Thank you for submitting this question, as it tends to come up frequently in our work. We are large proponents of detailed record keeping when it comes to artwork. A previous appraisal report can be a tremendous asset when trying to determine ownership and provenance, and can even help in verifying authenticity, depending on the artwork and the appraisal. However, the values listed on a previous appraisal report aren’t necessarily a good indicator of an item’s current value. As in all cases with our research, whether or not an appraisal value remains reliable long-term varies significantly from item to item, and each item requires individual assessment.
That being said, when asked this question, we typically have a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is this: no, your appraisal report from 1983 is no longer a reliable reflection of its value. Why? Because the typical shelf life of an appraisal report is only three to five years. That may seem like a short span of time, especially for artworks that may be quite old by comparison, but there’s good reason for it, which brings us to the long answer.
When we conduct an appraisal for an item such as your sculpture, we are zeroing in on that item’s current market value at the time of our report. The art market, like stock, can be a fickle friend. Just as shares from different companies will vary in value according to their profitability and visibility in the market, each artist has their own unique market with trends and fluctuations that reflect the public’s interest in their work. The value of a particular artist’s work can go up and down over the years as their oeuvre’s style changes in popularity. While it is true that we see some movements, styles, and artists whose markets remain fairly stable over time, there is always the possibility of a shift. Reasons affecting this can be cultural, following general changes in public tastes and opinions, or it can be due to more distinct events, such as a recent historical discovery surrounding an artist, a change in attribution of their works, or their death.
The number of market developments that can occur even in five years can be significant enough to make a previous appraisal obsolete. And with a range of unique factors affecting each item, it must be assumed that there’s the possibility of a shift having occurred within their markets. Our ethical responsibility as appraisers is to ensure that any such shifts are not overlooked, so that our evaluation is faithful to the current state of the market. Unfortunately this can sometimes mean being the bearers of bad news, but on the bright side if there’s anything we have learned from over twenty years of experience in this field, it’s that values never stay static forever.
Thank you again for your question Deanna, I hope our response is helpful. In your case, I do think it would be in your interest to check with a qualified appraiser to get an updated opinion on the sculpture’s value.
If any of our readers have general interest questions about the appraisal process, the art world, or art history, please feel free to comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ASK MIR. We will select 1-2 questions every month to answer on our blog. If you have questions about a specific piece of artwork, please email or call our office and one of our staff members can assist you.
Written by Grace Walsh, Research Assistant
Farhad Radfar, ISA, AM