Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- The sums spent on art are often so stratospheric that it’s easy to get jaded by the headlines—$90 million here, or $60 million there, and your eyes glaze over. But $1 million is a lot of money, even in the art world. It’s enough to build a whole collection.

Just how far that money goes comes down to a combination of taste, financial priorities, and personal preference.

To show just how different an outcome can be, four art advisors have chosen their own million-dollar collection, drawn from art that’s currently on sale.

A Classical Collection

The Old Masters dealer Johnny Van Haeften says old art has a bad rap. People often think that Old Masters are “dull and dark and rather dreary and boring, because they’ve seen them in museums covered in varnish.” The reality, he says, is that “they’re really quite fun.”

For his collection, he’s chosen only three artworks, one of which, a Sorolla, isn’t even an Old Master. “I’ve deliberately shown three different genres of painting,” Van Haeften says. Each, in its own way, is light and airy, and “you can hang them in any room of the house.” But each also represents a potential avenue that a collector could acquire in depth. “These are really the tip of the iceberg,” he says.

Today “there are deals to be found” in the Old Masters market, he says. “If you can go to an auction and can be bothered to sit all the way through, some things inexplicably do fall through the cracks.” Van Haeften’s recommendations total more than $1 million, but he says buyers should “assume there’s a bit of negotiation on each.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Arcadia: A Pastoral Landscape with Shepherds and Shepherdesses Picnicking
Frans Francken the Younger in collaboration with Ambrosius Francken the Younger, Abraham Govaerts, Hans Jordaens III, and Alexander Keirincz (1620)
£550,000 ($710,000) from Van Haeften’s own collection

Why this: “The condition is extraordinary for a large panel, and here you have five named artists working together on a single painting”—something Van Haeften says is “seldom done.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day
A follower of Canaletto (c. 1800)
$230,000 at Charles Beddington Fine Art

Why this: “The artist didn’t make the mistake that so many make on the Doge’s Palace in Venice,” Van Haeften says. “In real life, the last two windows on the palace are slightly lower than the first four, and many copyists [put] them all in a line. This is an artist who’s done his research.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Beach Scene in Valencia
Joaquin Sorolla (c. 1910)
£280,000 at Rafael Valls

Why this: “It’s very topical with the National Gallery retrospective of Sorolla going on, and I love the sketchiness of it. It’s breezy and colorful.”

Art With a Message

Lisa Schiff mostly advises her clients to buy art made after 1980, but she’s not averse to older works. Her method of determining value is threefold: “Is it visually and conceptually compelling?” she asks. “Is it historically relevant? And is it strategically placed?” By the last, Schiff means “reflecting the most important things that are happening in its time.”

For her $1 million collection, Schiff combined these priorities with a subject she says is increasingly pressing, namely “the environmental destruction of the planet.” As for how they’ll hold up in terms of price, she says she tells her clients that “99 percent of all art, even your beautiful Basquiat, is worth zero unless you have a buyer. So insured-appraised value is going to feel steady or go up, but your transaction value might plummet depending on the moment you’re ­trying to sell.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Drittermaerzzweitausendundelf
Ugo Rondinone (2011)
$450,000 at Gladstone Gallery

Why this: “Ugo, for me, is one of the great visual artists of our time,” Schiff says. “I’ve been in love with this body of work—these huge, beautiful drawings of forests—for a long time.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Sunset Moon (Guilford, Through Trees)
Ann Craven (2018)
$55,000 at Karma

Why this: “Craven is very interested in time and explores it through various themes, all of which tend to be nature-based,” Schiff says. “What I like about her art is that she’s using pretty colors for beautiful subjects, and you’re not really allowed to paint like that anymore.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Flowers, Day 1
Richard Learoyd (2019)
$50,000 at Pace Gallery

Why this: “I’ve had the great fortune of selling a number of his photographs to clients,” Schiff says. “And I have been dying to buy one for myself.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Wheatfield - A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan - the Harvest
Agnes Denes (1982)
$12,000 at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

Why this: As a conceptual project, Denes grew an actual wheat field where Battery Park currently stands in downtown Manhattan, then harvested it. “That project was so wonderful, and I cannot believe these photos aren’t sold out,” Schiff says.

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Terra su terra - Volto
Guiseppe Penone (2014)
€370,000 ($413,000) at Marian Goodman Gallery

Why this: “Penone is an obvious choice,” Schiff says. “He’s had a dedication to nature since the beginning of his career.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

“With whose blood were my eyes crafted?”
Anicka Yi (2019)
$65,000 at 47 Canal

Why this: “She’s the rising star of our generation,” says Schiff. “Her interests in biotechnology and AI play into my interest in nature here in a different way, and I wanted to add that spin on it.”

