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Gurr Johns: Perspectives sees our specialists share their views, opinions and insights about the art advisory world.

In the latest in the series, Charlie Maxwell (Director Valuations, London) and Jessica Wessel (Senior Vice President Business Development, New York) reveal how Gurr Johns’ global valuations department has adapted to the challenges of the last year, the key triggers for an appraisal, and some of the more unusual objects which they have been asked to value…

How have the extraordinary events of 2020 impacted the world of Valuations and Appraisals?

Charlie Maxwell (C.M.) About 70% of our UK business is related to insurance valuations so demand has continued to be high, despite the limitations of not having physical access to people’s homes and collections. As a global team, we reacted quickly to the first lockdown and launched an online valuations platform which enabled us to offer our clients an (almost) business as usual approach.

Jessica Wessel (J.W.) Our appraisal team in the US undertakes a lot of fiduciary service-related work which continued regardless of Covid and the US election prompted a lot of estate planning activity in the last quarter of 2020. In fact, we completed a record number of gift tax and art lease appraisals and expect this trend to continue, particularly if proposed changes to the tax laws go ahead.

Other than insurance, what are the key triggers for valuations and appraisals? 

 C.M. Divorce and probate have traditionally prompted requests for valuations.  As collections now change hands more frequently – particularly those with a focus on contemporary art and jewellery – demand is also growing for valuations related to litigation, loans, and general collection management.

Valuation requests are often prompted by high profile sales too; following Christie’s record-breaking sale last year of STAN, the T-Rex skeleton, we had rather a surprising spate of requests for fossil valuations.

J.W. In the US it’s similar, but we also assist clients with appraisals for tax planning and cultural gifts.  Climate change and weather events have triggered an increasing flow of business recently for damage and loss appraisals; water damage due to flooding, smoke damage due to wildfires, and even the spoilation of wine collections due to power outages and changes in temperature, are all unfortunate signs of our time.

What areas are up and down in the artworld barometer?

C.M. Perhaps unsurprisingly the big movers have been Modern & Contemporary art, jewellery, watches, cars and Chinese art.  Gurr Johns offers a proprietary annual updating service that keeps our clients’ valuations accurate and up to date; covering more than 450 sectors of the market, it will be fascinating to see what impact the pandemic has and if there are any significant shifts.

J.W., The categories Charlie has highlighed are also robust in the US, while values have continued to fall for the less fashionable traditional (brown) furniture, the exceptions being rare items with important provenance.

The influence of the interior design market and its focus on a modern, slightly eclectic, international style that suits contemporary art continues to be felt, and the current love affair with mid-century design is extending to furniture and accessories from the 1970s and 1980s.

What’s the most unusual object you’ve been asked to value?

J.W. We assist quite a lot of rappers and music artists with insurance appraisals and as you might imagine that often throws up some pretty spectacular jewelry pieces. Recently we valued a jewel-encrusted ‘self-portrait’ replica of our client’s head which was a charm for a chain and included a diamond grill and earrings.

C.M. I think one of the most unusual I’ve seen is a collection of rare carp: counting them was a real challenge too, as every time we came up with a different number! And stuffed dogs are not as rare as you’d think. Explaining to a client that their beloved pet can only be declared as ‘general contents’ requires diplomacy.

It sounds like you could value anything?

C.M. Almost, though not quite: we were asked about NFTs the other day – a hot topic – and the industry isn’t yet in a position to insure them.

J.W. Valuations tend to have a longer-term view and the NFT market has developed so quickly that it will take time to establish foundations and parameters. While there are still many questions around NFTs and how that market might develop, blockchain technology in a broader sense could definitely offer huge potential in the art market, including the insurance business and collection management.

To find out more about Appraisals and Valuations at Gurr Johns, visit:

Contact: (UK) / (US)


Portrait of Jessica Wessel by Joshua Simpson.