Trust your instinct: Fabio Rossi on buying contemporary and classical Asian art


Rossi & Rossi was started by Anna Maria Rossi in 1985, her son Fabio Rossi later joined her at the gallery in 1988. With over 40 years of experience in the area, Rossi & Rossi are leaders in the classical and contemporary asian art. Fabio Rossi spoke to Private Art Investor about his advice for collectors in this field.

  • Where is the best place to start when buying contemporary and classical art?

A reputable dealer or gallery is always the best place to start.  Build a relationship with someone you can trust and develop your own taste and collecting philosophy.  Later on, auctions can be used to fill gaps in one’s collection.

  • What one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to buy?

Buy the best you can according to your budget.  Buy fewer but better pieces.  Find out what moves you, what you want to live with.  Art should not be bought just for investment.

  • Are all old things valuable? (i.e., what affects individual values – craftsmanship etc.)

There are many factors that affect the value of something old or antique: aesthetics, condition, rarity, in certain instance size. Craftsmanship is obviously an important aspect. There is also an offer and demand factor.

  • What factors drive the price of classical art (is the market much more stable than that of modern art)?

The market for classical tends to be more stable than the one for contemporary (modern is stable too) as there is a more established track record and also because classical art has already withstood the test of time.

  • When most people think of classical and ancient art they naturally think of Egyptian, Roman and Greek works, is this a fair representation?

This is a western-centric view.  In Asia, for example, it means something completely different; India, China, Indonesia etc, all have their ‘Classical’ period. I think Classical is just a juxtaposition to modern and contemporary.

  • Do you have a favourite piece in your gallery at the moment? Or is there a piece in your collection that you find most exciting?

Difficult question.  I like to handle works that I like, but, naturally, there are always some favourites.  Often it is the latest extraordinary work to enter the gallery that excites one the most.

  • Are you seeing more people buying and investing in classical art?

I definitely see an expansion in the collecting base for classical art, particularly, but not only, in Asia.  However, very few buy just for investment purpose: most have true passion for the art.  To buy classical you need knowledge and connoisseurship which take time to develop: there are no short-cuts.

  • What is the appreciation in value like for this kind of art?

Generally speaking, it is a very stable field of collecting but, occasionally, it experience jump in value.  This is what has happened in the last 4-5 years due to the increase in the demand and the decrease in the offering.  It is a bit cyclical and, sometime, dictated by fashion or by economical development.  The rise in value of Chinese art and, as a reflection, Himalayan art in the last decade coincided with the growth of the Chinese economy; this has been faster than anybody would have predicted.

  • What is the biggest risk that buyers face? (Thoughts: storage/transport/forfeiture/fakes/tax smuggling etc.)

Fakes are always a risk and a problem in almost every field of art collecting, less so, of course, in modern and contemporary.  Acquiring knowledge and working with reputable dealers minimised almost completely the risk.  Storage and transport are just expensive, but not risks as such as there are professionals doing the job.  Tax smuggling is not something I come across.

  • Are we seeing more people try and create fakes?

I would not say so.  Fakers are sometime getting better but the reality is that they never get it 100% right.

  • We all know stories of works being faked, how do you spot them?

Look, look, look.  And trust your instinct; it is the ‘blink moment’ described by Malcolm Gladwell that counts the most.

  •  How can you find out if a work has been stolen/exported illegally? (Or is simply a matter of buying from reputable dealers?)

There are some companies that do this, such as Art Loss Register, which can help in tracking stolen objects but I would say what is most important is buying from reputable dealers.

  • More countries are trying to enforce International Cultural Heritage Law – is this a positive thing for collectors (as it makes the number of pieces in the market smaller, removes stolen artefacts from market, etc) or negative (threat of forfeiture, ability to move pieces) for collectors?

I think it has a double edge effect.  On the one hand, it pushes higher the prices of whatever is available on the market which has a clear provenance.  On the other hand, it might discourage people to collect in these areas.  Furthermore, it risks making ‘orphans’ which are completely legittimate but whose provenance is not 100% documented: until fairly recently, this was not an issue and so people kept less records than today.  I personally believe International Cultural Heritage Laws are on the whole not workable as the circumstances are so different in so many of the so-called countries. Yes, there should be some sort of protection of cultural heritage, but at the same time we cannot disregard man-made destruction such as we are witnessing now in Iraq and Syria.  Art is also one of the most important way for people to understand each other and a certain circulation of works of art can only be beneficial.

  • How easy is it to move pieces across borders? (i.e. someone buying in UK but living abroad – tax and shipping)?

Mostly easy, but of course depends on local import tax laws.