Oliver Roehl – Interview on photography and art investment

by | Jul 9, 2015

I met Oliver Roehl during the Arco Art Fair in February 2014. He was one of the participants in a professional panel called “INSIDE COLLECTING: DESIGN, MANAGEMENT, AND FINANCE”. So when I heard he was launching a new art fund I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk to him. Oliver is the chief operating officer of KMS Fine Art which promotes the acquisition, storage, and creation of art in the area of art photography.

The Artian: Why did you choose to focus on photography? What are the business opportunities that you see in that field of art?

Courtesy of Oliver Roehl

Courtesy of Oliver Roehl

Oliver: The art market is increasing by 8%, and it is now estimated (2014 estimations) of over 50B€. Young contemporary works are selling by 100.000€ or more, whereas only 20 works of Photography have reached 1M$. There is great potential still in Photography. A good sign of increasing prices and interest was the Sotheby’s Photography Auction in December 2014 with its more than 20M$ sale for 175 artworks. Artists such as Walker Evans sold for 389.000 US$ (estimate 50.000-70.000) or August Sander 749.000 US$ (estimate 350.000-500.000 US$).

The interesting thing in photography is that you can buy the work of a renowned artist, who had numerous shows in museums and is “approved” by curators and art historians for less than 10.000€, whereas it is nearly impossible to get work even from a young artist in the contemporary art market for this price with this criteria. That is pure gambling. A significant price rise is more likely in the first case.

We at KMS consider Photography as an undervalued niche in the art market, so we think it is an attractive investment. We always choose very carefully in consensus with a group of experts: gallerists, curators, publishers, and experts from auction houses.

KMS consults over 300 clients of different sizes. The Fine Art Invest Fund (FAIF) is our most prominent partner.

TA: Tell us more about the fund’s collection.

O: The FAIF collection focuses on contemporary fine art photography starting in the second half of the last century until contemporary.

We don’t have any limitations in regions, nor specific themes. This would limit the fund fundamentally. The aim is to collect a remarkable set of photography from these periods and artists. We have 61 artists with nearly 2,000 single works in the fund. We started with buying by cherry-picking but amended our strategy to acquiring whole sets of series. e.g. August Sander’s People of the 20th century (which was sold for almost 1M in Sotheby’s auction mentioned above). We are proud to have the only full set of this series in Europe, which was acquired directly from the Sander Family. At the beginning of June, the MoMA New York announced the acquisition of the second full set for their collection. This is a piece of major news for the photography world.

This fundamental body of works did not only have its influence on photography, but also on art itself. Without Sander, the Dusseldorf Photography School would have been unthinkable with Bernd and Hilla Becher and their famous Scholars Andreas Grusky, Thomas Struth, etc.

August Sander. KMS collection.

© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne August Sander. KMS collection.

TA: In our conversation you mentioned KMS has an innovative business model in the world of art investment – can you tell us more about this new business model?

O:  Art Advisors charge their collectors either per hour (on average 230 US$) or commission-based. According to studies, the buyer pays on average 17% over the actual market price. On the contrary, we try to get the best price we can compare to a transparent and agreed market price before the purchase is done. The discount we bargain, we share with our clients to ensure that they pay less than the market price. Fine Art Group gave us strict guidelines. Transparency and cost efficiency are key in our consulting philosophy.

TA: So who can approach you? is it a minimum budget?

O: Literally, everybody can approach us. We believe that a budget of +10.000 € is a budget that makes sense to invest in photography.

TA: What kind of services do you provide to your clients?

O:  KMS also offers a full service in terms of logistics and handling, including evaluating the best insurance for the client and organize the storage in freeports, and a periodic valuation of the works. We are very cost-aware and the fact we share the margin of discount with the investor is not a common trait.

TA: Photography is very tricky – the question of what is considered art and what is not is popping up in beginners’ minds – can you give them your opinion on what makes photography significant?

O: The rules for good photography artworks aren’t different from what makes other great artworks named masterpieces. Photography is as “tricky” as all other contemporary artworks. Photography is a young media compared to paintings and drawings. According to estimations, we take more pictures today daily as all works summed up in the last 180 years. Photography like Instagram, Pinterest, and Flikr are part of our daily life. A remarkable incident is the controversy of Richard Price “stealing“ Instagram pictures and selling them through Gagosian Gallery for 90.000 US$.

My interest in fine art photography grows. The number of fairs focusing on photography increases. Besides the big fairs like Paris Photo and Paris Photo LA, Photo London will open its doors for the first time this year and has great supporters by top gallerists and collectors like Maya Hoffmann’s luma Foundation. The number of photography-focused exhibitions in Museums is increasing as well. There is also a great number of photo festivals. I assume the “fight” does no longer exist. On the contrary, photography is in constant change and the state of evolution. It has to deal with the change from analog to digital. Or take the discussion about protecting one’s privacy while being photographed in public. What does it mean for street photography? There are other issues such as the decision on Arne Svenson’s Series “Neighbors” which went to drawn by a supreme court in the US. I think photography is one of the most interesting subjects to deal with, collect, and be involved in.

TA: One last question, can you recommend some photographers my audience should follow?

O: British-South African Artists: Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin are good examples. We bought the first works in October 2012, “The Day nobody died III” a unique piece (You can read the story behind it at the following link). Their Body of work is radical and pushes the conceptual work to its limit – sometimes even in life danger.


From KMS Collection: Political 1 sheet 19 3, People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, 2011, C-type print, 190cm x 150cm Image courtesy of The Artists and Lisson Gallery, London

That was the point when their carrier took off. They won the renowned Deutsche Borse Photo Prize in 2013, got their first group show in MoMA New York, and from then they had exhibition after exhibition. As of today, they are in a group show Conflict Time and Photography in Folkwang in Essen Germany; an exhibition that was shown at the Tate Modern, London before and which will go to Dresden afterward. They have just been acquired by Lisson Gallery, one of the best galleries for contemporary art, and represent also Marina Abramović, Anish Kapoor,  Ai Weiwei, Richard Long, Sol LeWitt to name a few.

I am absolutely sure that we will see them becoming renowned artists. Their conceptual work is extraordinary.

You can read more on the PrivateArtInvestor.com

If you are interested to hear more from KMS visit their website at the following link or contact them at  +41 44 515 28 20. KMS Fine Art Group AG, Haldenstrasse 1, 6340 Baar, Switzerland.



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