How to Navigate the art market: with Catherine Asquith 

Catherine Asquith is an arts professional, an AVAA Certified Practicing Valuer, a member of The Association of Women in the Arts (London), a member of the City of Melbourne’s external assessment panel (visual arts), as well as the host of her own podcast aptly titled “Navigating the Art Market”.

Del Kathryn Barton, Openly Song, 2014, Acrylic on French linen
244 x 183. Exhibited: “The Highway is a Disco”, ARNDT, Singapore, 1st November to 6 December 2015. Auctioned: Lot 33, Australian & International Fine Art & Sculpture, Menzies, 27 February 2020 © Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

The word ‘navigate’ implies that there is more than one pathway a person can take through the art market. What advice do you give your clients about how they should choose to navigate the Australian art market and how do you guide them through? 

The art market can appear on first reading, complex and opaque, with the sectors seemingly operating at odds or in competition with one another. But there is a baroque logic to it; in an ideal world I like to chaperone clients through museum collections, commercial galleries, auction previews and art fairs, all as a means of providing an overview and context and to show how these markets in fact, inter-connect. 

Fundamental to any advice is to encourage a preparedness to learn, to contemplate, and be patient in acquiring new knowledge; to look at art, and importantly, actually experience the artwork; certain aesthetics, composition, genres, palette, and subject matter will start to evoke an emotional or ‘gut’ response. Working in concert with the client, we will start to hone in on these responses which will inform the parameters for more formalised acquisitional guidelines, the latter of which will be contingent with the aims and objectives of the collection. 

Bill Henson, Untitled 1/5, 1990-91, from the series Paris Opera Project, type C photograph, 127 x 127 cm; series of 50, Edition of 10 + AP 2 © The artist

What questions should a collector ask themselves before any art purchase? 

In the primary market, review the artist’s CV and look for consistency in exhibition history, gallery representation, participation in curated institutional exhibitions, national and potentially international profile development, representation at art fairs, and inclusion in public and corporate collections.

In the secondary market, in addition to the above, review the provenance, look for stability or better yet, an increase in auction results, ask for a condition report, determine if the estimate is in line with the work on offer, and ask if it is a good example of the artist’s oeuvre. 

With any artwork purchase, you should be seeking a work which has artistic integrity, an inherent enduring quality, and market longevity. 

You work across both the primary and secondary art markets regularly. Do you believe a collector should consider acquisitions across both sectors? 

Not necessarily, but on occasions there will be a need to source works from another market, particularly with regard to in-demand artists from the primary market. For the most part, your clients’ objectives will determine which market you source works from. That said, there is a newly developing collector profile which is now interested in both markets, if for only as a reference point; for example, the focus may be on selecting works from the primary market, but the client will also be seeking an understanding of that artist’s secondary market profile and values. 

Coen Young, Untitled (Mirror Painting)2 2022, Acrylic, enamel, silver nitrate on paper, 141 x 121 x 9 cm (framed) In situ, Sydney Contemporary, September 2022, Kronenberg Mais Wright, © Courtesy KRONENBERG MAIS WRIGHT and the the artist

In your experience in the industry across 25 years, do you find the behaviours, tastes, and drives of a collector have changed with time? 

Yes, absolutely. The art world has become far more visible to the broader public, and via numerous platforms, some of which ‘feed’ into mainstream social media. This has clearly had an impact on changes in collector behaviour; DMs and real-time communications via social media can commence the negotiation or transaction in lieu of more formal means. 

We have also witnessed expanding markets across the globe. Fervent competition for choice works and highly coveted artists – whether via the galleries or auction houses – has increased demand. An impressive, confident new breed of collector has entered the field; they are well educated, well-travelled, and have ample discretionary funds available to acquire any artwork at pretty much any price. 

There is also an unabated drive for the ‘next new thing’, and this is particularly apparent in the London, New York, and Hong Kong markets as evidenced in the at times unfathomable and clearly unsustainable prices achieved for the ‘under 30 years’ artists coming to auction. 

Are there any artists in the Australian art market that you either personally like, or are worth watching at the moment? 

There are many! But in the interests of brevity, I like Del Kathryn Barton for her consistent and impressive output; Coen Young’s youthful intellect, Daniel Boyd’s international profile, similarly, Atong Atem’s drive, Marion Borgelt’s finesse, Bill Henson’s elegance, Yhonnie Scarce’s extraordinary talent and important narrative, and the painterly, gestural colour of Makinti Napanangka’s paintings. 

Banner Image: Catherine Asquith

November 2022