Recently, we were asked to advise one of our long-time clients on the advisability of purchasing an expensive piece of art. The question reminded me of the old joke about how to know when you’ve seen a good opera (answer: when someone tells you). We politely declined, but it sparked some thought with this article.
Along with the Guggenheims and other early accumulators, many people today regard art as a legitimate asset class worthy of investment. Of course, the problem is, how do you know what to buy? Art prices go up and down like all other assets, and not all art by the same artist is viewed in the same way. Some paintings are timeless and become iconic while others are early or failed attempts that even the artist would rather see burn. In the midst of a blur of names, styles and eras, the artistic advisor has established himself as a source of wise advice to unravel everything. But is it really true?
The answer is soft. In recent years, the role of art advisors has expanded from museum consulting to estate and financial planning, acquisition strategies, storage and administration and other tasks for all kinds of clients. Some reports indicate that nearly a third of wealthy collectors meet at least occasionally with art advisers. The problem is that there are no national standards or accreditations required of these advisers. Anyone with an art degree – and even those without one – can hang a shingle. So, remember to ask the following questions before you take out your wallet.
First of all, what is the background and experience of your advisor? A long and varied career with varied credentials should provide much more comfort than a simple newly created art degree. Second, what is their specialty? An expert on old masters may know relatively little about modern art. Third, how does their billing work? It can be hourly, commission, commission or a combination of these. Either way, write it down. Fourth and sometimes foremost, what are the potential conflicts of interest in your relationship? Is the artistic advisor able to promote the art that interests him? If so, that’s a problem. It is also good to know that your advisor is a member of a recognized professional organization, but does not offer any guarantees. The point is to proceed with extreme caution.
And it reminds me of a second joke worth telling here. This is the definition of an expert being one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing. It’s certainly not me and probably not you. However, if you are deliberate, there is nothing wrong with being your own art advisor and following the two oldest rules in the book. Buy what you like and the best you can afford. Large collections have been built this way.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog publisher and author of seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Antique Galleries in Palm Springs. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Send him a message at [email protected]