by Shane Ferro
The art advisory profession has been around for ages, but its popularity has exploded over the last decade. Before that, clients mainly relied on working with trusted dealers or relying on their own personal tastes. But increasingly, wealthy collectors are looking for a third party with art, and art-world, expertise but no monetary stake in the final sale of a work. Over the weekend, the Financial Times took a look at the profession’s growth. What did they find?
THE CLIENTS HAVE MORE MONEY THAN TIME
Advisors cater to a class of people who pay experts to make their every decision: they have chefs, stylists, trainers, lawyers, financial advisers, and nannies at their beck and call. Why not an art advisor, too? Wealthy people generally spend much if not all of their days managing and increasing their capital from all corners of the globe, and building cultural capital (and its attendant social status) takes time — farming it out just makes sense. A-list advisor Thea Westreich puts it this way: “They like to feel confident that someone is looking after their specific needs.” The photograph accompanying the article, of Dasha Zhukova at the Frieze Art Fair, says it all. A demure Zhukova looks tanned and relaxed, not a hair out of place, while her evidently frazzled former art advisor Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst (now director of Pace‘s planned London gallery) is clearly at work on the phone behind her.
BUYING INTO THE CIRCLE OF TRUST
An art advisor can be the golden ticket to the most coveted contemporary trophies. A collector can’t just walk into a major gallery, plop $20 million on the table, and walk out with one of the works on display. There is a process. Each dealer needs to trust that the buyer isn’t looking to flip the work at auction the next year or otherwise make money at the expense of the artist or gallery. That trust can take years to establish. But the top advisors already have those connections, facilitating gallery purchases with ease. Many collectors may not ever set foot in the galleries where they are buying works. According to the article, these days many collectors “wouldn’t dream of buying art without an advisor.”
ADVISE OR CONSENT?
The article points to a split between advisers on how much the taste of the adviser should influence the client. Some, like Allan Schwartzman, who advises Brazilian billionaire Bernardo Paz among other high-profile collectors, nudge their clients in new directions. Others believe that since, at the end of the day, its the clients’ money, they should be able to spend it however they like, even if it’s not to the advisor’s taste.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
Even though any former gallery receptionist can slap “art advisor” on a business card, not all are created equal. The best — the ones who are going to make money in this business — have worked in the industry for years, usually in top positions for major galleries or auction houses. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have the imprimatur of the Association of Professional Art Advisors, though the FT article notes that many of the top advisors in the industry do not belong to the association in order to remain somewhat anonymous.
The popularity of art advisors contributes to a homogenization of the collecting process, leading to less eccentricity in the world’s top private collections. It’s becoming common to go down a list of top artists and tick of the blue-chip names that “need” to be in the collection, just like stocks in a financial portfolio. But then again, with enough clients, advisors can afford to come up with idiosyncratic, taste-based collections of their very own.