Kathryn Graddy: Putting a value on stolen art

Photo/Mike Lovett

Professor Kathryn Graddy

Another case of stolen artwork has puzzled the Boston art community.
The Boston Public Library recently reported that a print by Albrecht Dürer, an engraving of Adam and Eve, and an etching of a Rembrandt self-portrait are missing from its collection. The two prints collectively are valued at more than $600,000.

Given the sophisticated tools and techniques available today to track the origin and ownership of famous artwork, stolen art is considered nearly impossible to re-sell in the legitimate market and even in the black market. If a piece of art that was once missing is later recovered, however, does its value change in any way?

Kathryn Graddy, the Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Professor in Economics, is an expert in art auctions, price discrimination and anti-competitive behavior. She has worked in areas such as the creativity of artists, auction guarantees and behavioral economics of auction prices.
Graddy, who teaches in the economics department and at the Brandeis International Business School, sat down with BrandeisNOW to talk about placing a value on art and how theft of a piece of art might influence its potential value.

Rembrandt self portrait
Adam and Eve by Dürer
Photos/Wiki Commons

BrandeisNOW: Would the value of a stolen piece of art rise once it’s been found?

Kathryn Graddy: I suspect it would. Provenance—meaning who owned it before—matters. If a piece of art has been shown in a museum or held by a well-known collector, people may want it more. Likewise, the publicity generated by artwork that is stolen and then hidden from view may also increase a work’s value. 

BrandeisNOW: How does provenance affect the value of a piece?
Graddy: Provenance establishes an external validity of the importance of a work and its beauty. People also like to be associated with famous collectors and well-known museums or galleries.  Notoriety would also likely increase a work’s value, too. And a stolen work does gain notoriety.

BrandeisNOW: Is there a science to deciphering the value of art? 

Graddy: Many people estimate how specific factors affect the value of art. The medium is important. An oil painting, for example, is generally more valuable. The artist and the time period are both obviously key factors as well. Bigger paintings on average sell for more. All of these things matter. The two pieces taken from the Boston Public Library were prints, which generally sell for less than original works. There are also other copies of prints held elsewhere.
BrandeisNOW: This complicated process seems quite subjective. Are there any objective ways of going about this?
Graddy: One method commonly used is to predict value is to take an artwork’s previous sale price and then predict its current price by using the percentage increase in a general art index.

Categories: Arts, General, Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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