Art collector, Founder of Lot-Art
We interviewed fascinating Francesco Gibbi aka the brain behind Lot-Art about the inspiration for creating the platform, its revolutionizing nature, his journey as an art collector, tips for beginners, places to visit, and pieces to buy
A: How did your journey with art has started?
F: Well, as you know, I love beauty, I am very aesthetically oriented. I like to be surrounded by beautiful things that make me happy. Therefore, I like to buy art. As soon as I had a good salary, I started. The reason I became a collector was actually caused by the financial crisis of 2008 when the stock exchange collapsed. At that moment, I said to myself, “Okay - I am tired of losing money on things I can’t even see or touch.” I wanted to use my money to buy something that could give me pleasure and value, not only financially but in life. Assets of aesthetic, historical, and cultural value. You can’t get that from the stock exchange - that’s just a graph; you’re happy when it goes up and unhappy when it goes down. And you can’t even influence it because you’re just a small fish among big ones.
I wanted to become the big fish of the art market - that’s why I created Lot-Art. I wanted to invest in assets, something tangible I could enjoy in everyday life that wouldn’t disappear just because someone somewhere in the US made a financial mistake. So that’s why I became an art collector in 2008. Since then, it’s been quite the journey. The idea of being surrounded by beautiful things remained, but I also began looking at the financial side of art.
Art can be a good investment: The art market is very fluid, there are many geo arbitrages and information asymmetries. You can find similar artworks for a much different price in different places. And that’s why I created Lot-Art, to spot the best deals, worldwide.
A: Do you remember the moment which moved you to create Lot-Art?
F: When I became a collector to pull out from the stock exchange and foreign exchange, I decided to invest in physical assets. At first, I was buying through galleries, and galleries usually have very high prices - naturally, they have to pay the rent, employees, and so on, and all of that is paid by the buyer. By searching for an artist on the internet I found out that they sold for a third or a half of the gallery price on auctions. So, I moved on to auctions. However, there are thousands of auctions houses online. Lot-Art for example covers more than three thousand. It’s not humanly possible to search through thousands of auctions individually, so often you can miss a good deal or a rare piece that comes only every 10 years that you would have loved to buy - but you didn’t know, because you could only check the tip of the iceberg.
This is what made me think, how about I put every auction into one search engine, one aggregator. That way, I search thousands of auction houses worldwide in one click. Not just to search for one specific thing, because when you’re an eclectic collector, you might have twenty or thirty artists you want to search for in thousands of auction houses, and for that, you need a tool like Lot-Art. You can also create saved searches based on your favorite keywords and in the end, you don’t even need to search for anything, the system does it for you, 24/7. If something comes out on the market and matches your interest, you get an email saying: “Hey, there’s something for sale you might like on this date, at this price.” That is a game-changer. It allows people to scan the global art market and compare prices.
Of course, you also need to consider the shipping cost, especially if you’re buying something big! But it does allow you to exploit the geographic arbitrage because, in different places, different artists are viewed as more or less viable. So, if an artist is popular in the US but not in Germany, they will sell for less in Germany. And you can resell where people do like them and would pay more. Having access to big data can influence your purchasing and selling choices.
A: What will change in the art world?
F: Various changes are going on. One, fueled by COVID, is that the market is moving online, and there’s no going back from that. We gained new audiences when people started buying groceries online. Then, once they were online, they began to browse and eventually discovered buying art online. People no longer need to go to New York to see a piece, instead, they can ask for more images in a different light and a condition report. Some auctions also have OVRooms. Although there’s no way back from this, we will reach equilibrium once the pandemic is over. Buying online will probably stay within the low and medium-price segment. If you’re buying something for seventy thousand euro in Paris, you probably want to go there and check it in person, but for ten thousand, you won’t go. You can make these decisions because you have enough information to create a successful bidding strategy based just on what you see online.
Another change is NFTs, which are completely new. Personally, I’m not a fan of it because again, I am interested in investment in physical assets. I’m not the one to say if it’s art or not, everyone can decide for themselves. I do understand the appeal when it’s like memorabilia. For example, buying the NFT of the first-ever tweet, that’s something with historical value. But I wouldn’t pay millions for something people can download as a picture or see on their screen whenever they want. But that’s me, and I don’t want to judge anyone. I want to say that art is not just about making money, art is an experience. It needs to give you good feelings. NFT doesn’t do that for me. I prefer something like my Waterman pen from the ’70s, which is very rare, or a 16th-century portrait of a noblewoman. There we go, that’s the power of Lot-Art. If you’re an expert on something, you can leverage that expertise on big data and an aggregator which allows you to access a full view of the global art market.
A: Advice you wished someone gave you when you were starting?
F: Well, it was learning by doing. The success of Lot-Art is based on its users’ network. We provide content and services, that’s how the traffic goes up. But you can’t have that from the beginning unless you have a large budget to start up. That was not my case, Lot-Art was started by two people. It was a meeting between an IT expert and an art market expert with a finance background. So, I’d say I’m happy with how far we got in four years. Though I do wish I had started investing in art even before the stock crash. I wouldn’t have lost so much money. But that’s life. I’m glad I was able to learn my lesson in my late 20’s and didn’t end up doing it again later on.
