Pricing & Value in the Fine Art Market: Q & A with Douglas Flanders

Pricing & Value in the Fine Art Market: Q & A with Douglas Flanders

Posted December 30th, 2020 by Bridget Kranz

In a follow-up to our profile on Douglas Flanders & Associates, the gallerist discusses what to look for in an investment piece, how crowded auctions are impacting prices, and how restoration can factor into buying and selling.

This article is sponsored by Flanders and AssociatesFlanders Logo


Bridget Kranz: There are so many ways to define the value of an artwork, what do you tell first-time buyers to look for? How does that change based on a person’s motivation for collecting?

Douglas Flanders: When someone comes in having never purchased art before, we tell them to walk around, look at the art, and get a feel for what they like — then we focus in on that area, because we carry everything from the Old Masters to graffiti. We carry a lot of abstract work, and some people aren’t sure what they mean when they say abstract. A contemporary landscape could be abstract to them — we try to figure out their definition of those words. We also try to establish what their intent is for the collection. Do they want it to be primarily an investment or decorative?

Some people who bought an $800 piece back in 1972, they’re quite wealthy today, and people say, “What’s going to be the next big investment?” We never know. We can only, based on our experience, make suggestions. No matter what happens value-wise, years from now we hope they’ll have enjoyed living with the piece. If it’s a work that has increased in value, that’s a big bonus.


Doug in New York City for an art fair, with "Steve Flanders" street sign (no relation, although Steve is his brother's name).


If someone comes in wanting an investment piece – or at least one that likely won’t depreciate – what should they look for?

If an artist is getting good exposure through museum exhibitions — if they’re being collected by museums and books are coming out on them — we say that their careers are going in a good direction... Not everything appreciates. Art goes up and down in price based on popularity. Artists who were popular but haven’t had big exhibitions lately, their work might be worth less now than when they were younger.

In general, I also tell people to stay away from reproductions. They should buy an original piece, hand-painted, when possible. There are a lot of people who make a painting, photograph it, then make prints of it digitally. If people who are buying that realize what they’ve purchased, that’s one thing. On the other hand, we’ve gotten calls from people to come and appraise their art collections, and when I get there I find out they’re all reproductions. Those people have paid a lot of money, and a lot of what they paid for is the framing.


At the gallery, what goes into determining price? Who is involved in that conversation?

If the artist is alive, we might contact them and say, “We have a client reselling this, what do you think?” A lot of deceased artists have estates or foundations where people manage the work that is left, and we compare prices with them. It also depends on the condition — has it faded in the sun, is there damage? The better the condition, the more it will increase in value.

When we start with younger, local artists, we usually tell them to set lower prices and see what kind of response we get from the public. We can always raise the prices as time goes by — there have been very few artists where we’ve ever lowered the prices. Right now we have a show up where everything is priced at $1,000 or less. In January, we might see how things sold and raise the gallery prices based on response.


Two works available through the gallery. Left: Red Poppies by Marcel Dyf. Dyf was a French artist born 1899, known for his delicate impressionist still lifes and landscapes. Right: Summer Country Fields with a Barn Red by Joyce Weinstein. Weinstein is an American abstract painter. This series are all based on aerial images.


What role do auctions play in determining the financial value of a work?

People watch auctions a lot more than they used to. Auctions used to be for galleries and art dealers, but now many more people from the public are getting into it. Something that might normally go for $10,000 to $15,000 can easily go for $25,000 to $35,000 at auction because of the number of people. Auctions used to be considered wholesale; now things are selling at more and more of a retail price. I’m currently bidding on some pieces where I had a wholesale level in mind, and it’s gone way beyond that.

With original prints, there is frequently more than one on the market at a time — you can search online to see if a print is available at multiple places and do some shopping. What we do is make sure the condition of the piece is pristine, and then it will have top value... People have to ask about the condition, ask the dealer to take it out of the frame. When it’s essentially the same piece and it’s a different price, there’s a reason.


What options are available for people looking to buy or sell a work in poor condition?    

Sometimes you can buy a damaged piece and, depending on what the damage is, have it restored for a reasonable rate and end up owning a piece for a lot less money.

You have to find out if it’s restorable and what restoration would cost. There are a lot of things, like cracking and holes in the canvas, that are permanent. It can be fixed so visually it looks perfect, but the hole is there and that can’t be changed — it still alters the value of the piece.    


The Gallery's second location, now open at 5025 S. France Ave. in Edina.


What appraisal services does the gallery offer? How often do you recommend that people get work reappraised?

We always put together a notebook with a certificate of authenticity and current market value on pieces that we sell, so people can list them with their insurance company. That’s something we do as part of the purchase. Every few years, I would say to get it reappraised. If something goes up in value substantially, I’ll call the buyer and tell them.

We were working with a woman whose husband worked for Boeing, and his territory was in Asia. She would go with him and bring back artwork. One of the artists had a show with us, and our most expensive piece was around $13,000. A couple of months later, one of his paintings sold at auction for $600,000. We contacted galleries in Asia to see what they were doing, and we reappraised the pieces we had sold. We have no idea when that’s going to happen, but we do our best to let people know when it does.


What resources do you recommend for buyers wanting to research a specific artist?

Our archives are really good, and I often go to the Walker and Minneapolis Institute of Art libraries. We try to keep up with monographs on most of our artists. We just bought a beautiful new book on Hazel Belvo, and one on Doug Argue — a former Minnesota artist. We also get catalogues. There are not as many being made today as there used to be, but there are still galleries publishing catalogues. These usually include an essay by an art critic, illustrations of many of the pieces, and a biography of the artist at the back. ◼︎   


Top: Hazel Belvo's new book, A Matriarch of Art. Bottom: The gallery's current show, running through January 31st, of works all for sale for $1000 or less.

Douglas Flanders is the founder and owner of Douglas Flanders & Associates Fine Art Gallery + Consultants, located at 818 W. Lake Street in Minneapolis. A second location is now open at 5025 S. France Avenue in Edina, complete with a library of art books and resources for buyers.

This is the second of two sponsored posts. Read more about the gallery's history in our first article here.

All photos are courtesy of the gallery.

Community Spotlight

We can't do it without you.

Help keep independent arts journalism alive in the Twin Cities.