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Smart Buying

Boomers Cashing Out Their Art Collections

That spells opportunity for buyers of modern and contemporary art.

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Kiplinger's interviewed Peter Loughrey (pictured below), the founder of Los Angeles Modern Auctions, which specializes in the resale of vintage, modern, and contemporary art and design. Read excerpts from our interview below.

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Why are baby boomers unloading their art? Boomers have been the primary acquirers of modern and contemporary art over the past 30 years. Now that they’re reaching their sixties and seventies, they’re looking to dispose of their collections. I think we’ll see most of it come on the market in the next 10 to 15 years. Sub­sequent generations don’t always share the passions of previous ones, but Gen­eration X and millennials seem to be interested in buying the same materials.

What areas are ripe for a bargain? Look for works glutting the market now but that experts agree are historically important. For example, L.A. artist Laddie John Dill’s compositions of glass and concrete made a huge impact in the 1980s. But they’re going out of fashion, and people don’t have room for some of his massive, heavy pieces. You can buy his works for 5 cents on the dollar compared with what they used to sell for. A few years from now, however, I think that millennials will want to buy things from the ’80s. They’ll start to get rare and shoot up in price.

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Find out what local art institutions are planning. Buyers have been quietly picking up paintings and lithographs by Carlos Almaraz, whose most iconic works depict car crashes and park settings in L.A., because the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is holding the first major retrospective of his art in 2017. These types of events create interest among collectors and may increase prices.

Photo by Jose Mandojana

How can buyers tell if they’re getting a good deal? There’s a bargain at every auction, but you must learn about the marketplace before you buy. Start by talking to auctioneers and exploring their websites to find out what items are worth. Go to a few auctions but don’t buy anything, just build your knowledge base. Be willing to bide your time.

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Where are the opportunities for those looking to sell? Modern art from the 1950s and ’60s is becoming very hot, and so are works from the first period of contemporary art that emerged in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Prints, drawings and paintings by John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha are as desirable in London as they are in New York or L.A. The market is global for some of these still-living contem­porary masters. Some pieces, such as Picasso ceramics and Warhol prints, are like blue-chip stocks—they’ve steadily risen in value over time.