Art investments: Bankers & India's wealthy embrace Qi Baishi and Damien Hirst

You might remember, last week, I mentioned that the number of India's millionaires is up 51% in 12 months, and they're increasingly turning to alternative collectible investments.

Much like in China - now the world's second largest economy - India's investors are keen to think 'outside the box' and are embracing art, stamps and even ancient swords as assets.

Chinese master Qi Baishi is spear-
heading Asia's growing art markets.
He was the third top selling artist
of 2009, behind Warhol and Picasso

For instance, The Times of India this week reported on "a motley crowd of young professionals in their mid-thirties who have developed a liking for paintings."

The article cites a managing director with a foreign investment bank who "much to his surprise... found that there were several promising artists whose works were available at a reasonable price."

This reminded me of an interview Bloomberg did with Daniel Komala, CEO of Larasati Auctioneers, who is a pioneer in the field of Indonesian Contemporary art.

Among Komala's high profile sales was the auctioning of Execution by Beijing artist Yue Minjun for $5.9 million in 2007, which became the most expensive contemporary Chinese artwork.

As he said in the interview back in 2009 (which you can watch below): "Good art will stay good art... Sooner or later, the prices will pick up again.

"Six months to a year from now you could see these giants [of the art world] making a comeback... And I think the markets are looking for future 'blue chips' [stable investments], so to speak."

Fast-forward to the present day, and prices of works by well-known artists have skyrocketed in Asia. Also, as Komala predicted in the above video, upcoming artists are attracting both seasoned and new collectors.

Again, this boils down to rising income levels in India, and the fact that the population of High Net Worth Individuals has doubled.

Put simply, people have more money to spend on art and other collectible investments, and people who work in investment banks during the day are also moonlighting as art collectors.

But the thing is, this is actually nothing new. As we reported earlier this week, Western financial corporations have been tactfully relying on alternative art investments since the 1950s.

The seller of the $104.5m World Record auctioning of Alberto Giacometti's sculpture, L'Homme qui marche I - now the world's most valuable artwork - was Germany's second largest bank, Commerzbank.

Meanwhile, large banks like HSBC, Barclays and RBS also have massive art collections - the latter's including highly investible works by Frank Auerbach.

From the collection of Lehman Brothers: Currier's lithograph of New
York City sold for $12,500 - a sign that the world's prominent bankers
acknowledge art as a sound investment (Our full report is here)


And, of course, there is Lehman Brothers whose art sales in Philadelphia, New York and upcoming in London have helped scrape together millions of dollars towards paying its debts.

Lehman's next sale will include contemporary works by Gary Hume, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Gary Hume's Madonna alone is valued at £80,000-£120,000.

Clearly, the divide between 'mainstream' and 'alternative' investments is as wide as many people think, with the banks themselves recognising the investment value of art.

And, with plenty of older giants and new, exciting contemporary artists on the markets, maybe it's time you considered getting involved.

Best regards and happy collecting!





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