Photo of Heidi Lee Komaromi by Ewa Skapski. Courtesy HLK Art Group.

Expert fine art appraiser Heidi Lee Komaromi, AAA, weighs in on questions from Artwork Archive's collector community.

Heidi Lee Komaromi, AAA, is a certified appraiser and independent curator based in the Hamptons, NY, with two decades of experience in the fine art industry. Over the course of her career, Heidi has acquired and evaluated over three thousand works of contemporary and modern art. In 2002, Heidi founded HLK Art Group, which offers art advising services to select clientele. She works with private individuals, as well as nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies such as UBS, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Exxon, A.T. Kearney, and JP Morgan Chase, among many others. Heidi holds a Masters Degree in Modern Art from Christie’s Education and has been a certified member of the Appraisers Association of America (AAA) since 2007. 

Here, Heidi fields questions from Artwork Archive’s collector community and shares her insights regarding all things appraisals. 

Heidi speaking on a panel at the New York Art Fair. Photo courtesy OneArtNation.

Why won’t my appraiser authenticate my artwork? Isn’t that their job?

That’s a common question. However, the sole purpose of an art appraisal is to establish the specific value of an art object while following guidelines set forth by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

So, while an appraisal may include statements about an object's authenticity, condition and provenance — and these attributes are researched to the best of the appraiser's ability — an appraiser can not actually make any claims about whether or not an object is authentic. However, any statements they make regarding authenticity should be sufficiently backed up with any documentation, records and/or testimonies provided by the client and/or through third parties who provide scholarly opinions.

When is an appraisal absolutely necessary? Can I get by with just a certificate of authenticity (COA) signed by the artist and issued by their gallery

If you wish to simply resell an artwork on the secondary market, a COA might help prove authenticity. However, it does not serve as an expert opinion of the work's current market value, which is needed for Charitable Donations, Estate Tax Liability, Equitable Distribution and Insurance purposes. The IRS and most insurance companies will only accept USPAP appraisals.

What information and/or documents do appraisers need to begin the appraisal process?

The more information you have about an object the better. I like to start with any past invoices to obtain as much accurate information about that work of art as possible. It may also serve as proof of ownership and provenance if you don’t have a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) which I would also ask for.

I also ask for images of the front and back of the work, including any markings, inscriptions and signatures. If there are any news clippings, letters or publications that mention or feature the art object(s), that can also be helpful.

An artwork collection management system like Artwork Archive is a good investment, as it consolidates invoices, images, artwork details and any other provenance records in one place. Having all of that information together will save an appraiser such as myself lots of time and, in turn, save you — the client — money.

How can I be sure that my appraiser is qualified?

A qualified art appraiser, like any other type of appraiser, should be highly trained and educated within their area(s) of expertise (such as having a degree in art history or curatorial studies), in order to be qualified to give an expert opinion of value. They should also be current with their USPAP qualifications from an appropriate appraising institution such as The Appraisers Association of America.

Members of the Appraisers Association are required to complete a minimum of 120 hours of qualifying education and have a minimum of five years of connoisseurship and art market experience, in addition to successfully completing a 15-hour USPAP course.

What ethical standards are appraisers bound by?

All USPAP qualified appraisers must follow requirements for integrity, impartiality, objectivity, independent judgement, and ethical conduct.

Do appraisers have a “black list” of collectors? What types of unscrupulous or bad behavior could potentially damage a collector’s reputation among the appraiser community?

An appraiser has an obligation to follow the ethical and performance requirements of USPAP guidelines, even if clients do not. However, some issues might be a result of the client not being aware of what the USPAP guidelines actually entail. This can be avoided if the appraiser explains what they can and cannot do in advance, so expectations are made clear upfront. 

Appraisers should not succumb to pressure from clients who might resort to unscrupulous behavior, such as omitting or concealing factual information about some aspect of the work or falsifying ownership of the work. Appraisers may decline from accepting an assignment if they find their work will be compromised in any way.

Do appraisers specialize in certain genres or can I have the same individual appraise both my contemporary art collection and, for example, my Navajo rug collection?

A qualified art appraiser should appraise only the objects for which they have trained expertise and many do have more than one specialization. Check their credentials to confirm it’s a fit for you. If you don’t know what genre your object falls under, ask a local appraiser to refer you to someone who might know.

Are appraiser’s hourly rates defined by an industry-standard or is it advisable to “shop around” for the best quote

Appraiser rates are determined by the individual appraiser and can vary greatly depending on expertise level and experience. I recommend seeking an appraiser in your area who has proximity to your collection, as well as someone who possesses the appropriate area of expertise. For example, if you want to appraise an object by a contemporary artist, you'll want a qualified appraiser with relevant experience with contemporary art.  

Pro tip: A quick search by location and specialization on the Appraisers Association of America’s website will give you a list of appraisers within 100 miles of your city.

As Heidi points out, appraisals are an important part of maintaining your art collection and ensuring that it is not only properly documented, but also assigned an accurate valuation that is in keeping with current art market metrics. A trusted appraiser is a true asset, regardless of the size of your collection. 

Learn how Artwork Archive can help you keep track of your art appraisals by viewing the brief tutorial below.