An interview with
How does somebody end up becoming an art advisor?
It’s a funny job because there are so many people doing it with so many different skill sets, educational backgrounds, etc. Some have PhDs; others rely on their impressive social connections.
Luckily for me, I started with actual exposure to building a contemporary art collection. This was at Marlborough, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’d been promoted to an Associate Director, and a good portion of this job entailed assisting Tom Cugliani, who was the Curator of the Royal Caribbean/ Celebrity Cruise Art Collection. Marlborough maintained a contract with the company, and the two of us worked on filling a minimum number of spaces per new construction cruise ship with contemporary art from around the world. This was not buying some giclee prints and calling it a day. It was a who’s who of art since 1970, and excellent examples of their work. Tom’s vast knowledge of Post War art led to an outstanding collection for Celebrity – impressive for the diversity of great art that’s in it and for its substantially proven upsides, financially speaking. It was exciting, difficult and special and I remain grateful to both Tom and to Marlborough for that.
It was also eye opening to me about the business of art, and it is how I developed a strong background in recent art and its market. I also made a million acquaintances. This confluence of circumstances led directly to my conception, and ultimately co-founding, of NADA (the New Art Dealers Alliance).
After leaving Marlborough in 2002, I became the Director of the now-defunct Gorney Bravin + Lee. It was shortly thereafter that I started NADA. About a year following that, I met Stanley and Nancy Singer through the gallery; they liked GB+L and loved the first NADA fair. They asked me to be their advisor, so I did that while still being the Director of a gallery. All the while, I was the President of a n-f-p that was growing by the second but had no full time staff other than me.
By 2005 the gallery was closing and I had far too much going on to start over again at another gallery without making major sacrifices. So I didn’t, I started SLP. This started with the conversion of 27th street (between 11th and the Highway) into art spaces with my friend and NADA co-founder John Connelly. I had a ground-level space there from which I ran my consultancy.
From day one, SLP had three types of service. Hence the original name: SLP Art Culture Commerce. However, it is the art advising service that I have been typically most known for – as the nature of the work is itself requires that I engage with the community (dealers, artists, museum professionals, etc) on a daily basis.
For people who don’t know what that entails, can you shed some light on what you do?
Again, there is great diversity out there for how this is done. Here is how we do it:
It starts as all of my work does here, including the creative business consulting. Someone has gotten my phone number from someone else. They call me. I say “Thank you for calling; how can I help you?”
As we speak and then meet up in their home or office, I’m genuinely trying to asses how it is that I can help them: what are their goals and values, and how can I help them define or reach them in a way that is different, better, more productive or more satisfying? It’s a lot of listening, as people are often not able to define these things concretely in the beginning.
With art collectors, there are historically 5 ‘assessed’ motivators. These are: aesthetic preferences, investment, speculation, scholarly study [or intellectual curiosity], and as a social activity. As the person speaks, I listen for how they prioritize these 5 things in the way that they speak. For example, someone may specifically tell you that they are doing it for love of art, but generally if they mention money a lot as they are talking, it often means that they prioritize investment over, let’s say, intellectual curiosity.
After we’ve gotten a good sense of one another, I share my thoughts of how I think I can help. If they like what they hear, we sign an agreement. This states our mutual obligations -- clearly defines what we’re both going to be doing in order for them to get to where they’d like to be.
There are so many sides of what happens next, we can break it down vaguely to two: the art and the art object; and the business. Again, how these come into play are individualized according to the client’s current and future priorities. There is a single commonality, something I stress as the #1: the collector finds artists or work in which they are sincerely, if not passionately, engaged.
The emphases in the process are on commitment, knowledge, and realism. I begin writing for them, or sending them links, articles, books, or making OCD lists of artists in Excel. Whatever format will be most efficient for the individual on the other end to digest the volume of info I’m giving them. Then they begin to think and look. We go look at art together, everywhere: museums, galleries, art fairs, online, artists’ studios, art schools, etc. Each acquisition opportunity is unique: some sales happen in a matter of moments, others may take over a year or two to find the right work.
