International Caribbean Art Fair (ICAFair)

Appraising Caribbean Art: A Three Point Guide

By Donna Thompson Ray

Posted: November 3, 2009

Bernard Wah

Bernard Wah, Untitiled, Courtesy: The Wah Gallery

Caribbean art is an emerging field in the international art market. To be sure, through publication, exhibition, auction sales, and major museum collections, more than a handful of artists of Caribbean descent have distinguished their presence in the international art market: Jean-Michel Basquiat (Haiti/Puerto Rico), Wifredo Lam (Cuba), Bernard Wah (Haiti), Edna Manley (Jamaica), among others. As a collector, you must recognize and appreciate both the aesthetic and economic value of your artwork.


Disasters happen. How many unexpected “crises” and “interruptions” did you encounter this year? Last year? Were you prepared? Be honest. In our busy culture, a lot can happen…in an instant:

  • Fire
  • Burglary
  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Health
  • Moving
  • Estate Liquidation

Whether you own a Basquiat or a “Ras X,” an Escoffery painting or a drawing by Vladimir Cybil, art is an asset and is factored into your total net worth. As an asset, artwork requires long-term care and management, including such services as an appraisal, an updated inventory, and a condition report. A professional appraisal will document the value of your artwork(s) according to valuation theory and the applicable art market. An appraisal can assist you in recovering insurance money. The following will explain three key areas of the appraisal process. Following this guide will help you maintain and build your collection of Caribbean art to serve future generations.


1. What Is An Appraiser And How Do I Hire One?


An appraiser provides an opinion of value in the form of a professional appraisal report. Don’t cheat yourself. Hire a professional appraiser who is a member of a trade association such as the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), Appraisers Association of America (AAA) or International Society of Appraisers (ISA). Each of these trade associations maintains a membership directory. Use the directory to identify appraisers in your geographic area who specialize in the artwork you collect.


Carefully review an appraiser’s résumé and references. Hire an appraiser that is certified in the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), the governing policy for professionally prepared appraisers developed by Appraisal Standards Board of The Appraisal Foundation.


Avoid hiring an appraiser who offers to buy the items or charges a percentage of the item's value. This is a conflict of interest.


2. How Do I Prepare For An Appraisal?


Appraisers charge a flat fee or per hour/day rate. Prices for appraisals vary by region. Before your appraisal, organize the following items and information. Preparing these materials in advance will help cut-down on your cost.

  • Bill of sale, receipts, certificate of authenticity
  • Name(s) of artist, title(s) of work and year (if available), medium and dimensions of artwork to be appraised
  • Provenance (history of ownership)
  • Report of repairs made, condition of artwork
  • Exhibition and publication history of artwork

Request an estimate and approve a letter of agreement. This is your contract for services. Make sure you are fully aware of your responsibilities as a client, i.e. payment schedule, materials to provide, disclosure of information. Avoid deviating from the number of items to be appraised as per the documentation in your contract for services. Changes to the originally agreed upon service will require a new contract. Be reflective about your expectations of the appraisal process.


3. What Kind Of Appraisal Will I Get?


The kind of appraisal you get depends on the reason you require an appraisal. A professional appraiser will know which valuation approach to apply for your specific circumstance. Legal requirements may be applicable. Appraisals are required for such purposes as charitable donation, insurance, equitable distribution, estate liquidation, archival management, and sales.


Your professionally prepared appraisal report will include a scope of work, definition of the valuation method applied, item description(s), photographs, glossary, bibliography, appraiser’s credentials, and opinion of value among other items. A report can take several weeks or months to complete. Every appraisal has different variables that dictate production. Update your appraisal every three to five years.


As the Caribbean art market experiences increasing attention from world-wide collectors, it is important for you to have a leading edge on the value of your collection. An appraisal of your artwork will help document your asset’s value, providing accuracy in calculating your total net worth. This is your legacy. Be prepared. Know what you own and what it is worth.


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