Rich art collectors 'know the price of everything – and the value of nothing'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Bonhams' head of contemporary art tells Nick Clark that works are being treated simply as investments

Art dealers have been reduced to mere "commodity brokers" as the super-rich have lost interest in the aesthetic value of major works and instead obsess about their monetary worth, according to one of the industry's most experienced auctioneers.

Anthony McNerney, head of contemporary art at Bonhams, said ahead of a flurry of sales in London this month with work valued at £500m on the market: "Many more people talk about art as an investment. A lot ask: 'Is this investment potential? Can we see it as an asset class?' I'm nervous about that. Art is a very volatile market.

"A lot of us were frustrated, it is always about the estimates and the deal, not the art. We wanted to talk about the works of art. It's whether the art works are important.

"When I started at Christie's many years ago clients would ask me about the work of art or the artist. In late 2007 they started asking: 'what's it going to cost me and how much will it be worth.' That's when you become a commodities broker."

Art market adviser Tania Buckrell Pos agrees. "A lot more buyers with an investment point of view are coming into the market," she told Bloomberg.

Collector Charles Saatchi has also criticised the new "super rich art-buying crowd" as "vulgar and depressingly shallow". He asked whether they liked the art or just wanted "big-brand name pictures".

Mr McNerney said the trend to target big names really started in 2005 until the market dried up in the wake of Lehman Brother's collapse three years later. "It has restarted now with prices going to a huge level," he said.

A fortnight of major auctions started at Christie's last week, where sales topped £135m. This followed a record breaking 2011 for art auctions. Artists included Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.

Notable sales included the £19.1m paid for Henry Moore's Reclining Figure: Festival, almost four times the top end of the pre-sale estimate. A Joan Miro, Painting-Poem, went for £16.8m.

Major rival Sotheby's did not fare so well after works by Miro and Gustav Klimt went unsold. Yet L'Entrée de Giverny en Hiver by Claude Monet sold for £8.2m on a night that brought in £78.9m overall.

Mr McNerney said that while contemporary art buyers have been "pretty much the same for the last 15 to 20 years" they now face huge competition from emerging market investors who are driving up the prices. "Traditional buyers are being pushed a lot higher on cost by people from the Middle East, India, China, Latin America," he said. As if to confirm his statement, it emerged this month that Qatar had bought The Card Players by Cezanne for a world record $250m at the end of last year.

The art market was "remarkably strong", he added. After Lehman, the buying stopped, but was kick started by the sale of L'Homme qui marche by Alberto Giacometti for £65m in 2010. "Everything seemed to come back on line," Mr McNerney said. "Quality will out." The Bonhams sale on Monday night saw a Frank Auerbach charcoal and chalk drawing of Freud sell for £480,000, close to the top of the range.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore