img\ Zwicker's gallery, 5415 Doyle Street, Halifax

Art as an Investment

Zwicker’s Gallery is Halifax’s oldest art gallery.  Art works found in Zwicker’s range from the historic to the contemporary and include landscapes, portraiture, abstracts and statuary. 

Having a chat with gallery owner, Ian Muncaster, is always a treat and usually involves Ian imparting tales from the art world and sipping on tea. However, Covid 19 protocols dispensed with this latter pleasantry, and on this day, sitting distanced and masked, the discussion turns to art sales trends, art investment history and some interesting back-stories on famous Canadian artists.

Ian starts the conversation pointing out that interest in art is up currently. This includes the secondary market (Zwicker’s Gallery niche in Halifax) that features work that has been sold once before, and is usually by mature, established, and sometimes historic artists. Ian says art purchases – and particularly investment strategies in art works  to achieve a profit – is no more predictable than the rise and fall of the stock market. He tells us that art as a commodity really hit stride at the time of the industrial revolution because more people had disposable income (like the aristocrats prior to this), and these nouveaux riche, he says, “wanted to ape their betters” and fill their newer, larger homes with art and antiques like the upper class, thus triggering a rise in art sales, art investment and overall popularity in collecting art. 

However, this trend collapsed in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. In a world stressed by conflict and rationing, art sales remained low, not recovering until the early 1960’s. Locally, Zwicker’s hosted an exhibition in 1961 of a number of The Group of Seven panels. All 17 works sold - the majority purchased by the president of a large financial institution. Those seemingly modest sales ($175 dollars per work) at the time represented an increase in value of about ten-fold, indicative of yet another period of investment in art, or art as commodity. 

Ian points out that interest in art buying is up again currently. With no specific pronouncement on why that is, Ian hazards an opinion that this up-tick in art sales may be resulting from a number of factors: more people with disposable income as a result of retirement, or less spending on travel during these times of pandemic, perhaps related to housing builds and renovations, or possibly because there are more mature Canadian artists coming to the end of their careers and whose work may soon accrue in value. Perhaps it is a little of all these, or perhaps other factors.

As our conversation ends, Ian engages in a conversation with a visitor looking to buy a work by a particular Newfoundland artist. “Sorry,” Ian tells them, “we’ve just recently sold the two works we had by that artist.” Their conversation continues as we prepare to leave Ian to his regular gallery business. We overhear the buyer suggesting a value they would be interested in investing in a work, and Ian’s philosophical and paraphrased response: ‘Settle on a work that speaks to you, that you love and value for that, rather than on the precise financial value alone; you’ll be much happier.’

This parting sound bite speaks volumes: invest in a work because you like its aesthetics and emotional impact rather than just its current and potential future value. The vagaries of an art commodity market may never fully value a piece to compete with the value of the impact of a work emotionally on you or how it may work in your space. Perhaps, over time, the work will accrue in both financial and emotional value.

Story and Photo Credit, Keith S. McPhail