An Approach to Advanced Problems in Appraising Art with a special focus on Cuba

One of our most popular posts of recent weeks was the story about appraiser Alex J. Rosenberg’s informal presentation, late last month, on art appraisal in Cuba. We’ve now had a chance to look over the book ourselves, and find it to be a thoughtful, comprehensive overview of the field and the unique challenges facing art appraisal in Cuba.

With that in mind, we thought Cuban Art News readers would enjoy a brief excerpt from the book, An Approach to Advanced Problems in Appraising Art with a special focus on Cuba.Here, Alex makes his case for art appraisal in Cuba as an independent professional field, separate from government sponsorship or support.

We expect that, like last month’s story, this excerpt will trigger some interesting discussions. We’d love to hear about them. Please send comments using the Contact Form or Submit News link in the footer at the bottom of the page.

Appraising art in Cuba is done under conditions far different from those in the United States. Today, while the methodology and connoisseurship remains the same as in the U.S., the circumstances and client base are far different. In the U.S., many of the most successful appraisers earn their livelihood appraising art in matters that relate to the IRS [Internal Revenue Service] (estimates and tax-deductible gifts).

None of this exists in Cuba, as almost all important art in Cuba belongs to government-owned institutions. The Cuban appraiser has only one major client—the Cuban Government. However, the art being auctioned belongs to private parties. The present laws of Cuba do not include estate taxes or tax-deductible gifts, as these activities—prominent in the U.S.—do not exist in Cuba. Insurance appraisals and appraisals to claim for insured art that has been lost or damaged in Cuba is practically not available to Cuban citizens.

The other potential fields are performing appraisal services for either the very small group of Cubans who have art they wish to sell or for the relatively large number of foreigners in Cuba who own art—both Cuban and foreign—and continue to buy and sell it. These people require appraisals for insurance that is available to them as well as for determining the market value of the art they wish to buy or sell either in Cuba or abroad.

The main benefit of encouraging the appraisers’ group affects chiefly the Cuban Government and its cultural institutions. For the first time in about 50 years, there is now a group able to examine art in Cuba and determine its monetary value and importance to the national patrimony. Cuban museums and other institutions contain a great number of important artworks that have not been appraised: classic, modern, and contemporary (native as well as foreign). Appraisal information can allow museums to sell off non-essential or inferior art (or foreign art) to improve their collections. An inventory of the art belonging to the Cuban people will inform the authorities of the location of art and allow for a more equitable distribution. While there may be several examples of one artist’s work in Cienfuegos, at the same time there may be none in Havana. At present, to my knowledge, while the museums may know the number of works by a specific artist they have in their collections, there may not be anyone with an overall view of that artist’s representation in various public collections. This shortcoming can be easily overcome by using the collective results of appraisers working together as a group and maintaining an art bank.

Not only will apraising in Cuba standardize values, both aesthetic and monetary, and lead to a much better knowledge of the location of the patrimony, but also it will allow for the exchange of art to create larger and more valid exhibitions and collections. Appraising will create new jobs, as more photographers, typists, researchers, etc., will be needed to support the work of the appraisers. Also, as the appraisers will be working for foreigners, they will be able to earn foreign currency, a very desirable commodity in Cuba.

Appraising Cuban art outside of Cuba is even more difficult. The most well-known Cuban artists (alive and deceased) have dealers outside of Cuba selling their work and creating market prices that are often higher than those charged by the artists when selling in Cuba. A substantial number of artists have no outlets in foreign countries, particularly in the U.S. or Europe. This leaves the United States appraisers with the choice of using U.S. auction results, which only cover those artists the auction houses include in their sales, the one or two art fairs held annually in the U.S., getting undependable sales or offering prices from the few U.S. dealers who sell Cuban art, or getting information from Cuba. With the exception of auction results, the only information available is highly problematic. Further, unless the art to be appraised is of very high value, it is economically unfeasible to go to Cuba to seek out more reliable information. This is made more difficult by the requirement of a license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to be able to travel to Cuba, which at this time is not easily attained though it is getting easier for art dealers.

An Approach to Advanced Problems in Appraising Art with a special focus on Cuba is available for purchase online.