Markets, as the world has been reminded so horrendously, can go down as well as up. Sometimes disastrously, as the once extravagantly booming London and New York art markets, the most important in the world, have found to their cost.
Take Sotheby's, with its 6000-odd staff and nearly 50 branches around the world. Its contemporary sales in New York in November 2007, when the streets seemed paved with gold, totalled US$418 million ($795 million); a year later, they made US$160 million. Any bets on how many of those Sotheby's employees will still be there by the middle of this year? How many branches will still be operating?
Like everyone else, New Zealand has felt the credit crunch. But how will it affect the New Zealand art market? Are we likely to see drops in prices and turnovers on an international meltdown scale?
Well, no, in this observer's view. The New Zealand art market, as reflected through the auction houses, has some of the characteristics of the New Zealand economy - small and isolated, in particular. But unlike the economy at large it is not dependent on overseas sales or financial movements. If it were, it might have followed the roller-coaster ride of the art market in Australia in recent years. Huge rises there in 2006 and 2007 were followed by a drop towards
the end of last year and what is likely to be a precipitous fall this year.
By comparison, the New Zealand market has been remarkably steady. After a brief surge in 2003 and 2004, it has settled down at around the $15 million annual mark. No boom and therefore, as auction houses have their fingers firmly crossed, no likelihood of a bust this year.
Admittedly, last year's figure was boosted by a series of outstanding Goldie sales at the International Art Centre, where four works by the artist topped the $200,000 mark, and three sales topped $1.5 million. Recession or not, buyers will still invest in top-quality New Zealand historic works.
But modern and contemporary art? We may not know until Webb's first major sale, on April 6.
While no one is expecting a market crash, most of the houses are girding up for a tough year when they will have to work extra hard and tighten belts for rewards. Webb's is doing both by expanding its Manukau Rd premises and embarking on new on-line services, as well as putting more effort into private treaty sales.
There are still collectors out there ready to pay good money for good works; but the idea of buying art as a get-rich-quick investment for the ordinary punter is dead. More than ever the motto is: buy what you like, and can afford, but don't expect to make your fortune.
At least, unlike investing in a fall-over finance company, you can enjoy art while it's on the wall.
February 17: Cordy's, antiques and art.
February 24: Webb's, A2 art, wine.
February 25: Webb's, jewellery.
February 26: Webb's, antiques and decorative arts.
March 3: International Art Centre, important, early and rare art.
March 17: Cordy's, antiques and art.
March 18: Webb's, motorbikes.
April 6: Webb's, important art.