Over time, there is a shared interested in how a collector functions in and participates with the cultural sector. At present, I am working on 4 collections, each of whom have been with me for at least 5 years. They are all quite different and wonderful. And they are all majorly active in museums and philanthropy, which is something I help them with too.
The way they deal with money also affects the relationship. With those that preference ‘aesthetics,’ for example, the negotiations and budget are fairly easy and straightforward. For other clients, however, I may become a part of their asset management team, and have to guide more complex financial activities – like art 401ks, 1031 exchanges, the establishment of a foundation or family office, estate planning, the resale of works, etc.
It’s really gratifying to work with people for an extended duration of time. The rewards include watching their collections become bigger or more refined, forming deep relationships with them, their families, and their personal or professional orbits, and watching artists within the collection grow, and see how the works change as the environment and context of the home or property evolve.
Any upcoming shows you can’t wait to check out?
In museums, definitely the Whitney Biennial. I always look forward to it, but this year is particularly special because of Jay Sanders. He is so fantastically agile and idiosyncratic. It is great that the Whitney gave him this opportunity, and I look forward to seeing how his unique point of view translates to a museum environment.
In galleries, I’m looking forward to the Pier Paolo Calzolari show that will be at both Boesky and Pace Galleries, opening April 27th. Calzolari has been under the radar in this country for a while. He’s been active since the late 1950s, but has not had a gallery show since he stopped working with Gladstone like twenty years ago. There is a marvelous lineage of Italian 20th Century art – from the Futurists to Arte Povera and beyond, great artists like Manzoni, Fontana, AIighiero e Boetti, Mario Merz, Alberto Burri, Guiseppe Penone, and Calzolari, who is a peer of the latter. I think when you see Calzolari’s work, you’ll note its relationship to new art. His use of salt as well as complicated freezing apparatus relate very beautifully to an another artist whose work I admire: Banks Violette. Calzolari began working with these materials around the year Banks was born, oddly enough.
Boesky and Pace are literally knocking down the wall that separates their galleries on 24th and 25th street, respectively. The level of commitment, particularly on Boesky’s part, is exciting. I cannot wait to see the results.
Why do your Art Advisory clients to sign an agreement?
Mutuality & transparency. We want to protect your interests. We want you to trust that you are never pressured to buy a work of art for the wrong reasons. You should take time to make the right decisions. You should be well-informed about what you are acquiring and why. You should enjoy yourself, and work with someone who can create a positive, enriching experience for you. We will make every possible resource available to you in order to make these things happen. In return, we ask that you agree to protect and respect us too.
What makes your Art Advisory approach unique?
SLP has had the rare experience of working with both blue-chip art at a high level, as well as galvanizing an entire community of emerging artists and their dealers from 2000 – 2010. This expansive network & background is applied with strategies that respect the identity and integrity of our clients. We work in close collaboration over years and ultimately guide asset management, philanthropy, and other cultural engagements. We have become known for this long-term commitment, as have our clients. This has further strengthened our mutual respect & relationships in the art community, and impacts the quality of works we are able to access.
How do I choose the art advisor that’s right for me?
Most good art advisors offer art expertise & a professional network. Those are the basic job requirements. It is everything else that determines whether they are right for you. Can the two of you communicate easily and clearly? Do you have the same priorities in terms of how you relate to art and the art world? Are they well versed in the business? Do they make you feel comfortable? Can you trust them? Like attracts like; we realize that SLP is not right for all collectors, and vice versa. We have many colleagues that we trust & respect, and make referrals when appropriate.
Who pays your Art Advisory fees and how does that work?
All services are paid for by the client. This is an added assurance: you can trust that we work for you, not for the art galleries or auction houses. Payment options include annual retainers, hourly fees, percentage-based commissions, and/or some combination of all three. It varies based on the needs and wishes of the client. There is no minimum annual budget. Feel free to contact us for a proposal and estimate.