Art For Acquisition? Vivre 2007 Summer

By Lisa Borain

Artist Harry Alden doesnít use the colour red in his paintings. Norbert Attard published a book a while back entitled I See Red Everywhere.

The title of Norbertís book was most fitting because it expressed his passionate commitment to making art relate to important issues facing our Western European society overwhelmed by the forces of rampant materialism.

Aldenís reason is less complicated. ìI just donít like the colour red all that much.î

Which artist is better to invest in?

Internationally, the concept of art acquisition is pretty simple. A collector walks into an art gallery, consults with the curator and buys what he or she wants according to taste and suggestion ñ a Damien Hurst for the open minded, a Jack Vettriano for the nostalgic and a Dali for the affluent.

Here in Malta, itís not so straightforward. Without doubt, there are a lot of artists in Malta and Gozo. But do we have buyers? There are a few galleries that exhibit new and established faces, but for the most part, exhibitions are being held literally all the time. They are relentless: quite the social outing. But does anyone give the art a second glance, much less buy it?

Christine Xuereb, artist, art consultant and director of Artitude Gallery. ìThe majority of exhibitions are just social. Most locals donít appreciate art. If people understood it, the market would be more of a market.

ìI find that a large percentage of buyers are foreign ñ something strikes them and they take it home. They do not come in specifically to buy or invest in a piece. This is not so much the case with locals ñ there are quite a few who buy art for the sake of investment ñ itís not what they like personally, but what theyíve heard they should like.î

Philip Grima, director of Gallery G. ìCurrently, Maltese are starting to buy as much as foreigners do. The thing is, the Maltese who can really invest already have a collection. Itís really quite rare that you find someone that has the finance, the knowledge and a house with empty walls to be filled.î

Malta has an established group of artists who sell their work regularly, the prices rising with their notoriety; Luciano Micallef, Kenneth Zammit Tabona, Madeleine Gera, Anna Grima, Jason Lu, Laurent MullerÖ the list goes on. Theyíre all good artists, with good technique and individual style, but the question remains: is buying their work an investment?

The real investment these days seems to be what was the contemporary art of its day ñ for instance, Willie Apapís last piece just sold for Lm18,000. Artists like Esprit Barthet, George Fenech, Antoine Camilleri, Harry Alden, Gabriel Caruana and Frank Portelli are the artists that are fetching a good price nowadays. The current contemporary renowned artists only bring in about Lm350 ñ 700 per piece. (Lm = 2.23 Euro)

So a good artist is worth investing in. How to possess the insight of who is celebrated now and who will remain celebrated for years to come?

Artist Harry Alden. ìA good piece will have something to say, something that strikes you, allures you. These days, contemporary artists are ignoring grammar. Education is very important for technique.î

Luciano Micallef. ìA painting is primarily the result of a long thinking process and it also contains a multitude of references; emotional, intellectual, psychological etc. A painting is not about paint. When given the opportunity I speak about such experiences to people who are concerned about my work. An audience needs to be guided to be able to grasp the many implications that an artwork contains. Many artists prefer to remain mute when confronted about their work; for me it is an opportunity to bridge with others, and therefore art becomes a means to connect with people.

ìA painting can also serve as a pretext, a catalyst between people to indulge in reflection. The paining lures you, captures you and draws you in to evoke sensations. It is a key; it unlocks secret paths within you and gradually you embark on a journey of self-discovery. Although I am constantly seeking to deliver something that is visually enticing or beautiful, the purpose of my work is not to embellish, but to evoke emotions, ideas ñ the thinking process I mentioned earlier.

ìWith regards to the value of an artwork I think that those who really value a piece never speak of its price. An artwork is an experience regarding our emotions and intellect, its monetary value concerns the businessman.î

Harry Alden. ìI am a real artist because I have no one to please but myself. I paint because I love to paint. This gives meaning to everything that I do. A lot of people think your skill as an artist is measured by how much you sell.î

Christine Xuereb. ìA lot depends on technique and experience. In the past, there was more hunger to learn. There were limited scholarships and you really had to work like a dog to be chosen. The standard was higher and as result, this work is good quality, and thus, now a good investment.î

Phillip Grima. ìIt helps if the artist has a collation of different periods. This means that the paintings are all unique, reflecting the artistís evolution.î

Jason Lu, who is more contemporary out of the above mentioned, creates installation work that is not always easily received, though his name is on everyoneís lips. Itís interesting when you think about how people must have perceived Aldenís hard edge style in the 60ís, Micallefís abstracts in the 80ís and Attardís installations from when he began, up to date.

Jason Lu. ìíContemporaryí is a state and each individual geopolitical area exists within its own state at that particular moment in time. This state is a reflection of its collective experiences influenced by variables such as culture, religion, history, as well as, more recently, mass media and technological advances, creating the global village we now live in. These sometimes complement each other, but more often then not they clash and create a sense of schizophrenia. Consequently confusion is created between what is contemporary and what is not, between likes and dislikes. This state we call contemporary is by its very nature organic and the global art scene is struggling to keep up with the rapid changes. This also creates an emotional instability, which affects the market forces in the contemporary art scene because no trend or ëstyleí lasts for longer then the blink of an eye. Ultimately one much not be ruled by what is apparently ëin vogueí, but by what emotional chords are pulled by a particular piece of art, be it painting, sculpture, music, dance, film, literature. The list is endless. Life is art.î

How can such an infinite subject be concluded? It seems to me that there are two types of artists: those who create simply because they have to, and those who create because itís a means to an end. The investment lies in the art that is truly insightful, expressive, honest and personal. This can only be achieved through love of creation, which lends itself to absorbing what Alden refers to as ëgrammarí. To possess this education is not enough; it must be individual expression combined with knowledge that amalgamates into a good pieces, worth investing in.