Lou Papouchado has collected antiques for more than 30 years and has developed an interest in painting in the past decade. He's recently combined the two pastimes in his new book, “What's It Worth? Factors Affecting the Valuation of Art Objects.”
“This whole area of values of antiques is something that has fascinated me because you can look at an object and say 'Wow, this is fantastic,' and then you hear the price, and it's perhaps surprisingly low. Then you look at another object, and it's very mundane, and the price is astronomical. There are so many different factors that affect these things,” Papouchado said.
A scientist at the Savannah River Site, Papouchado developed a model for estimating the value of an objet d'art before entering the heat of bidding on the auction floor.
In this model, the potential buyer considers four factors affecting worth, arranged in concentric circles.
The innermost circle is intrinsic value – the worth of the materials that went into making the object. Beyond that is the inherent value – what is done to the materials to create the object, including the skill of the artist.
“These are all physical aspects of the object,” he said. “A lot of people will try to say the artist's name is an intrinsic value, but it's really an attribution. If you look at a Rembrandt, it's fantastic, but museums have had fake Rembrandts, and they loved them and they were beautiful; the painting hasn't changed, but the attribution has changed,” he said.
The next circle is the object's attributions – a subjective quality that includes the artist's reputation, the historical importance of the object, rarity and provenance. The outermost circle is another subjective element, the investment value – in which the buyer places a bet on how much the object – or the reputation of the artist – will appreciate in the future.
“What the galleries will tell you is this person is the next Picasso, he's a rising star. If you buy it now for $10,000, in 10 years it will be worth $100,000,” said Papouchado. “There are positive trends and negative trends, things that all of a sudden become passe and auction prices start to dip down. Tastes change with time.”
Papouchado originally published the book just in digital form, intending it to be used as a workbook or reference.
Friends asked him to put it in paper form, so they could have something to carry with them into auctions or art galleries, so he created a paperback, which is available at the Curiosity Shop for $12.
“None of these values are new, but I've never seen them organized in this fashion. It's a scientist's view, a slightly different view of the art world. I really wanted to write about it, the difference between the physical and the psychological factors that go into value,” he said. “It's been a wonderful experience.”
Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University.