Contemporary Heavyweights

Candace Worth, who runs an eponymous advisory firm, specializes in art by living artists, most of whom are mid- to late career. Her specialty is ones “with deep conceptual practices, who are working internationally and getting a lot of museum support,” she says. Worth built a $1 million collection of art that’s currently (or was recently) on view in galleries. It’s all drawn from the primary market, meaning this would be the first time the work has been bought or sold.

Value, Worth says, is determined by taste first and foremost—if a client doesn’t like it, he shouldn’t buy it.

The next step in assessing value is monetary. “Prices are established by galleries, but that doesn’t mean an artwork is worth that amount,” she says. Whether a piece is accurately priced comes down to some combination of an artist’s gallery shows (“Ideally you’ll see multiple shows on multiple continents”), how much the work sells for on the secondary market, and “how the art fits into the art historical canon.”

The following works are all by artists who aren’t going away anytime soon—and whose aesthetics and practices vary widely. “I wouldn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket,” Worth says. “That would be shortsighted and risky. And besides, this way is more fun.”

Finally, she points out that even though her list pushes a little past the million-dollar mark, “if you get a 10 percent discount from the gallery, you’re right at $1 million.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Subtitled
Lorna Simpson (2018)
$495,000 at Hauser & Wirth

Why this: “She’s made a lot of different bodies of work,” Worth says. “But visually I was blown away by these paintings.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Lexicon Medium Bronze (Cape Silver)
William Kentridge (2018)
$300,000 at Marian Goodman Gallery

Why this: “Kentridge is an incredibly important artist, one of the great voices of the last century,” Worth says. “These bronzes go back to his work with social justice.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner
Studio Drift (2018)
$70,000 at Pace Gallery

Why this: A collective based in the Netherlands, Studio Drift is “aesthetically influenced by Mondrian, but it’s conceptual,” Worth says. “This work is all of the raw materials that make up a Dyson vacuum cleaner, in their exact quantities.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Study for a Large Tilted Head
Mark Manders (2017-18)
€100,000 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Why this: “He’s one of my favorite artists in the world,” Worth says. “He sculpts these works by hand, casts them in bronze, and then paints them to look like clay.” The result, she says, “is that you know you’re looking at something contemporary, but it feels like an antiquity.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Lost Happiness
Idris Khan (2019)
£80,000 at Sean Kelly Gallery

Why this: “Khan works in all sorts of media, but there are universal themes that come out through his work.”

Modernist Nudes

“I tell collectors to be thoughtful about where they want their collection to go as a whole,” says adviser David Norman, who became chairman of the Americas at Phillips in late April. “You want to work toward something cohesive because it gives you some discipline and it makes the collection, as a whole, worth more than the sum of its parts.” Norman chose five works on paper and one sculpture, all from New York’s May sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. “If you don’t have an unlimited budget, look at different mediums,” he advises. “A million will barely get you anything for a painting, but it gets you some very fine drawings.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Nu couché au collier
Pablo Picasso (1970)
Estimate: $180,000 to $250,000 at Christie’s New York

Why this: “It’s about the importance of the female nude throughout his career and his ability to endlessly refresh it,” Norman says. “It’s like a scaffolding upon which he could improve.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Cinq baigneuses
Paul Cezanne (1879-82)
Estimate: $150,000 to $250,000 at Christie’s New York

Why this: “This drawing is enhanced by its association with a major painting,” Norman says.

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Liegender Maedchenakt Nach Rechts, in Ganzer Figur
Egon Schiele (1917)
Estimate: $250,000 to $350,000 at Christie’s New York

Why this: “People who are new to drawing often shy away from works on paper, either because they’re more familiar with oil on canvas, or they might (incorrectly) perceive drawings as more fragile.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Reclining Figure: Snake
Henry Moore (conceived in 1939-40)
Estimate: $120,000 to $180,000 at Christie’s New York

Why this: “I think it’s too cheap,” Norman says. “I know if it doesn’t make more, someone would have gotten a great deal.” Plus, “it’s a wonderful realization of the reclining figure in three dimensions.”

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flute de pan, enfant
Pablo Picasso (1923)
Estimate: $150,000 to $250,000 at Sotheby’s New York

Why this: “An A-quality Picasso work on paper is better to spend your money on than a B-minus painting.” This drawing is an “excellent” example.

Where to Invest $1 Million in Art Right Now

Trois odalisques
Henri Matisse (1928)
Estimate: $150,000 to $250,000 at Sotheby’s New York

Why this: “The Matisse drawing market has been a little flat because there are a lot of mediocre works,” Norman says. “This is a much more elaborate composition.”

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Gaddy at jgaddy@bloomberg.net, Chris Rovzar

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.