Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Online Art Market Information Services – A Survey – 2008 is the brainchild of journalist and art dealer Alastair Ashford, who worked closely with the University of Sussex after developing an initial idea put to him by ATG.

While he rates some of the 16 companies in the survey highly, Mr Ashford notes that they all use different indicators to assess performance and ignore whole tranches of the market in drawing up price trends for artists.

One of the key problems with the online price guides, he says, is that “the majority of people tasked to tackle art indexes are economists and statisticians, and they have never had any hands-on experience of the art world”.

Mr Ashford’s report sets out the history of how such online information services have developed and explores the different methodologies they use for measuring artists’ performance at auction.

He assesses the companies over a broad range of services, giving an overall star rating for each.

He singles out Texas-based David Kusin, a well-known figure who in the past has been responsible for the ground-breaking TEFAF studies, as the man to watch: “Kusin is better equipped than many of his contemporaries to wrestle with the market, because he has actually worked in it.”

Art Market Research, Artprice and Artnet also score highly.

But Mr Ashford pulls no punches in dismissing firms such as Beautiful Asset (“A well deserved Booby Prize winner”), Askart (“Only go there – if you dare”) and Findartinfo (“They appear to have got it all wrong”).

He points out that a significant problem with the online indexes is that they only consider prices achieved at auction. The latest TEFAF study claims that 52 per cent of global art sales are now made by dealers: “This means that the indexes that are produced daily rely on only 48 per cent of available information.”

The fact that they do not look at buy-in rates also affects the reliability of their figures, he argues.

Moving forward, Mr Ashford agrees with Mr Kusin that the whole online index business needs a complete rethink and a common methodology, which will bring together the two strands of evolving market analysis: the one that believes the art market correlates to the market in global securities and the other based on economics, finance and statistics.

Mr Ashford points to the Gurr Johns Managed Valuation Service as a possible way forward. “The methodology which lies behind it is pivotal,” he says. “This is not just an evaluation system, but it is possibly an innovative hybrid of the next generation for art market data analysis.

“Traditionally, the fine art and antiques business is a knowledge-based industry; reconcile this with technology and at last you will start to get somewhere.”

He also concludes that the service with most to offer in the future is Artfact, “but my opinion is that it will never play any radical card in the market place. The Thomson empire [its owner] simply doesn’t need to”.

The survey is available for £46 + £5 P&P within the UK from alastairashford@hotmail.com

By Ivan Macquisten