It is extremely rare that a collector immediately becomes an art world insider. Passion comes first, and then in due course it is followed by the necessary knowledge, experience, and originality in taste. The initial drive is frequently based in an interest in art as an asset class, and later, it frequently either grows into a life-long practice or simply ends. For both, the collector-to-be and the seasoned collector whose collection needs to be managed and looked after, the role of an art advisor is indispensable. Artlaw.club is honoured to talk to two art professionals with rewarding careers in different parts of the world: Ms. Zane Grants-Wolff from Switzerland and Ms. Anda Kļaviņa from Latvia.
- Art advising is a very niche market segment that asks for quite a bit of knowledge and experience in the field. What were the prerequisites choosing this specific job? What is your background?
Zane: An art advisor certainly needs a strong business background, as there is very rarely a collector who does not care about the economic value of the objects and the return on their investment. It is by no means the only aspect, but it is not unimportant. Excellent research and negotiation skills are also absolutely indispensable (because one work by Picasso is not equal in value to another work by Picasso). Well-developed visual culture and insight are indispensable, especially if the advisor is also the curator (def. someone who is building the concept and unity of a collection, and managing its day to day care). Yet, this must take place without it becoming overly academic and, thus, less accessible or less enjoyable for the collector, who may not be interested in the various tedious details. The advisor often has the task of steering the collector away from trendiness & ‘bling’, and guiding them toward personal expression and refined depth. The advisor has the important role of keeping the collector from paying too much in moments of passion during auctions or succumbing to pressure from sales professionals. In order to manage these relationships, the advisor must have excellent psychology skills. In addition to the financial and intellectual benefits, emotional expression is another of the main reasons people collect. Collecting is an exploration and a voyage which can be both collective and individual, and it can even be used for family or group therapy and healing.
There is also certainly the less glamorous level of collection management, which requires a legal background, organizational skills, and experience with various service providers, basically all the do’s and don’ts of the trade.
Communication skills are the axis of managing collections – standards are set and kept, artistic directions of interest are defined and redefined in each collection, goals are set and met, relationships with artists and viewers of the final product are developed.
In summary, an art advisor must have a strong background in humanities, paired with business acumen, strong psychology and organizational skills, and all of this topped off with exceptional communication skills, which is exactly my professional background. I studied Literature, Art, and Baltic Area Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. Later, I spent years working in Communications, including a Directorship at the first Latvian Chamber of Commerce, which was created by his Excellency ex. Ambassador Armands Gutmanis in Vilnius in collaboration with top Latvian companies. To fortify my role as an art advisor I studied Art Law at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. However, I am not a lawyer, but a good advisor knows when to seek professional legal or other types of help.
Anda: I started my career as a journalist back in 1999, very quickly transiting to art journalism when working for what was at that time the main Latvian daily ‘’Diena’’ (2000 – 2007). As I travelled extensively, in Europe and occasionally to the US, meeting artists and visiting art institutions, I gradually entered into art criticism. I was very successful at it, and drew a lot of local and international critical acclaim: nomination for prizes, residencies, various exchange programs all over Europe, etc. After MA studies in art philosophy from the Center for Research in Modern European Philosophy in London, I switched from writing about art to organizing various events connected to art critique (seminars, conferences etc.) But as the last remains of critical discourse I was trained in, both in journalism and philosophy, withered away with the advancement of the 2008 economic crisis, I made the decision to enter the business world in 2011. There, I learned strategies that were instrumental in establishing myself as an art consultant. I rely heavily on my contacts from the art world and the taste that developed by being exposed to great art over many years.
- What is there within the scope of your advice?
Zane: The scope depends on the individual client’s needs. In a corporate setting, the advisor is usually called a curator because of the more administrative role within an enterprise. The curator sets the tone for a web of relationships: some of the people engaged in a corporate collection project may be deeply involved in art, such as the artists themselves, or the CEO or owner who decided to extend the collection to his/her company, while others in the team may be accustomed to completely different tasks and goals, such as the PR team, or managers… Again, the job of the curator then is to develop a meaningful collection within a set budget and with a given set of people.
The budget of private collectors is often much larger, and the web of involved people is much smaller. Once we move away from art for decorative purposes, or the ‘image’ aspect that a collection communicates, we can notice that in private collecting the intellectual and profitability aspects take a much higher place. The art advisor for a private client spends a lot of time searching for pieces, researching their provenance, researching specific artists, researching the market, then s/he negotiates, deals with a myriad of legal issues, organizes conclusive transactions, places the work in the collection both physically and in the inventory, compiles and writes texts, and ensures insurance and proper handling. The relationship with museum curators must also be built, so works can be loaned for important exhibitions. I prefer to call myself a curator, because I offer all of these, and also communications services, including loans to museums and work with fellow curators. A regular art advisor may just call up a collector and try to make a transaction because a piece is ‘hot in the market’, while my services reach beyond profitable deals – the larger goal is to have an excellent stand-alone collection to be admired and appreciated in all its nuances.
