Demystifying the Art Advisor

Artwork Archive | July 23, 2018

What are the advantages of working with an art advisor when building your collection?

If you’re beginning to collect art, or even if you have been collecting for years, you may be scratching your head about what an art advisor does and why you might hire one.  

We’ll cover why it may be a good idea to find and use an art advisor and what capabilities to look for when selecting one.

Art advisors are guides.

The art market is vast and ever-changing. According to collectors like Dallas-based Jenny Mullen, “it can be hard to keep up with the art market and to know it all.”

There is not just one art market. There are numerous ones, including specialized niche markets.

Art advisors (or art consultants) help their clients navigate this complex space by providing expertise and valuable relationships. Art collectors look to their art advisors to not only educate and inform but also help them develop a thoughtful and cohesive collection strategy within a set of financial parameters.

Clayton Press of linn press, specialists in contemporary art says that “art advisors can be faithful and reliable guides. They can help avoid uncertainty and difficulty, especially with respect to works of art that may or may not be authentic or desirable both in terms of the cultural or economic value.”

An art advisor helps you purchase the artwork, but also provides valuable guidance when it comes to caring for an art purchase, including insurance and installation. You can learn more about how art consultants help protect your collection here.

It is helpful to store and manage the information your art advisor has provided you with in an online art inventory management system like Artwork Archive. It is advisable for insurance purposes, but also for legacy planning.  

Art advisors are educators.

Many people assert, “I know what I like.”

According to Clay, “You don’t truly know what you like until you learn what is out there.” Clay continued, “Attention spans are short and influenced by design and social media and word of mouth.” He advises a slower, thoughtful in-person approach to learn about art.  

Working with a knowledgeable art consultant not only enriches the experience of collecting art but also enhances the experience of understanding the object, its context, and the story of the artist.

Brian Butler, gallery owner of 1301 PE in Los Angeles, says that he loves seeing art advisors that are part of a larger conversation with their clients. Art advisors are teaching newcomers how to look and think about art—not just shop at an art fair. “These types of art advisors are critical to building our [gallery] business and not just from a sales perspective. You want collectors to have a passion for collecting art and to continue the process.”

And, Jenny says she enjoys working with an art advisor because it expands her knowledge and keeps the learning process going. “They bring me opportunities that I would not know otherwise.”

Art advisors are matchmakers.

Art advisors can help you culturally, commercially and socially expand your network. They create social and cultural opportunities that their clients can participate in, like a private viewing at a museum or gallery, or a meeting at an art fair.

Art advisors also present access to events and opportunities like art fairs. Jenny relayed that Clay helped introduce her to the art market. He taught her how to “do an art fair” because she found them very intimidating.

Additionally, good art advisors prefer enduring relationships and not one-off purchases. Nonetheless, specific art purchases or investments made through a well-networked art advisor can be fortuitous. They are there to help you build strong relationships in the art market whether it be their own relationship with you or relationships with other artists and art professionals.

Art advisors are like psychiatrists.

According to Brian, “The best art advisors get their clients up to speed so that they can do it on their own and can take up the adventure themselves.” This process can take a few years, developing on the collector’s interest and investment of time.

Art advisors also help assuage collectors’ fears of buying the wrong piece. Brian sees a lot of concern around buying the right thing.

“You can put together an amazing collection in 50 years. You don’t have to do it in two days. There are a lot of people that want it all now, but it’s a process, and an art advisor gives you the tools to confidently continue the process for years.”

Art advisors are scholars.

Historically, the best, most successful art advisors have been incredibly studious. They conduct a great deal of research and think deeply about what it means to put an art collection together.

An art advisor should have demonstrated scholarship. According to Clay, a sign on a door or a name on a website is not a qualification. Expertise is not just important, it is imperative.

Clay also continues that an art advisor needs both art historical expertise and business skills—like financial analysis and negotiation talents—to make a clear path in the market.

Art advisors as specialists: the advantages

Many collectors and professionals in the art market will agree that an art advisor needs to have expertise in the arts, which can be broad or very narrow. For instance, an art advisor can specialize in post-war American art, whereas another may focus on specific indigenous art from the Upper Sepik River in Papua New Guinea.

What are the advantages of working with an art advisor that specializes?

According to Clay, “You’re getting knowledge and expertise that is refined and validated. You don’t get a learning curve like you do with generalists. Our expertise is tangible and immediate, so you maximize your time and resources.”

He continues: “You don’t go to an accountant to get your knee diagnosed. Similarly, you don’t go to a Pre-Columbian art specialist to understand what is happening in contemporary African-American art.”

Collectors like Jenny appreciate the precision of an art advisor. She looks for focus and the ability to go in depth, because that’s how she wants to collect. She does not want an eclectic collection; she wants it to be cohesive. “It’s nice to have somebody that knows the range I want. I have more confidence in my art advisor and feel more comfortable knowing that we see eye-to-eye with a common viewpoint.”

And from Brian’s point of view, “If you want to buy and build a collection, it’s good to be specific. It demonstrates curiosity and knowledge.”

Advice for finding an art advisor.

Ok, you’re sold, you want to work with an art advisor. Now, where do you find one?

Clay recommends calling a well-known art gallery or, if you have a museum relationship, to ask for a recommendation.

But it is important to be as specific as possible about what you are looking to do, to collect or invest, and what type of art and art experience may be of interest.  

How to pay for an art advisor.

Brian recommends paying an art advisor a retainer to do their job—"that way everyone has skin in the game"—and they are not basing their advice on what the commission would be. Rather, they are basing their advice on what would be the best thing for the collection.

You may pay a bit more with a retainer, but according to Brian, “you’re getting an art advisor that will go from galleries to auctions on your behalf looking for the thing that pulls your collection together. It’s worth it.”

If you’re balking at the price of an art advisor, whether it be an annual fee, commission-based, or retainer, Clay reminds us that an art advisor is a professional service, and he encourages you to consider whether you’d negotiate with your CPA, attorney, or psychologist. 

Learn more about the role of an art advisor in What an Art Consultant Can Do for Your Collection.

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