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Buying and selling artwork via eBay

AE Peter Bergh PU 6-8-07
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EDWARDS Most mornings Peter Bergh is up by 3, maybe 4 in the morning. Its not long before he makes his way to his desk and flips on his computer. While the sun rises, Bergh brings up eBay on the screen, scrolling through a list of new auctions. Bergh uses eBay, the ultimate auction house, he said, to find and buy sculptures and paintings for his clients, a list of 50-some people who count on Bergh, an Edwards resident, to locate certain works of art online through 10 to 15 other dealers he works with, or at an auction house like Sothebys or Christies.Even though art dealing is mostly a hobby for Bergh a landscape architect by trade he buys art on eBay nearly every day and sells something almost weekly. And so his collection grows; the walls and shelves (and closets and drawers too, he said) in his house are home to an eclectic collection of oil paintings, watercolors, lithographs, etchings, carvings, sculptures and even found art that Berghs collected on his travels around the world pieces of driftwood that hold the figure of a goat or the face of a gnome.I dont know anything about the stock market, I dont trust it. My investment is art and real estate, he said.

The art that Bergh buys, sells and appreciates is what he calls representational. Basically, you can tell what it is. Art enriches life, Bergh said, but he doesnt mince words when it comes to contemporary art It makes me shake my head. Its garbage, he said. A lot of (contemporary art) comes under the heading of not even a nice try. It makes real artists, real art dealers, real museums cringe. Its just bad.Bergh sees the cycles in the art world as waves the Dark Ages was a low point, followed by the Italian renaissance, a high point, which produced marvelous works of art. Once again were at a low point in art, Bergh said. I just dont get it and Im reasonably intelligent. I just dont see the value in a white canvas and a square of black paint in the corner that someone will pay $800,000 for. Just because no one has done it before, doesnt make it worth money, he said.So Bergh skips over the contemporary offerings on eBay, the items that he believes will have little to no value in 20 or 30 years, in favor of bucolic images of farmlands by Thomas Hart Benton, or bronze sculptures of lithe female forms by Harriett Whitney Frishmuth. Hes even found some pieces by Ogden Pleissner, an American landscape and sporting artist, on eBay. Bergh wrote and published a book about Pleissner, one his favorite artists, in 1984.

Bergh turns on his computer for a quick tutorial on eBay art buying. After navigating through a few screens, an image of a bronze sculpture of a pregnant woman appears on the computer screen. Francisco Zuniga, a well known Mexican artist, sculpted the piece, according to the description. (Zunigas) work is copied all the time, so you have to be careful, Bergh said, his eyes scanning the different views of the sculpture. One photo zeros in on the signature carved in the bottom of the piece, the numerals 1972 beneath it.The signature looks good but theyre easy to forge, he said. The opening bid for the piece is $450. If it is indeed authentic, it would be worth as much as $15,000, Bergh said. Just because a piece is under priced, doesnt mean its not real though, he said. Thats the beauty of eBay there are some great deals to be had, if you know what youre looking for and what its worth.I bought a couple of things that I paid X for and sold for 30X, he said. But that doesnt mean everything that looks like a steal, is. You know that expression, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is, he said.



To keep from getting duped by some of the forgeries on eBay, Bergh follows some basic guidelines. If the seller is someone he hasnt dealt with before, he looks at their history, specifically the ratings other people have given them and how many items theyve sold. He also pays particular attention to any negative comments people have written. This guy has a 100 percent positive rating and hes sold over 4,000 items, thats a pretty good clue, Bergh said, pointing at the details on the screen.Next, Bergh grabs a catalog filled with photos and information about all of Zunigas bronze sculptures. He flips through the book, scanning each page intently and glancing up every few seconds to look at the photos on the computer screen.I usually look in the book for a photograph of the piece, compare it and make sure it was really done in 1972, he said. After searching the catalog and not finding any record of the piece from 1972, Bergh concludes that its likely a forgery. But that wont stop him from taking his seat in front of the computer come dawn tomorrow.Arts & Entertainment Writer Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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