A common refrain about the art market is that speculators are driving prices up without regard to quality. Of course, that’s simplistic misreading of what makes art prices rise. Buyers chasing prices are usually ones who get stuck with art that is never worth as much as they paid for it. Real speculators buy when others don’t see value and sell when others see too much value.
Case in point, Giuseppe Nahmad who died in December and was memorialized by the Financial Times’s Peter Aspden. Nahmad was no conventional dealer but he’s still a prime example of the fact that art dealers are the market’s true speculators: they see value that others cannot.
He opened his first dealership in 1957 in Milan, where he was followed by his brothers. His fluency in several languages and ability to mix in artistic circles helped him to build a formidable stock of work, which he shuffled around European cities, taking advantage of price differentials. […]
It was Nahmad, known as Joe, eldest of the three brothers, who transformed the conventions of art dealership by holding on to works for a lengthy period instead of looking for quick “kills”. Essentially he regarded the buying and selling of art as a futures market.
That proved to be a spectacularly successful strategy. His early purchases of blue-chip masters of the impressionist and modern period in the 1950s paid off when those works increased manifold in value during subsequent art market booms.
But Nahmad sold as voraciously as he bought, establishing a reputation for shrewd timing. He sold aggressively in the inflated Japanese market of the 1980s, only to buy with equal enthusiasm in the wake of the Tokyo crash.