Olyvia Kwok made her debut in the art world when she purchased a Chinese scroll painting at an auction for $33,000 and later sold it at a Hong Kong auction house for $220,000. She was just 22 years old at the time. Today, Kwok has accumulated over 15 years experience in art collection and has founded her own firm, Willstone Management, where she now offers bespoke art investment services.
In this exclusive interview, Olyvia Kwok shares her insights to her art investment success.
The first point she underlines is that while investing in art can be lucrative, there’s no guarantee that your purchasing decisions will make you a pretty penny. It’s not as simple as buying an expensive or beautiful piece of art, then just waiting until you decide to sell it and expecting it to make a return. In order to make smart purchases, it is vital that you thoroughly investigate the piece you’re interested in and make an investment decision that also reflects the market conditions. Kwok explains that art is about “Knowing the trends and getting it right. Art retains its value. Unlike other assets, such as stocks, the value will never drop to nothing. A Picasso could go today for £20 million or the same work could go tomorrow for £15 million, but it will always be a Picasso.”
When Kwok purchased the Chinese scroll painting for $33,000, she did so because she believed the painting was worth a lot more than it was on auction for. She took a risk and luckily, it paid off. Investors need to be able to identify whether a perceived risk is worth taking and differentiate those ‘gut feelings’ from the ‘confident’ choices that are far more likely to be financially rewarding.
Kwok confesses that, “Art can be like super-high-fashion trends. Prices can depend on what is fashionable. One day it could be Impressionists and the next Surrealists, that’s why it’s so important to stay in touch with the market and do your research.”
Her advice is to try to get involved in art networking events and build valuable connections with people in the art industry. These people may be able to offer you useful advice and help you with your investment endeavours. Kwok recently held a series of invitation-only events in New York and London known as “Olyvia’s Soirées,” which offered art works for sale to major collectors wishing to circumvent the auction houses. The private collection included work from by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Prince, Tom Wesselmann and Andy Warhol—priced between $2m-$10m.
Notorious for its volatility, today’s art market is increasingly vulnerable to rising interest rates, political noise and slowing global growth. Kwok advises investors to “adapt quickly to the economic climate and act accordingly”, avoiding snap decisions.
Despite Sotheby’s’ quarterly earnings call in November 2018 – suggesting an overall downturn due to speculated political destabilisation in China – Kwok noticed that some Asian buyers have continued to slowly make their way into the market, opening up some new investment avenues. She has also witnessed increased artistic appetite from millennials and an explosion in online sales. Kwok’s final instruction is that first time investors thoroughly reflect on these trends before making any purchasing decisions, to not get carried away in the furore of auction houses – and to remember that a buyer’s premium of 10-30% is usually added to the final amount that you’ll pay!