Art collecting with Judith Selkowitz
Interview with Judith Selkowitz who shares her experience and guides us through the art of collecting art.
Can you give us an overview of what is happening in your market right now, what artists you recently saw and the works you liked?
The trophy culture that has defined the top tier of the art world in recent years has decelerated somewhat, and speculation in emerging artists has also slowed. Excessively priced and over-marketed works by lesser quality artists are not selling so quickly as in the past. I believe this is a healthy sign that the art market has calmed down. That said, there is still money around following superior work, and if priced correctly, there is still business to be transacted!
What are the notable trends that serious collectors should be on the lookout for? Interest in three-dimensional artworks, including sculpture and ceramics, is now well-established. There is a renewed following for textiles, which were very popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s, now in a variety of formats. Also, an emerging interest in 19th, 20th century and contemporary architectural and sculpture drawings, and contemporary African art. There are still good buys to be found in new and reemerging artists from the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific. Recently I have seen some wonderful exhibitions: “Drawing Then: Innovation and Influence in American Drawings of the Sixties” at Dominique Levy Gallery, and “Concrete Cuba” at David Zwirner. Other works I have seen lately that I applaud are by Erica Baum, John Zinsser, Santi Moix and Guy Ben-Ari.
How would you advise a new collector to find his way to quality and what is a great collection to you?
The best collection strategy is to stay well-informed and self-educated, which the majority of our clients are simply too busy to do. But, as in other fields of investment, the key to making wise acquisitions in the art market is to educate oneself about an individual artist or medium, and history has shown that the astute, well-informed buyer always comes out ahead. Start by visiting the highest quality exhibitions. A wealth of information is available to both new and seasoned collectors, whether related to pricing, emerging talent, trends or geographical factors.
Anyone can visit auction houses to preview upcoming sales and learn which artists and which media are commanding reasonable prices and then track the auction results. Major museums, art fairs and some galleries sponsor lecture series that provide historical expertise and useful perspectives on market trends. The top art periodicals are an excellent source of information, with content that includes artist profiles, art show news, regional and global trends, market statistics and technical information. I recommend The Art Newspaper, Artforum, and Art & Auction. Well-regarded museums like The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York offer excellent online courses. Galleries, too, showcase a variety of artists and artworks, and the prices predictably range according to artists’ reputations and pricing history. A great private collection can be achieved through focused, unfocused and eclectic acquisitions. Sometimes commissioning artworks can be exciting for a collector. A great collection includes the BEST QUALITY artworks acquired over time and enjoyed for years.
What boxes do you need to tick before pulling the trigger on an acquisition?
Before “pulling the trigger”, make sure you have seen the scope and best of the particular artist’s work. Examine the provenance and condition of the artwork. Are there any fading, cracks, tears in margins of paper works. Be aware of the original size. Have the works been cut down in size (this devalues an artwork). Make repeat examinations (once or twice)of the selected piece. Consider discussing the artist and their work with an art advisor. What major events in the contemporary art calendar would you advise a new collector to attend? It is important for clients to try to attend auction previews at least once a year of major Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. Additionally, endeavor to attend museum exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, New York and London. I recommend the following art fairs: The Art Show (ADAA), The Armory Show and The Independent (all in New York), Frieze New York and London (also Frieze Masters London), Art Basel, Art Brussels.
Collection management: What can private clients learn from the process and tools, corporations use to manage their collections and conservation issues?
Generally a corporation or law firm purchase the most important artworks for areas visible to clients – reception, boardroom, conference room, sometimes breakout spaces and cafeteria. Corporations spend less on art for offices and less visible spaces.
It is important to maintain the following information for artworks in the collection – artist, title, date, size, date and place of art purchase, condition report, current appraisal, bills of sale, provenance, biographical information, location of artworks.
For private clients who have less than 30-40 artworks, we sometimes create a digital database, insert and tailor the specific information needed. Two of the most used art tracking inventory systems are The Museum System (for huge collections) and Art/Systems Pro.
