Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

Artistic value

Having started as an artist himself, Art Futures Group MD knows his market

Jon Reade, managing director of art investment company Art Futures Group, came to art relatively late in life.

“I was brought up in the suburbs of London, and was not from an art gallery family. I first went to an art gallery when I was 20, and I just loved it. I didn’t know any of the names or art genres, but I understood what the artists were trying to do,” he says.

Then and there, Reade decided he wanted to become an artist himself, doing 10 paintings a year, and even attending night art school. But while he enjoyed learning about watercolours in these night classes, his real education in art only began later, after moving to Sheffield in northern England.

“I set up a modern art discussion group in Sheffield. There was a real eclectic bunch of guys who’d been to art college, current artists and art historians – about 15 of them. The group ran for about three years, and I learned so much about the things I wanted to learn,” he says. “It was almost like having these people giving me a bachelor of art – and I sucked it all in like a sponge.”

Reade had his first go at art “trading” soon after. “My childhood days were spent in Cornwall, camping at St Ives – which is synonymous with great British artists such as Ben Nicholson. I started buying a couple of prints from there for myself and brought them home,” he says.

Friends saw the paintings and asked how much they cost. “I sold them for £100 (about HK$1,180), but had bought them for £50. And that’s really where it all began – I started trading like that.”

Reade then opened a small gallery in Nether Edge in Sheffield. “Over one weekend, I whitewashed the shop, put up runners up and got prints framed up and called it the Nether Edge gallery. I made every mistake you could make, but I loved it. It was my passion. I sold lots of paintings... I think my most expensive piece was about £400 or £500,” he says.

After six years, Reade grew tired of the UK, sold his gallery and stock, and moved to Australia in 2002 where he lived for nine years. It was Down Under that a friend introduced him to art investment. “I had never come across an art brokerage before, but a friend told me about it,” he says.

Reade began working for a specialist art investment company in Sydney, called Galleries Direct, where he learned how to “track primary and secondary markets and everything in between” and research art movements to tailor the needs of clients’ portfolios.

“Around that time, we were getting more Australian-born Chinese asking about Chinese contemporary art, so my director sent me to mainland China for three months to write a report on Chinese contemporary art.

In China, Reade met dealers and artists, and attended shows and exhibitions. “I quickly realised that Chinese contemporary art was a better investment than [Australian] Aboriginal art for obvious reasons – more people were going to buy it. It was more sought after and it was better art, in my opinion,” Reade says.

A year later, in 2010, Reade moved to Hong Kong to set up Art Futures Group. Within nine months, the Chinese art market had become the largest in the world.

Since moving here, he has seen remarkable development in the art world. “Some of the big auction houses are moving to Hong Kong, so it’s making the secondary market very competitive and therefore a lot more liquid, which is great for everyone.”

At Art Futures Group, investors actually buy the art. They then either take their art home or lease it out. Around 99 per cent of the art is paintings, with some sculptures by two or three artists. “All of our artists are mid-career Chinese contemporary art – generally pop art, revolutionary motifs, political art,” says Reade.

“We help some investors lease their art to corporate clients so they make a return on it. It’s a lot like buying a house that you’re never going to live in. You lease it out and get a secondary income on the rental – plus appreciation as well,” he adds.

Returns on artwork leased out are 6 per cent a year, according to Reade. “For capital appreciation, you’re looking at 10 to 15 per cent a year. So we are supposedly king of – and outperforming – all the other assets like gold or silver.”

For anyone interested in a career in art investment, Reade recommends that you “see if it’s for you – there’s so much to analyse and track, and if you’re a bit of an art geek like me, it’s a great area.”

He adds: “I feel very blessed to have the best job in the world. It’s very stressful and lots of hard work, but I don’t mind getting up in morning going to work surrounded by such beautiful products.”

While it is not possible to study art investment as such, according to Reade, auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s run quite good courses, and an interest in art and some financial knowledge can help.

“We were the first art investment brokerage in Asia – certainly in Hong Kong. So we had to fly brokers in because no one had done it before. Our brokers have art knowledge and some kind of financial knowledge. But it’s tough to find staff with both skill sets,” he adds.


Jon Reade's frank views on leading contemporary Chinese artists

LIU LIGUO "He's fantastic and we love him and he's crazy. The ideas he comes up with, people love them, and we really love his work."

SHEN JINGDONG "He was one of Art Futures Group's first artists, and we've seen him really come on to be right on the precipice of moving into blue chip."

LUO JIE "He has a unique style, but he's a low producer."

YIN KUN "He's very political. We couldn't get a visa for him out of the mainland. But this just adds to his infamy."