Anda: I would mark out three main activities: 1) Working with private collectors in developing their personal taste, and expanding their collection in line with that focus. 2) Helping various collectors to acquire the artwork they desire - from Picasso to younger, local artists. 3) Helping artists to connect to galleries, and ensuring other promotional and professional development opportunities.
- What are the main sources of the new works - art fairs, (mainstream?) galleries, auctions, etc.?
Zane: Yes, visiting art fairs is a large part of the job. I visit roughly 6-8 fairs each year, but the fairs mostly serve the purpose of being the ultimate and never-ending space for discovery and further learning. Throughout my years of activity, I have developed relationships with gallerists and dealers, and I often am offered their best works before they even reach the fair or a gallery exhibition. I believe any good acquisition requires important background research, and when that is done and we know exactly what we are looking for, art fairs can become an excellent source – and we can sometimes be surprised by new galleries, new artists, new contacts.
Auction houses are another secondary market source. It is a different ‘esprit’ to acquire through auctions, but it is also quite exciting. Sales & acquisitions through this source tend to be much more visible, and often my job is to make sure that the client does not overpay – I am the buffer. However, most transactions for me are subtle and go through private sales.
Anda: My experience shows that 50% comes from galleries (often the communication takes place during an art fair), 30% directly from artists, and 20% from first hand owners.
- Who are your main clients (their status, location, etc.)?
Zane: A combination of private and corporate clients, usually with several global locations.
Anda: I work most closely with relatively young collectors (although this is not a reflection of age, necessarily) who have been collecting for 5 to 15 years, and slowly growing their involvement with art. By the time they meet me, they often already have a collection but don’t yet feel confident about adding the name ‘’collector’’ to their status. They are usually top-tier professionals in some area: medical doctors, lawyers, real estate developers. There are, however, some freshmen so to speak – business owners who have acquired wealth in recent years, and are willing to jump into the art collecting business. Or, some younger people around 30 years of age.
They all are distinctly international people with several home bases. But the trajectory tends to be between these places: London – Switzerland (Geneva, Zurich) – Monaco – Riga (as many have Latvian roots) – New York.
- Could you give a general description of a client of an art advisor? Should it always be an UHNWI, or is collecting an option for regular people?
Zane: The art market today has become very democratic. If you have 1K a year to give to a collection, in 20 years you may have a nice little collection and an entire history of discovery on your personal timeline.
You need an advisor for any acquisition above 10K, and especially once you make a more serious commitment to collecting. The portfolios I offer start at 30K per annum for 5 years, and with my particular approach, the collector spends almost zero in advisory fees. Even on smaller acquisitions, I would work with a specialist. It is reassuring, you get a whole resource of knowledge at your disposal and it is simply much more pleasant and inspiring to work together with someone.
Anda: In my case, UHNWIs tend to pop up for some unique projects: searching for a Picasso from a specific year, looking for a Monet landscape, etc. Most others are well-to-do professionals who have some money and time to allocate to their pleasure. People who have the most developed taste in art are also the ones who tend to pay the most for it. Those in search of a positive public image via art often try to negotiate deals well below the market price, due to an incomplete understanding of the cultural value of particular artwork or artist.
- Are there any differences between forming a private or a corporate collection?
Zane: Corporate art collections are usually created with living, contemporary artists, and often have smaller budgets. Corporate collections, more than private collections, focus on larger scale works, such as installations and murals, while private collectors often need to fit the work in a living space. In general, private collectors often live with the works, and this aspect plays a large role. Corporate collections are created to engage an audience with the works, whether employees or clients, and thus, the decisions have another criterion.
Anda: Definitely. I haven’t developed a corporate collection myself though. They key difference is that corporate collections tend to have a political aim (building an influence well beyond the artistic value of the collection). Whereas private collectors can often allow themselves to buy according to (purely) aesthetic criteria. This allows more freedom and more personal engagement between the consultant and client, despite sometimes fewer resources.
- What are the main preferences of Swiss (USA, other countries?) collectors and of Latvian ones?
Zane: The Swiss are adamant collectors of contemporary art and always have been. Some of the most important firsts of the contemporary art world, globally, have come out of Switzerland, and many artists who later became well-known had their first shows in Switzerland.
Latvia produces excellent artists, but they have often achieved great recognition outside their homeland. In Latvia, the culture is not generally very experimental in mindset, and the collecting practice reflects that as well - it remains traditional, and why not?
