By Thomas Shambler
As traditional 'safe' investments start looking less secure, the global art market is booming. Navigating the oft-confusing creative world can be tricky, however, which is why we asked Bernd Stadlwieser, CEO of LUMAS galleries, to talk us through it…
The art market went from strength to strength in 2015, and shows no signs of slowing down. Does that mean it's time for everyone to run out and buy a piece of art?
It's really difficult for me to answer that. I'm not saying this simply because I work for LUMAS, but if you go to one of our galleries and buy some art you can't go wrong. For one, our price points aren't high enough to break the bank. I think the risk in buying art is by going in the wrong direction. If you do not have a strong background in art, or don't have a good consultant to advise you, you can be led down the wrong path. Some of the asking prices are astronomical, and for what?
One of the big obstacles to buying art for most people is knowing how to go about it. What's the best way to pick up your first piece?
I think everyone should start with some research online. Today there are some really great websites where you can learn a lot of information to start with. If you walk in to a gallery with that knowledge then you already have a base. It helps the salespeople in the store understand what you like and don't like, so they can further guide you towards a certain piece. Then, it's a combination of what you know and what you are passionate about. Of course, there are people out there who just walk in and pick the first thing they like, they are emotionally driven. Ultimately, our job at LUMAS is to guide someone to a piece they like, that they have an emotional feeling for. Otherwise, no one would come back to the gallery.
If I go online now and type in 'art gallery', I get thousands of online stores at my fingertips. If there are so many options online, are physical galleries even necessary today?
We've been doing this for twelve years now, and we have a team of really good curators who have been in this business for a very long time. They have worked in every field, they have a special eye, you know? A special feeling that they get, they can tell the difference between a nice picture and a piece of art. This is sometimes difficult for even me to understand, but they have it. If a prospective buyer walks in to one of our galleries, our task is to find out more about them to understand what they are looking for. Is it for your home or office? Are you a collector? Is it just to fill wall space? The internet can't replicate that. Once we understand everything, we make a few proposals. In the end, it's classic retail.
You say it is classic retail, but with art there must be a level of trust. You're not selling an iPhone that, if broken, I can replace the next day. How do I know you're the not selling me scribbles and calling it the next Picasso?
That's where the trust in our brand comes in. We have built up trust over the last twelve years, if we were cheating we wouldn't have lasted very long. Also, we only work in limited-edition hand-signed art. Most are limited to just 75-pieces worldwide. Hand-signed is hand-signed, it's not copied. That signature is very important, as in twenty years from now your piece might be worth quite a high value because of that signature. We also have good art consultants, who really try and provide you the right pieces. Ultimately, it's about reputation. In today's world, if you are not doing something right the web will destroy you. Make one mistake, and your entire community will make your problems known to the world. So far, we are proud that LUMAS hasn't received any negative comments on our service so far.
You have galleries in New York, Melbourne, Moscow and Dubai, to name just a few. Do you tend to send specific pieces to certain parts of the world, because you know they will sell? Taste in art must change, no?
Not as much as you might think. We find that at the end of the day, every gallery sells more or less the same. This proves that there is a global taste in art. Having said this, of course there are a few pieces that do better in some regions, but overall it's more or less the same worldwide. Good taste is universal.
So art connoisseurs in Dubai want the same thing as those in New York?
Yes, although there are differences when it comes to sizes of the paintings. In countries and cities where there are quite small apartments, you see smaller-sized art sold. In Australia, there are a lot of big houses and so we sell very large paintings. We've yet to see what Dubai is like, as there are both big and small places to live.
Where do the artists come from? Do you source talent from different regions?
A large amount of our artists come from Europe. LUMAS started there, so it's no surprise we have many contributors from that region. But we have dedicated curators who look out for talent in each region. For example, our bestselling artist at the moment is from Canada. It's important for us to grow internationally, and get deeper in to local markets. Our curators travel to all the shows all around the world, to find new talent. Currently, we have 400 to 500 artists on contract. Can you imagine how much work it is to deal with all those people? They are artists. They are creative people. They can sometimes… let's say they can think differently than others.
The last time I visited an art gallery, the first thing I saw was people taking pictures of the art with their phones. Obviously, they were putting it up on Instagram and sharing it with the world. Social media exists, and you no longer have to search out galleries to see beautiful pictures, they come to you via social media. Has the role of an art gallery shifted because of that?
Well, you can't hang your mobile phone on the wall, right? Ultimately, the world is full of beautiful pictures, but just because you have a nice image does not make it art. We have a lot of starting collectors, and part of our job is to educate them on what is important. Having a certificate of proof, having a hand-signed and numbered piece. One of the pleasures of having true art is showing it to other people, but not via a smartphone but in person. You can tell a small story about it, where you bought it, what the artist's inspirations are. There is easy access to this stuff online – LUMAS alone has over 100,000 Facebook fans – however we have seen this has only made our followers want to own a real piece themselves.
Over the past few years, luxury has gone a lot more bespoke. Is that what's going on in the art world? People want to own something that is unique to them?
One hundred per cent. It's exactly that. Look at watches, with only 100 pieces worldwide. Look at suits, and Savile Row. Of course, with art you also get to choose your own frame. You get to choose where you hang it, and what goes around that piece of art. That not only makes it unique, it makes it special just to you.