If you fancy combining tourism with fine art appreciation, there are plenty of vacation packages that will take you to sites of artistic and cultural importance or allow you to get creative yourself. Similarly, if investing in art is your main interest, lots of organisations will teach you how to do it.
Increasingly, though, the two are being combined. Collectors, and those who aspire to own art, can now take intensive courses in art history and investment on location. That location could be a world art fair or a sculpture site deep in the Nevada desert.
The explosion of wealth worldwide has created a vast class of new buyers with a particular interest in modern and contemporary art.
Sotheby’s Institute of Art offers three-day art tours during contemporary art fairs, with lectures and discussions led by faculty members and outside experts. Morning lectures are followed by visits to the fair.
“It evolved from our philosophy of teaching at the institute, which is to go out into the field and view the actual art objects, for people to experience what they are learning,” says Clare Brown, marketing director at the institute.
The most recent tour was held in June in Switzerland at Art Basel 38, the largest modern and contemporary art fair. In November another tour will head to Art Paris in Abu Dhabi. Then there is Art Basel at Miami Beach in December. Aside from the fair, the Miami course also takes students on tours of private collections in the city and the more important satellite fairs.
The tours aim to convey a better appreciation of both contemporary art and the broader art investment market. The art investment lectures include how to approach a dealer and get a good deal, and how to build a valuable collection.
“We pass on the fact that with certain artists, it’s possible to get a 20 per cent discount if you buy from a dealer, whereas with other artists you might be better off buying at auction,” says Iain Robertson, head of Art Business Studies at Sotheby’s Institute and a lecturer on the courses. “The other thing is how to buy a basket of assets and actually come out with something that increases in value and you can sell.”
Christie’s Education, which already runs courses, including visits to permanent and temporary collections in the New York area, is also planning on taking groups further afield. “We’ve started to go out on more visits, as we’ve found that they’re tremendously popular,” says Julie Reiss, associate professor at the faculty.
Next March she hopes to take a group to the contemporary art museum, the Chinati Foundation, in Marfa, Texas, and then go on to the Nevada desert to see the earth artist Michael Heizer’s work Double Negative. “The trouble is, Double Negative is in an inaccessible area,” she says. “I’m still working on finding a little fleet of Jeeps that will take us there.”
Reiss got the idea for the trip when she led a day course to Dia in Beacon, New York, in May, on how to view contemporary art. “We put everybody on a bus [and] lectured to them on the way there, then we went around Dia and then came back to the classroom,” she says.
Although some people sign up because they are collectors or want to buy more, the focus of Christie’s Education courses is more academic and historic and not on the mechanics of buying art. Nevertheless, they do give participants an important hands-on insight if they choose to collect.
Those who attend Sotheby’s Institute and Christie’s Education courses are a diverse group, from New York hedge fund managers and other aspirant collectors to professional dealers and gallery directors.
Given the mix of knowledge and experience, how is the course content decided? “It’s a challenge, obviously, but contemporary art requires less of a background than the other
markets,” says Robertson. “After you’ve looked at one or two artists, key figures and a few significant dealers, you can give people a pretty good feel from a starting base of zero.”
For people serious about taking their interest in art to the next level in a short time, the fees seem reasonable. The next course at Art Basel in Miami, for example, costs $2,400. Participants must make their own travel and hotel arrangements, but lectures, guided visits, lunches and entrance to the art fair are included. Christie’s Education’s Texas and Nevada tour is yet to be confirmed, but Reiss says it tries to keep prices low.
The biggest selling point is that tours are fun. During Sotheby’s Institute’s previous trip to Art Basel, Miami, those on the course met for drinks at Palms Hotel, a luxurious seafront hotel on Miami’s South Beach, where lectures took place and had plenty of opportunities to get to know each other. “We have dinners every night and talk about what we’ve seen. It’s really very sociable,” says Robertson.