Anda: There are differences in the resources available to the collector, but the general starting point is similar: something that is close to the collector’s heart. For many it’s their place of origin (artists associated with that region or nationality), for others it’s their values (openness, plurality, symbolism of wealth). Some are interested in specific mediums: photography, film and video, even new media art.
There is still an educational division between Western and Eastern European collectors. In Western countries, a better general education about art is available, meaning, people are more aware of and interested in the ideas art conveys. This enlarges their collection scope to artists from other geographies and cultures. Whereas, collectors from the East are weak at valuing art for its aesthetic ideas. Philosophy, social theory, and theoretical thought in general have historically has been discouraged in this region, and this has strong implications even today.
- Do you have a standardized offer or is it always a case-by-case scenario?
Zane: There are some standardized offers, but they are almost always adjusted. Currently, I am working on a group-owned collection, which will acquire artists with some Latvian reference in their history. The collectors in this project will discover new artists and their importance globally, and also own some of the works. It is a very exciting project for me, as I’m also of Latvian heritage.
Anda: It is a case-by-case scenario, but the process tends to be similar
- Do you offer legal advice (provenance check, title due diligence, transaction documents, etc.) as well, or do you outsource the legal issues?
Zane: I know how far I can go without seeking external help, and exactly at which point we need a specialized lawyer, specialized valuator etc. That is part of the added value of a collection advisor – the enormous amount of know-how and the knowledge of how much can be done on our own. It is always a balance in doing the job well and not overspending on services without reason because of a lack of experience.
Anda: I offer consultation to my clients about the best experts out there. Being a connector between various art professionals is a huge part of my activity. During this process, many new opportunities pop up.
- Do you ever work on selling the collection as a whole or partially? Do you help to restructure the collections?
Zane: Deaccession and private sales are a very important part of my activities, especially for private clients. Corporate collections seldom sell works, and when they do, it is done quietly. Usually collectors sell works to adjust or crystalize a collection, but even more often, because they desire change or have another important work in their view for which they need funds.
Anda: No, I haven’t been asked to do this as of yet.
- Do you help in cataloguing and further promotion of the collections?
Zane: Yes, an important part of keeping a collection is knowing what you have and where you have it. Periodically adjusting the insurance is also important. We no longer live in the 20th century, where works were not catalogued, except by museums and the more diligent enterprises. This now poses a lot of problems with provenance and authentication, which can be excessively difficult to obtain. However, it also yields - to the romantic connoisseur - the detective work of finding an important artist at a garage sale, authenticating it and selling it for a fortune. As a matter of fact, in the UK there is an entire TV show called ‘Fake or Fortune` that follows such pursuits. We still have enormous problems with fake works, and keeping proper records is indispensable. I make both hard and digital catalogues of all relevant documentation.
As to promotion – I represent the collector and not the artist. Thus, if any collection-related event is held, it usually has a specific purpose or concept. I would refrain from calling such activities promotion, which has a very commercial sound to it.
Anda: No cataloguing, but promotion – yes.
- How do modern technologies affect the art market and your work? Does introduction of blockchain or other online services impact collecting preferences or transaction processes?
Zane: This is an enormous subject, but yes, new technologies are incorporated into collecting practices. Let’s return to this another time.
Anda: It makes communication with collectors and involved parties much easier. It is great for keeping them updated about opportunities. But most sales, and more serious deals, only happen after meeting in person.
- What are the overall tendencies in the market? What changes (if any) should we be ready for in the near future?
Zane: I see only evolution, and no revolutions in sight concerning the art market. It will continue to grow, as prosperity increases. People invest in art for pleasure, for show, and for fortune, and it will always be so. The main development that I can predict is an increased documentation of collections, along with increasingly greater transparency in transactions.
Anda: There will be a change connected to the fact that more of general public appreciates art. I cannot predict how this change will manifest. There will be a tension created by the professionalization of the art world and its status of being relatively lawless (i.e. free).
As for the Latvian art scene, there are more young artists emerging who have been trained in Western Europe, without ever being in the Latvian art education system. They are able to express their cultural background within the system of ideas (which is the weak point for all Latvia-educated artists), and see themselves, organically, as part of global art community.
- Do you think Brexit will influence the art market? Will it shift the art market center from London to continental Europe?
Zane: Yes, of course. We already see collections and art pieces being moved out of the UK. Similarly, as for financial transactions, companies are moving back to the continent, most notably Luxembourg, Brussels, and other EU countries. We are also seeing a shift in art companies, although this takes place much more subtly. The world is always in flux and I would not specifically dramatize the situation, but yes, Brexit is a decision that will continue to have an effect on the future.
Anda: It will prompt cities like Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, and others to become more international and culturally diverse. Paris is already experiencing a new influx of international artists and collectors.
ArtLaw.club expresses particular gratitude to Denise Wirth, English text editor for editing the interview.