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What is it like to invest in art and how to build a successful investable art collection? Finbuzz spoke with Jean-Baptiste Fabre, a Geneva-based art dealer and the founder of Auction Aftersale which focuses on the aftersales market and gives unsold lots – and auction houses – a second chance connecting buyers and auction houses.
In one interview, you call your service “an eBay for art” – how different is the model?
We are similar in that we offer any member of the public the opportunity to bid for a large number of items that would have previously been inaccessible to them. We want to help democratise art investment and widen the access to the art market. However, we are also different in a number of ways. First, we offer items that have been authenticated and appraised by experts, so buyers know where they come from. Second, we hope to provide bargains for the buyers but also want the sellers – auction houses – to be happy with the outcome of the sale. We act as an interface between the buyers and auction houses.
It is very important to buy art because you like it and not just for speculating or for financial reasons.
Who is your typical client?
Our customer base is made of three main segments. Half of them are dealers or passionate collectors who use the website to source objects in a defined category and/or looking for opportunistic buys. Around a quarter are men aged 40-60 working in the financial services sector or entrepreneur who simply do not have the time to attend live auctions. We believe this shows that this business savvy clientele is also buying art as an investment”. This wealthy clientele is also very busy and this is why we created Thirdman, to support, coach and represent them. Finally, a quarter of our customers are women aged 35-60 looking to decorate or refurbish their property and who appreciate the diversity of AAS’ offer.
Many bankers collect art as investors. Could you share your thoughts on this?
The global art market is booming. The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) says art sales reached a record £37bn in 2015, an annual increase of 7%. It is generating a lot of interest and some investments are proving very profitable. It is no wonder that bankers want a share of the pie. However, like any other investment, investing in art comes with risks. Bankers are used to managing risks, they know art investments are not regulated but like to use these assets to diversify their portfolio.
Your website has many distinct art categories. Which area has been the most lucrative for you and why?
Out of the 90 categories we offer, the most popular ones are: Decorative Art, Contemporary Art, Design, Photography, Fashion Accessories, Jewellery and Watches. Surprisingly enough Decorative Art tops the list. People may want to reconsider this category by comparing the estimates in Decorative Arts to the high prices asked in Design. Yet most of the time when an item does not sell at auction it is because the asking price was too high.
What has the industry taught you about money management?
It is very important to buy art because you like it and not just for speculating or for financial reasons. Since it is likely you will live with the art you buy for a while, you have to appreciate it!
Do you get more satisfaction from spending or saving your money?
First, during winter months I build up my financial reserves so that when the auction season starts in spring I am ready to react quickly when opportunities present themselves. If the market sees you as a reactive buyer, you ensure you get prime access to whatever the market has to offer in your area of interest. The value of an object is based on several criteria: one of them, possibly the most important one – as long as the object has been authenticated and its general state is good – is the surprise created by a new lot when unveiled to the market for the first time. It is important to preserve this freshness and for it make a grand entrance. A bit like in the property market, there can be amazing homes that languish for years and others that you only hear about for the first time once a deal has been sealed.
What are your hobbies?
I am involved with a game conservation and anti-poaching programme in Tanzania overseen by the Chem Chem Wildlife Foundation
Do you paint yourself?
I do. I love drawing women. I have learnt to represent their joy and vibrancy in a few strokes. I got my inspiration from fashion illustrator’s René Gruau and his disciple David Downton.
Most prized possession?
My wife and my children are my dearest possessions.
Do you have a favourite luxury brand?
Let me quote Winston Churchill: “I am a man of simple tastes; I am easily satisfied with the best.” So I like to say!
How much did your first job pay?
I was getting paid around £1000 a month as a young apprentice working in an auction house.
I realise that beauty is everywhere.
Where has your most luxurious holiday take you?
I travel a lot and I have been fortunate to visit amazing places across the world through my work. My greatest holiday luxury is spending time in the simplicity of my holiday home in Brittany.
Excluding property, what has been your most expensive purchase?
We are always looking for “Sleepers” in our business. Sleepers are amazing pieces whose real value has been totally missed. Once, I got the chance to make an offer after sale on a beautiful but unsigned drawing (which had been ignored by everyone else). After three years of consulting experts, it appeared that I had bought an early work by one of the most famous artists of the early Twentieth Century: Picasso!!!!!
What are your most rewarding achievements to date?
My proudest achievement is becoming an internet entrepreneur after years spent as an auctioneer and art dealer. Thirdman.auction is a facilitator, a provider of support services for the passionate but busy buyer while auctionaftersale.com is the world’s first aftersales aggregator.
Tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your CV?
When I was younger I wanted to be a fighter jet pilot, or create a model agency. Elite and John Casablancas were my dreams. I also wanted to design jewelry.
However, to understand what beauty is and what makes something unique and priceless it’s taken me 15 years working in the auction world. Now I realise that beauty is everywhere.