1. Become familiar with the history.
Not surprisingly, given the wide reach of his teachings, the Buddha and other Buddhist deities have been interpreted widely, and in many different styles and materials. Artisans have used stone, stucco, terracotta, wood, lacquer, and metals such as bronze, gold, and silver to recreate them.
2. Tastes change, but quality holds its value.
Bruck explains that the market for Buddhist sculptures can fluctuate, with different periods or styles rising and falling in popularity. An exemplary piece from any time period, however, will hold its value.
3. Never judge a piece on photographs alone.
As a universal rule, you should never buy a sculpture unless you have seen it in person. ‘A terrible work can look really great in a photograph, and the converse is true as well,’ Bruck notes.
4. The back and underneath of a piece can be most revealing.
When forgers make replicas or copies of a sculpture, they generally do so using the aid of published references. In such references, you only see the front of a sculpture — the back and the bottom are not generally published. The forgers recreate these parts from their imaginations, which makes for strange — and frequently bizarre — design components.
5. Look for inscriptions.
The artists who created Buddhist sculptures are anonymous. On certain occasions, however, sculptures are marked with inscriptions that indicate they were made during the reign of a certain emperor or in the lifetime of a Tibetan (teacher). These works, Bruck says, are particularly valuable.
6. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate Buddhist sculpture.
Although many collectors are drawn to the religious components of the objects, others appreciate the rich history of more than 2,000 years of Buddhist art. Over that period, Bruck notes, artisans and theologians have delved deeper and deeper into the nature of Buddhism, coming up with new ways to think about the principles of Buddha’s teachings. The resultant esoteric forms, reflected in the diversity of Buddhist deities, and particularly represented in Tibetan-style Buddhism, offer countless avenues for study and appreciation.
7. Condition is key.
As with any other area of collecting art, condition is an important aspect in the value of a work. Given the age of many Buddhist sculptures, however, one must be realistic, and chances are that many examples will have undergone some form of restoration. Unfortunately, some restorations are better than others, and Bruck advises collectors to always consult a specialist to learn how significantly restorative work might change the value of a work.
8. Follow the provenance.
‘A work with old, well-documented provenance will always be worth considerably more than a similar work with no history,’ says Bruck. A rich provenance will sometimes help to ensure authenticity. ‘If a work is from a prestigious collection or has been published by a well-known scholar,’ he adds, ‘then in many cases, it has already gone through a vetting process.’