Experts discern a bubble in the Greek art market

When Christie’s began auctioning Greek art about 15 years ago, very few could have imagined the rapid growth in the specific market. Today at auctions held by Sotheby’s and Bonhams, hundreds of paintings by important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries change hands for millions of euros, and not all of them from the pockets of shipowners. Buying art, however, demands passion, financial means and knowledge. Newcomers might have the first two qualities but if they don’t know their subject, they have to resort to experts as the burden of proof of a painting’s worth lies not with the auction house but with the prospective buyer. In Greece there is no institutional framework for verifying the authenticity of works of art. Moreover there are very few art history experts, even fewer qualified art restorers and a mere handful knowledgeable buyers, so there is no real framework of operation for a free market. Experts at the National Gallery in Athens are forbidden by law from issuing written certificates of authenticity unless called upon to do so by a public authority. Prices have risen so much for Greek works of art that people are already talking about a bubble in the art market. The experts that Kathimerini talked to all spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing threats from certain circles operating in the art world in recent years. It appears that anyone taking part in an auction is unprotected, particularly when there is considerable pressure to find «good» pieces. Hundreds of art forgeries are hanging in Greek salons with or without their owner’s knowledge. At the same time, there is in Greece a class of nouveaux riches who believe owning art gives them social status, that it is a fast way of putting a patina on their newly acquired wealth, but they don’t really care too much about what they buy or, in particular, at what price.

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