefore has to be visually based while feeding your curiosity and a way of encouraging you to ask questions without too much text. Additionally, I prefer works that are featured without the audio.
But in terms of investment, would video be my first choice? The answer would be no. I would rather focus on painting, sculpture or installation.
Knowing, and being involved with so many artists in the industry, what would you reckon is a challenge being faced by artists today?
We are in a period where people’s concentration spans and patience are dwindling and therefore messages need to be short and rather concise. Therefore, one of the challenges faced by artists is being able to communicate a message in a very efficient way. When I chat to them, I want to see clarity, but then again, art is abstract. You therefore need to have that fine line which allows others to interpret it in their own way.
What is your understanding of the art market and its structure? Is it growing? Where do we stand?
The established galleries keep on growing, whereas the middle galleries are slowly disappearing because it’s obvious that the traditional model no longer works. You need to be more aggressive with bigger shows. To raise the prices of your artists you need to support your options and buy visibility for the artist – in museum shows, sponsorships opportunities – an overall business strategy. It is an expense which smaller sized galleries may struggle to afford.
There is undoubtedly a huge sea of artists, dealers and agents. Are there any specific risk factors we should be keeping in mind?
A great controversial issue is the circulation of fakes in the market. That is a high risk segment. Buying artists in the primary market that are no longer alive to authenticate their work could pose challenges. The nice thing about Picassos’ nowadays is that you can’t buy them in the primary market anymore. They only circulate the secondary market and they therefore come with an implied guarantee of the auction houses.
As a professional wearing multiple hats in the art scene, with The Serge DeLeon Collection and Art Runners, what is your aim?
The Serge DeLeon Collection is an art fund that acquires work from all over the work, particularly from developing economies. One of the greatest pains we’ve dealt with is the logistics because there is no transparency. Hence, Art Runners was established.
The aim is to bring more competition, more transparency, more specialisation and more efficiency to the system.