ART COLLECTION MANAGEMENT: The Art Of Acquiring & Living With Art

I – Introduction

Collections management includes many facets of art collecting: research, acquisition, transportation, installation, documentation and record keeping, storage, exhibition, conservation, and sales. Once a painting is on the wall, or a sculpture is fixed on its pedestal or sited in a garden, does the professional art advisor sit back and say, “well done”, and then simply go on about their day?

Emphatically, No. Because of many well-made and considered decisions, the art hanging on that wall fits perfectly in its environment. But the journey to that public unveiling – the collecting – and the ongoing considerations – the management – are threads of a behind-the-scenes narrative whose patterns may not be discernable for those outside the process. How then does an art advisory service actually work with a collector?

When a consultant and client meet it should be for a good reason: the client wants to collect art and the advisor wants to satisfy this quest. Most commonly, client and consultant meet as a referral from friends, an art gallery, a museum, an interior designer, or through advertising. These are all legitimate avenues of introduction, though the first is probably the most common. One collector asks another collector for a recommendation.

Consultants are not experts on all types of art. Most specialize in a certain area, say Modern (20 th century) or Contemporary (late 20 th- early 21 st century). A good rule is to seek out an advisor who shares your interests and can provide in-depth knowledge about the artists you like, and also knows the related galleries, auctions and market activity around the artist. A collector should look for advice from someone who has a record of dealing in and collecting the type of works which interest him or her. A seasoned consultant will know the ropes and the etiquette when contacting galleries, private dealers and the artists themselves. They can also provide access to works they may have seen in private collections.

Setting a budget is a sign of commitment and should be discussed very early in the process. No sense talking about hunting for elephants when you can only afford squirrel. Everyone has limits and it’s best to define them rather than wasting time. Besides the price of the art there may be other expenses involved – taxes, commissions, transportation, insurance, installation, travel, etc. A consultant will prepare for the collector a realistic estimate of what a large $100,000 painting will cost when it’s purchased in LA and finally installed in their home in NY, or vice versa.

Do a little homework and chances are that you will refine your taste for the art you are pursuing and have a better grasp of why it appeals to you. Collector and advisor should, together, look through the standard texts or press on the artists of interest, study the auction catalogues and, more importantly, visit galleries and museums for the first-hand experience that sharpens one’s perceptions about the art you like. Even with art that, at first take, seems easily understood, there are nuances that can only be discovered by what I would call ‘intelligent looking’.

To assist with and elevate your visual acuity, spend a little time with a slender volume, What is A Masterpiece?, by the great British scholar and connoisseur Sir Kenneth Clark, wherein we see that all great pictures share some common elements.

© Fredrick Page/Page Art Inc.