The last day of the MBA programme was no ordinary day for me. The morning began with a guided tour of Tate Modern, followed by a visit to the Edge of Arabia Gallery – a unique gallery supporting arts and culture from Saudi Arabia. In the afternoon, our group of forty or so MBAs had an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of White Cube – one of the most prestigious contemporary art galleries. Our final stop was the premier auctions house, Christie’s, in the heart of London.
This was the final day of the one-week Art Markets summer course taught by Dr. Luc Renneboog. I must confess prior to taking the course, my appreciation of art was based purely on my personal taste and what I found to be aesthetically-pleasing. Whether an art piece was worth $120 million (as in the case of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, the most expensive artwork sold at an auction to-date) or just a few pounds from a local flea market rarely influenced my perception of the piece. I either liked the artwork or I didn’t. As a result of the Art Markets course, however, I have learned to appreciate art not just for its appearance and aesthetics (which is highly subjective), but also through the lens of an investor. From paintings and prints to diamonds and wines, Dr. Renneboog showed us the quantitative models that could be used to value these objects, and how to calculate their risks and returns relative to other investment vehicles (e.g., stocks and bonds). He also walked us through the most influential art pieces and artists in history, as well as the significance of different art periods.
I enjoyed many aspects of the lectures – from contemplating what ‘originality’ meant in the context of art to understanding the impact of fake art (forgeries) on the value of the originals. The day trip to London was also a perfect way to cap off the course. One of my favourite parts was seeing the Julie Mehretu exhibition and listening to the director of White Cube discuss their sales efforts in finding the right buyers for Mehretu’s multi-million-dollar paintings.
A few days after the course ended, I visited Musée d’Orsay in Paris and saw many of the masterpieces discussed in class. Instead of just casually browsing through the museum and stopping only in front of paintings that I found appealing, I thought about the value of the works I saw and endeavoured to look at pieces that I would not typically gravitate towards.
Thinking back to a little over a year ago, I was hoping the Cambridge MBA programme would offer a unique experience to explore my interests while honing the skills necessary to advance my career. Like many other courses in the programme, the Art Markets class successfully fulfilled these qualities by delivering a good mix of art history and economics. More importantly, the course and the programme taught me ways to look at situations, problems and, in this case, even artwork in a new light.