By Heidi Lee | July 29, 2009
It was recently published in The Art Newspaper that “anyone can be an art advisor.” It is true. Anyone can be an art advisor just like anyone can be a financial adviser or real estate broker. And since layoffs are still continuing in the art world there are hundreds of art casualties becoming art advisors over night to avoid the disgrace of being unemployed, boredom, and take advantage of the ambiguous nature of the occupation. But why the sudden art advisor phenomenon? For starters, art advisors do not require certification or even an education to buy and sell art, like you would need a Series 7 for banking. You do not need to work at a large corporation for credibility since no multi-national corporate art advisory firms exist. Nor do you need to even have an office address. You can save a lot of money on overhead by working from home or remotely.
And art advisors are in demand. The increase in distressed sellers and opportunistic buyers has kept art advisors very busy lately. The market may be down but it is definitely not flat and there is a lot of activity going on. It is no wonder so many art casualties are adopting the title of art advisor. Unfortunately, unqualified advisors who are taking advantage of the opportunity can cause irrevocable damage to an artwork or a collection. Lack of experience and education and greed can lead to disaster. It is important to be aware of the risks that may be involved, so here are eight things to consider when working with an art advisor that will guarantee a good experience.
1. Referrals from a reliable source. Like most things you would get a referral for, ask around if anyone has used one in the past and if they had a good experience. Most of my clients are usually referred by friends, colleagues, and professionals like JP Morgan Chase’s private wealth managers and Christie’s specialists.
2. Trustworthiness. An art advisor should do everything in their power to protect your art and put your interests first before their own. They should be as discreet as possible about your art, and never disclose any information about it without your written consent. If they are showing your art around without your knowing, beware! Also, if they come across as aggressive or push you to buy something, most likely they have an ulterior motive. You should never feel pressured to buy or sell your art.
3. Art education. An advisor should have some kind of art degree or education. For example, a bachelor’s degree in Art History with a Master’s degree in Modern Art would be ideal. A degree or certificate in art is very important in order to have a basis to contextualize the art. Even a certificate in curatorial or museum studies is useful.
4. Connections. Ask what kind of network they have. They should be able to quickly identify a few people to indicate they have a solid network of art professionals including reputable curators, dealers, and specialists that they can to rely on to access top quality fine art and resources.
5. Appropriate experience. Look for a minimum of 3-5 years of experience so you are not dealing with an amateur. Ask what area they specialize in. You would not want an 18th century furniture expert help you find a rare mid 20th-century Mark Rothko painting.
6. Neutrality. Client’s interests are always first. An advisor should not hold art inventory and try to sell it to you. Always ask what the provenance is and who is the current owner. Ideally, advisors should not have their own art collections. If so, they risk being biased when recommending artists.
7. Ethicality. Check the invoice to see if a discount has been included. Most galleries give advisors a discount anywhere from 10-20% depending, as a courtesy for bringing them business. This should be disclosed to you. If it is not, you should assume the gallery has inflated the price you were given in order to pay the advisor a sum unbeknownst to you. Full disclosure means an advisor is being honest and is not taking a commission from both ends of the transaction.
8. Likeability. Last but not least, determine whether or not your personalities fit before embarking on the project that could take months or years to complete. It could develop into a long-term professional relationship so I recommend finding someone amicable, who is easy to get along with.
Your personal experience with art should be enjoyable. With a little diligence it is easy to find a good art advisor who can add to that experience, not take away from it.