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Six Tips for Buying Art Abroad

Guy Billout Buying Art Abroad

Photo: Guy Billout

Dealers should be able to handle transportation, the customs process, and any importing problems, but if you are arranging shipping yourself, consult the International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Arts Transporters (icefat.org), an organization that can recommend 80 prescreened shippers.

5. Get a Fair Price

To judge whether the asking price is reasonable, research the figures for other works by the same artist from the same period. Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true. "Never buy something for $5,000 that the dealer tells you is worth $100,000," advisesMendelsohn. Reputable sellers will price works according to market value, so such "discounts" are a red flag. "At a gallery or antiques dealer of good standing, as a rule of thumb the biggest discount you can negotiate is about ten to fifteen percent," says Dahlén, of the Chelsea Art Museum, or sellers may also be willing to offer a discount on shipping and handling charges.

6. Follow the Rules

Keep in mind that many countries have laws to protect their cultural property, and that the U.S. government has very specific restrictions on what art and antiquities can be imported. You can't bring back that terra-cotta statue from Mali or colonial-period painting from Peru, for instance, unless you have a special export permit. Visit the U.S. State Department's Web site (exchanges.state.gov/culprop) to view photographs of restricted items by country. Consulting a licensed customs broker can also help you steer clear of trouble. In general, however, original fine art created entirely by hand, including paintings and drawings, as well as antiques that are at least 100 years old, can be brought into the United States duty-free.

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