Maybe there are people who are good at investing in the stock exchange, and they’re good where they are. As I said, art investing is not just about making money or diversifying your financial portfolio. It’s about the positive feelings involved, transmitted to you by an art piece and maybe only to you, and that’s the beauty of art. Some artists, I don’t get them. I see thousands of them every day, but maybe someone will see their work and think: “Wow, that’s beautiful!” In which case I’d say - go for it. Choose your pieces wisely if you want to resell, though. Follow what you feel, but also look at the market value to optimize asset liquidity.
A: Do you have some daily rituals (work-related)?
F: I look at my website on a daily basis, as a user. I’m a collector so I use Lot-Art, and if I look at the website as a user, I can see what works and what should be improved. When you have a start-up, the best thing you can do is be its first user. Then ask others, because after all, the start-up is your baby, and you might not see all its setbacks. You only have two eyes, but you need more, you need to see behind you. Then find more top users, people whose opinions are relevant because they represent your core audience, and give them perks, like beta testing, and get their feedback. I have some collectors of watches, of china white, of fine art. I asked them, what do you want from a platform like Lot-Art? What do you want more of? Is there something you’re not getting out of it, something I can improve? That’s really helpful.
A: Are there things you still wish to change in the art world?
F: Well, if everyone started using Lot-Art, then there would be less geographic arbitrage. As Keynes used to say: “the market gets to equilibrium by itself”. In a hypothetical world where everyone uses Lot-Art, prices would settle at an equilibrium. You would no longer be able to get great deals, there will be no arbitrage. So, it’s not a bad thing that not everyone uses it, because those who do can find the best deals. Of course, as the owner, I’d give up this perk in exchange for everyone using Lot-Art. To have the good feeling to give something to the world, something people can exploit with the right knowledge. If you for example know someone who’s into Birkin bags, they’ll be able to use Lot-Art to find them, but if I don’t know the market, I have to study it first. You need some expertise to make the most out of the Lot-Art platform.
Same with watch collectors, classic cars collectors. We cover the whole spectrum of passion assets. If you decide to invest in a collector watch and you don’t use it, its value will grow, and you can eventually resell it for a premium. If you bought a Rolex today, you’d have to wait a few years for it to gain value. But if you know which models are in high demand, you can find them in auction houses and resell them in just one year or keep it as hard currency capital. Assets have the peculiarity to absorb inflation. That’s another thing about the pandemic - inflation is booming, prices are growing. If you have cash in the bank, it loses purchasing money. If you invest in assets, their price will grow.
A: Top 3 things someone who’s new to the creative field should always keep in mind ?
F: Diversify. Buy what you like. Buy across the whole spectrum of art - go for contemporary, modern, old masters. Diversifying is always good. It’s the first principle of economics, it reduces risk. And buy what you like, because if you can’t sell it then you can at own it and get pleasure from it. That’s what I do, I buy what I like, and if I don’t like I don’t buy, even if it’s a good deal. Because that’s not what art is for.
However, there is a financial implication, which you want to optimize. So, I’d say, go even for emerging artists, even if they can’t be considered an investment, cause there is not enough historical info, but do watch the price: don’t settle for the gallery price, emerging artists can go for less. Even if they might never boom in value, you end up with an art piece that is attached to a moment of your life or a place you visited. It’s a good memory that makes you happy for as long as you have it.
A: What kind of art inspires you?
F: I’m a big collector of Piranesi. He’s an artist from 18th century Italy, the so-called neoclassic. Piranesi presents the beauty of Rome in his own imaginary way. Some pieces are very close to reality, and others are more a mixture of reality and his imagination. But since I used to live in Rome, I missed it after moving to Holland, and I started to surround myself with views of Rome. So, Piranesi is definitely one of my favorite artists.
Then, of course, I’m eclectic so I also like photography, fashion photography. LaChapelle or Gavin Bond from the US, or Araki and Moriyama from Japan. I like different things, good for different parts of the house. I would never put Araki in the living room. That’s where people enter your home, often they’re people you don’t know well. I’d put Araki in a more private corner of the house. Art is made for different corners, you know. And when you go through your house, it’s like a journey through your life.
A: What’s your perfect art destination?
F: I should say New York (laughs), but not only for art. Also, Paris and Rome. Rome for antique art and beautiful views. And Paris has a lot of modern art. And contemporary art you can find anywhere, really, because new artists live everywhere. So, New York, Paris, Rome.
A: Could you share your favorite quote?
F: Just believe in your dreams and yourself. Don’t give up too soon. Good things don’t come easy, but if you have faith and you keep going on, dreams can come true. That’s what happened to me, and I think everyone who’s had an idea and perseverance. So, keep trying. Difficult moments will come, and you need to be able to get through them. Then, the sun will shine for you sooner or later.
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