Investing in sculptures? Crystal is the new bronze

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An art consultant and founding member of the Art Due Diligence Group, Pandora Mather-Lees advises and trains superyacht captains, crew and others on the potential risks of carrying fine art in international waters.

When it comes to investing in fine art, sculpture remains an important part of any well-balanced portfolio. It gains or holds its value as much as any painting and diversifies a collection. Dedicated collectors also gain access to a wider oeuvre of artists who practice different media.

Ever since Marcel Duchamp exhibited ‘readymade’ art, conceptualism, inherent creativity and aesthetics have pushed the boundaries of the avant garde to inform new ways of seeing in three-dimensions.

Today in the village of Vlčí Hora, north of Prague, an interesting school of creativity already demonstrating investment potential has emerged from the ashes of the early 20th century. Its unique location in Bohemia offers the requisite raw material required for glass and crystal chandeliers, jewellery, and ornamental design.

This genre of crystal and glass sculpture, however, distances itself from its 1950s associations. The medium is being re-evaluated as the new bronze, a striking art form heralding an era of creative expression and modernity.

In the same way that creators Ai Wei Wei, Grayson Perry, Tony Cragg and Dale Chihuly have changed the reception of ceramic or glass media through their practice, the perception of crystal as a ‘plastic art’ (one which requires physical manipulation) has evolved from craft to chef-d’oeuvre. 

Vlčí Hora School, Northern Bohemia

In the Vlčí Hora School, Vlastimil Beránek, Jaroslav Prošek and Michaela Smrček are highly collectible – think fifty presidents and heads of state for starters – and they are commanding six-figure sums for commissions.

Like any established practitioners, they have sound careers, strong gallery representation (with controlled exposure being important for investment purposes) and visible stylistic development. Many have a presence in renowned national museums such as the Victoria & Albert and the Haags Gemeente museums.

Beyond skilled craftsmanship, the Vlčí Hora School is responsible for a new genre of fine art with abstraction at its core. As with most sculpture, the ability to capture light at different angles and times is a major characteristic of the medium. The translucent nature of crystal offers a myriad of solutions, colours and light effects. No wonder then that so many reside on superyachts where, not only are they deemed robust to the elements, but the effects of light and reflection are enhanced out on the water. 

Sculpture as investment

It is becoming important for investors to include female artists in their acquisition strategy.  Indeed, some have switched to supporting women artists entirely as a conscious means of redressing the gender balance.

The third artist of the Vlčí Hora group, Michaela Smrček, exhibits an altogether different architectural approach with tall monumental shards with rusticated edges in subtle shades resembling primitive stalactites.

Bohemian crystal sculpture Glowing Moon by Michaela Smrček. Courtesy of Vlčí Hora School.

Art as an asset class carries responsibility for maintaining value through condition. Deterioration and conservation issues can often be a hidden cost and risk associated with art – as opposed to other assets – such as equities or gold.

One advantage of crystal in any art collection is that it is relatively easy to maintain and durable, provided simple care instructions are followed.

The Northern Bohemian genre has grown to include over a dozen artists and their pupils. It is gaining worldwide recognition as appreciation of the medium grows. One exhibition even recently took place underwater in Palma.

Beránek and Prošek were selected by the Michelangelo Foundation as two of the 100 best European artists and works by the Vlčí Hora circle are now mainstream pieces in the portfolios of significant global art collectors.

Many collectors now are already investing in established artists such as Tony Cragg, Plensa, Koons and Hirst, all of whom are working in glass and crystal.