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Around The Arts

September 28, 2013

The art of the appraisal explained by one who knows

So often in this column my co-writer, Brittany, and I talk about how art is everywhere and can be appreciated by all. Perhaps because of my passion for everyday art, there is one part of the art world I just cannot grasp — art appraisal. How can you put a value on something so seemingly subjective? So, I set out to learn more about this industry.

Sylvia Leonard Wolf, an art appraiser for 36 years from Bearsville with an extensive resume that includes the Metropolitan and Guggenheim museums, graciously answered many of my questions about the industry via email. My interview with her follows:

Q: How would you define “art appraisal?” 

A: Art appraisal is an estimate of the value of a work of art, based on sales of comparable works in the open retail and/or auction market, with no undue pressure to buy or sell and all parties having access to all pertinent data (the definition of “fair market value”).

Q: What are the main factors that determine the value of a piece? 

A: Honestly, to completely answer this question would require hours; however, in brief:

• reputation, recognition and market status of the artist

• subject matter

• medium and size

• condition of the piece

• exhibition history and provenance of the work

• current popularity and interest in the artist, type and style of the work (in other words, tastes change and the market changes with them)

Q: What is something someone off the street wouldn’t think to look at, which actually plays a large factor in art appraisal? 

A: The history of prior ownership (provenance), condition, medium and a clear title.

Q: Why get artwork appraised?

A: To know its current value for insurance purposes, to anticipate how much to expect from the sale of the work, to donate it to a charitable institution, estate planning, equitable distribution (a divorce situation), or to satisfy your curiosity about something you own. 

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