Auction frenzy: Investors spending on art over property as housing prices soar

Would-be investors are choosing art over property as house prices soar and investment restrictions kick in.

On Sunday, at Webb’s in Mt Eden, the auction room was packed, but instead of street names, it was artists such as Don Binney, Dick Frizzell, Robin White and Ralph Hotere the bidders were there for.

New Zealand artwork is a hot commodity right now and auction houses say they have never been busier, with packed rooms and competitive bidding.

A combination of rising house prices, halted travel and people spending more time at home could explain the spike in art purchases, Webb’s head of art Charles Ninow said.

“We are seeing more young professionals who are first-time art buyers and looking for alternative investment opportunities.

“They are looking to put their money into assets, not to live in, but to live with, hang on their walls, park in their garage, and enjoy where their eyes can see them.”

Webb’s has seen unprecedented sales in the past year and Ninow said once people had secured their first home they were looking to the art world.

“With the impact of Covid on travel and taxes on investment properties, people are looking at other ways to invest their money and, with low-interest rates, buying art is better than money in the bank.”

“Just recently the market has exploded with people looking to buy art and they are becoming regular investors, they’re willing to invest more than usual in art,” Ninow said.

“People are realising art is a great investment and like property, it grows in value, especially if you hold on to it for a long time.”

The recent Art to Date event at Webb’s generated in excess of $1 million in sales.

The two-catalogue event was the largest offering of art in the auction house’s history to go under the hammer.

The auctions received interest from more than 900 registered bidders, a quarter of whom were “first-time buyers” at Webb’s.

Renowned New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere’s work performed exceptionally well; his piece Les Saintes Marie de la Mer 2002 sold for $152,750 and other pieces sold for twice the estimated value.

Other highlights include a series of images taken by Glen Jowitt in the late 1970s capturing the lives and personalities of the Christchurch chapter of Black Power – a group also known as the Gypsies.

Ninow said social media had opened up the world of art collecting to a broader base of buyers.

And he said there was no need for a hefty deposit, pre-approval or a visit to the bank of mum and dad.

The first rung of the art ladder was an easier climb than the property ladder.

“The amazing thing about this auction and the results achieved is that this wasn’t an auction where the super-wealthy were competing for artworks priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

“This was an auction where you could buy something amazing for anywhere from $100 all the way up until $50,000.”

For Auckland designers Clem and Phoebe Devine, buying art is an affordable alternative to an investment property.

The couple have a collection of New Zealand art lining the walls of their Auckland apartment and added Don Driver’s Vogue Woman to it a few days ago.

The collage-style artwork from the 1990s set them back $1175. The most they had spent on a piece of art was $10,000.

As well as a long-term investment, Devine said he enjoys the social aspect of art, and sees it as a form of expression.

“Art is a personal journey and it’s an investment in something that is valuable to you individually,” Devine said.

“You can’t always see it from a monetary value but you never want to lose money on it.”

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