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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 19, 2008
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Polish Art Market
November 19, 2008   
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Though still small, Poland's art market is growing rapidly as the number of people who can afford to buy artwork increases.

Until the 1990s there was a monopoly on the Polish art market, as with most things in communist countries, controlled by the formerly state-run company Desa. The result was relatively high prices, with art treated as something reserved for museum collections.

But now the market is expanding. The number of auction houses and galleries has increased, as have their sales. And as with any market, it is at its strongest when there is economic stability.

The main art buyers in Poland are individuals, unlike the overseas market, where large companies and corporations are dominant among buyers.

Polish paintings, sculpture, and photography are all increasing in sales, whether it is for corporate offices or private homes. What an investor looks for in a painting depends on the money they will get back. More ambitious works of art rarely reenter the market, as owners see them as a more rewarding investment. This is because ultimately the investment in art is usually intended to be long term.

Marianna Otmianowska of Desa Unicum auction house and gallery says that "people invest for themselves, their children, or grandchildren, and it is a lot easier to sell a very good artwork than to acquire it." As the popularity of investment in art increases, banks are offering services known as art banking, as well as investment funds for art.

Traditional artists are still the most popular. Jolanta Krasuska from the AgraArt auction house and gallery says that an artist's reputation is still of key importance. And this is reflected in sales. In March works by Polish traditional artists including Olga Boznańska, Wierusz Kowalski and Józef Brant featured prominently at AgraArt's auctions. Desa Unicum in a December auction held the record sale of last year, at zl.1.58 million, for Próba czwórki, a painting by Józef Chełmoński. The record for contemporary art was that for Tadeusz Kantor's work Człowiek z parasolami, at zl.295,000. The all-time high is Henryk Siemiracki's Rozbitek, which sold for zl.2.13 million.

Poland's art market has always been concentrated around older, traditional artworks, experts say. But in recent times contemporary art galleries have also been busy in what is a new trend by Polish standards. Marek Lengiewicz of Rempex auction house and gallery says that the contemporary market, though still far from dominant, contributes to a considerable amount of turnover.

In another new trend, a new generation of buyers is coming to the market: young people who may not be rich but who are keen on buying artworks by young artists for around zl.3,000-10,000 a piece-"to have something interesting on the wall," as otmianowska puts it.

Some collectors of older art are also changing their collections, adding contemporary art. The prices of older artworks are considerably higher, with a Czachorski, on sale through AgraArt, priced in the range of zl.1 million. But there are contemporary artists like Jerzy Nowosielski or Tadeusz Kantor whose works are fetching zl.100,000 and more.

Contemporary art is increasingly popular because it is more affordable, AgraArt's Krasuska says.

Often people simply buy items that they like. "There's not much point spending a lot of money on something that's going to be in a museum, or going to be behind a wardrobe," Otmianowska says. "People are inclined to buy something that they like, based on personal taste."

There is a wide interest in Poland in art, with galleries and auction houses not being short of visitors. But having the financial means to make a purchase means the difference between looking and buying. There's a substantial group who can occasionally afford to buy mid-priced works. There is a small group of around 2,000 people who regularly buy artworks. These include a few well-known collectors such as Krzysztof Musiał and Grażyna Kulczyk.

There are many galleries that offer a range of artwork with lower price tags by less well-known artists, which makes art accessible to aficionados. Galeria Art, for example, run by the Polish Arts Society, offers good quality artwork for around zl.1,000 per item.

But the main medium for purchase is auction houses. Art most often reaches the market not directly from the artist, but from an owner. Most auction houses hold one to two auctions every month, traditional and contemporary works being compiled separately.

Rempex has held around 200 auctions since their establishment in 1989, also offering specialized auctions on occasion.

From the average of 300-500 works a month on offer they sell no more than 40. Desa put up approximately 150-200 works each auction of which three-quarters obtain bids. AgraArt usually have 100 works, with a 70 to 80 percent sale average. They recently had a highly successful auction, with all 14 paintings on offer fetching over zl.3 million in total. A painting by Juliusz Kossak, for example, fetched a price almost four times its suggested price, selling at zl.350,000.

Taking artwork out of the country
There are strict regulations that make it difficult to export Polish art overseas. There are severe restrictions and problems when it comes to exporting paintings, special permission being required for paintings over 55 years old or for works by deceased artists.

Sara Czarnota

Leading auction houses and galleries in Warsaw

Rempex, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 4/6, tel. (48-22) 826 77 17, www.rempex.com.pl

Desa Unicum, ul. Marszałkowska 34/50
tel. (48-22) 584 95 41, www.desa.pl

AgraArt, ul. Wilcza 55/63
tel. (48-22) 625 08 08, www.agraart.pl

Polswiss Art, ul. Wiejska 20
tel. (48-22) 628 13 67, www.polswissart.pl
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