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Buyer Beware: Avoiding Pitfalls When Buying Fine Art

Our Managing Partner Gerard Ng and Specialist Counsel Vincent Ooi recently published an article in the Business Times titled: “Buyer beware: Avoiding pitfalls when buying fine art”. The article draws on Gerard’s extensive experience in collecting art and contains an introduction to the key concepts of purchasing fine art, such as provenance, authenticity, and ownership.

With the local art scene preparing for the return of large in-person art fairs, it is an opportune time to revisit this important issue. The article notes the importance of doing a careful tracing of the provenance of the artwork one seeks to acquire, looking at prior owners’ names, ownership dates, ownership transfers, and locations where the artwork was kept. It also explains how to conduct searches on established art databases and registries to ensure that the seller has good title to a genuine piece of art.

While it is common for artwork to be bought and sold without a written contract, the article cautions against this and suggests that both buyers and sellers will find it helpful to have the sale and its terms documented in writing. Especially where the artwork has an incomplete ownership history, it is important to make it clear in the contract that the seller is responsible for the accuracy of the provenance. This can prevent difficulties if issues with the artwork are discovered in the future. Different considerations may also apply depending on whether the artwork is an Old Master, modern art or even an NFT.

The article concludes with three tips when purchasing art:
• Visit Art fairs, galleries and museums – These venues expose you to different art forms, mediums, and techniques, and introduce you to artists and art from different parts of the world in one space;

• Do your Research – Before taking the plunge, research the art and the artists to have an idea of the style of work, or even if a specific artist’s work resonates with you, speaks to your heart; and

• Don’t chase Trends – Trends expose you to art you may not have seen. But trends arrive fast and dissipate just as quickly. The guiding principle is buying art with your heart (because you love it), not based on trends (because it is a good investment). Remember, if you buy art purely on potential investment upside, you will never know whether the value is heading north or south. You may end up with artwork that you do not enjoy looking at and living with.

Do feel free to reach out to Gerard or Vincent from our art practice to discuss the key considerations when purchasing art.

The article may be accessed here:

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