What it means to be an art advisor

Courtesy of Adrianna Calvo from Pexels.

In 2018 global art sales — those that were recorded — rose by 6% from the last year, rising to $67.4 billion. The US retained its position as the world’s largest art market, responsible for $29.9 billion – the highest ever – of total sales, according to The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2019.

Millenials are now engaging more with the art community and expressing a desire to collect, with for example, 46% of Singapore’s collectors in this age bracket. Meanwhile, global auction figures rose 3% year-on-year – as new auction records for artists are set every few months.  

With art collection on the rise and the intricacies that make up an art sale, it is essential for all players – new and seasoned – to be advised accurately by a knowledgeable third party. This is where an art advisor comes in.

What is an art advisor?

By definition, an art advisor is a connoisseur with the eye to tell you that the Matisse you want to buy is, in fact, not a Wolfgang Beltracchi. Sotheby’s says an advisor is usually someone who “has held positions at an art gallery, a museum, an auction house, or another art institution, or has received substantive education about art history and the art market”.

A good art advisor is someone who will look at the broad state of the art market before advising clients. Many will agree that someone skilled knows not only how to deliver what was asked of them but also how to challenge a client’s thinking so as to help tastes evolve.

What does an art advisor do?

Being an art advisor is a full-time job for someone like Rosemont Art Advisory’s Karolina Blasiak – who will usually provide clients with a “wall-to-wall, nail-to-nail service”. What this means is that she will not only bring an “aesthetic and intellectual education”, but also arrange shipping, customs, insurance and installation services.  

The job is quite hands-on, as Blasiak is tasked with getting investors away from the office and putting them in front of the artwork. She said: “We target a series of museums and gallery exhibitions to visit with the clients and then continue the process by accompanying our clients to international art fairs and auction previews.

But this is natural, as an art purchase is considerably different to that of a financial product. “Investors must dare an ‘alternative’ investment””, she said, in an interview earlier this year.      

While Blasiak asserts that there is a 50-50 split between clients buying to collect and those buying as an investment, Claire McCaslin-Brown, of McCaslin Art Advisory, says many current buyers belong to a third category.

These buyers do not consider themselves to be art collectors but are also not looking at it as an investment. “It’s both – it’s an artist that she responds to and feels excited to own but is also a good investment for hard times, when she might need to sell or get a loan against,” said McCaslin-Brown.

René Magritte’s La Légende des siècles. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Young collectors and first-time buyers

With the numbers of younger collectors increasing in the different markets, art advisors can have a crucial role to play in this emerging demographic.

One collector will often have very different needs to the next, says Lise Arlot, co-founder and art director, Feral Horses.

The set of tasks that an art advisor conducts is very broad and framing each need is critical. From decorating a space to helping a new buyer get their ideal artworks, in line with the philosophical basis of their collection,” said Arlot.

What to look for as a client?

A lot of collectors and investors are often seeking to talk to someone who knows art. “It sounds very basic, but a lot of art investors want to ask questions and discuss art.” This process can be quite helpful, says McCaslin-Brown, in understanding the kind of art forms and artists her clients respond to.

“By talking to me, they also get an entry point into this world that can seem very inaccessible and whose workings you need time to understand.”

It is important for art advisors to make their intentions clear to potential buyers before they commit to working with them. Blasiak said: “[Advisors] must be able to assure the client about the independence of their motivations, their background and their academic preparation.

Buyers should also judge advisors based on their ability to collaborate with museums and institutions – should the need arise in the future. Blasiak added that advisors should be open-minded and very rational about the decision they are proposing to the client.   

In recent years, there has always been speculation about third parties in art market transactions. Blasiak feels the industry’s reputation is degraded by the opaque spirit of contractual agreements and scandals of the past.

But “the people in this business who are in it for the one shop, the one transaction. These are the people to beware of,” says Blasiak.