It is true that artists do not necessarily look to use material that will last. Climate control is very important for art conservation. Keep works out of direct sunlight (fading). In the case of Dan Colen’s bubble gum paintings (he shows at Gagosian) climate control is important. It is best to have a knowledgeable conservator look at artworks before purchases to denote condition – brittle canvas, craqueleur, fading etc.
Art and Interior design
Art should be complementary to, but not dictated by, the architecture and design of the space in which it resides. A successful, eclectic approach could be to introduce art that is of a different period and style from a room’s architectural style and furniture. The most important mantra: buy art that you enjoy. Review the space, the light, and, of course the budget. Take into consideration your favorite colors, subjects, artists/ periods that you admire. Ask an architect or interior designer to see the space and weigh in on the type of art they think might work. If you have time, research art and artists online or in art books, and if possible in person. Seek out an Art Advisor for expert advice.. It’s fun. One learns a lot! Be open to suggestion and new ideas and artists.
What should a new art collector be wary of when it comes to art pricing?
When buying art, beware of any price that seems too good to be true! Work with dealers and galleries that have an established reputation, longevity, and expertise in a particular category of art or artist. Consult ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) and always do your own due diligence and research.
Regarding fair price: certain dealers have the reputation of always being more expensive. Some collectors like the cache of buying from these dealers but you may wish to look further. Review auction prices of artworks that you’re interested in. See if the artist’s work is sold in alternate galleries and compare prices. A price at another gallery (USA or Europe) or auction house might also be more affordable. Be aware though that the artworks another source is offering by the same artist may in fact be a lesser quality example of the artist’s oeuvre, or perhaps there is a condition issue. Remember the three D’s – debt, death and divorce – may also be a factor in price – sometimes people need to sell quickly.
Working with and selecting an art advisor
An art consultant helps you navigate all aspects of acquiring and collecting art. Word to the wise: choose an advisor who is well educated and has been an independent consultant for at least 6 or 8 years. Experience, education, expertise and good taste are crucial criteria. Check client and art dealer references.
We highly recommend contacting an art advisor to assist you with every step of the process, from learning about your own art preferences, to choosing the right framing for new acquisitions. The advantages of working with an art advisor are many. Choose one with knowledge, expertise and years of experience. A good advisor will spend time educating a client, introducing them to various types of art and providing guidance to ascertain the client’s taste and preferences. Some advisors can provide exclusive access to great artworks that are not typically available to the public, and provide entry into back rooms of galleries. Many have connections that allow them to negotiate the best prices.
We recommend approaching one or two art professionals that are trustworthy (make sure they have expertise and top references) and enjoyable to work with. Art fairs, for example, can be overwhelming, and consulting with your art advisor before attending can help a collector navigate the shows. A de-briefing after returning from a show can also help distill one’s thoughts on things that were found to be of interest.
Do you have to share an aesthetic, have the same taste as your advisor?
You do not have to have the same aesthetic or taste. If the advisor prefers more minimal rather than “busy” art, a good advisor can still advise on the best detailed art for the client.
How do you source art for your clients?
Being in the art world for many years allows me to have many sources including clients who have lived with their art for years and are ready to deaccession – donate to museums and institutions, maybe sell and buy new works. We are familiar with museum leaders, dealers throughout the world, collectors and private dealers. We maintain an extensive data bank with information on emerging and reemerging artists, and master works. We know where the “goods” are, and we are informed of upcoming works atglobal auction houses and galleries.
What is the perfect client like? Do you think an advisor can have an unlimited number of clients without compromising his work and without creating conflicts of interests (e.g. one art work might be of interest for several clients)?
There are a few perfect clients. However I must say I have been fortunate to have had and have wonderful clients. Most good clients are happy to listen to expert and wise advice. Occasionally I might decline a potential client if I feel they will not listen or if they cancel appointments. It is impossible to focus on more than 3 or 4 clients. Sometimes an existing ongoing client only requires a few hours monthly. I will not accept a new client who is looking for the same art as a current client.