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Dabbling in the art market

  • 2008-01-30
  • By Howard Jarvis

COLOR OF MONEY: "Mother and Child" by Zenonas Varnauskas was one of 20 works of art sold at the Art Market Agency's second auction.

VILNIUS  - Like any other commodity, of course, art is bought, sold and invested in. Eagerly dabbling in ways to make more money, some zealous Lithuanian investors have taken up a new sport 's buying up homegrown works of art with the purpose of selling them off after five or ten years at a perky
profit.

But that should not be the main motivation behind a trip to an auction held by the recently established Meno rinkos agentura (Art Market Agency), insists Director Simona Makseliene. While it is true that local buyers tend to be either older collectors who acquire out of prestige, often negotiating within a small circle of like-minded individuals, or younger investors who know little about art, she has a common message for all of them.
"I say to both these groups 's the best thing, despite your investment plans, is to pay attention to your aesthetic instincts. Paintings have energy. If you buy one and put it up at home but don't actually like it, you won't be able to live with it. The art itself must be the primary motivation."

Makseliene has set up Lithuania's very first art auction house. There have been sporadic attempts in the past, in both Vilnius and Kaunas, to launch auction houses for the sale of antiques. But these quickly ceased, the organizers complaining that the market was not yet mature enough.
Makseliene, however, has been doggedly pursuing her goal of creating Vilnius' very own version of Christie's, so far holding two auctions. A third is scheduled for April 16.
The auction house so far lacks a roof 's there is no gallery where buyers can see artwork beforehand, and the auctions have so far been held at the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. But the second auction attracted 20 participants, 10 of whom ended up with purchases. Of the 45 artworks on offer, 20 were sold, five of which pushed up the bidding way higher than the opening bid.

Some of the art is of an exceptional standard. Oddly, however, much of the better quality work, such as the late Audrius Puipa's fantastically detailed interiors and the promising young artist Inga Liksaite's "Dreamer 2" remained unsold. The art that attracted the most ferocious bidding has tended to be naive and simple.
"Lithuanians are known for their conservative tastes, and art is no exception," laments Makseliene. "They are attracted to oil on canvas, but not to graphics or sculpture."

Other works, such as a series of four chimeric paintings by Zenonas Varnauskas entitled "Woman and Child" which sold for 6,000 litas (1,737 euros), have auctioned quickly close to the opening bid.
Usually if an artist is no longer living and no longer producing, that can also spice up the bidding. One case in point is Rimvidas Jankauskas, known as Kampas (corner), an erratic personality who died an alcoholic in 1993 at the age of 36. Using a disused synagogue in Kaunas as a studio, he created wonderful paintings such as "Copy of Antanas Samuolis' 'Woman in Yellow.'" One night, in a drunken stupor, he slashed this outstanding work with a knife and then mournfully tried to patch it up the following morning. It sold at the auction, the scars still clearly visible, for 10,100 litas.

Don't go to the next event expecting to lay your hands on artwork that went unsold at previous auctions. Makseliene has decided not to bring back these unwanted masterpieces. "We never try to sell the same work twice. An auction is not a shop. It's a game. Once you miss your chance, you miss your chance."

Listen up, investors.
Meno rinkos agentura
Tel. +370 5 2307 200
www.menorinka.lt