by Chiara Lewis
Beneath its lustrous surface, the contemporary art market is as enigmatic as can be. How exactly do artists get their work from their studios to the homes of collectors, or in the halls of museums? Well, this tends to be a mysterious process for those outside the art world, and even for those inside the system. Nevertheless, what is widely known and much reported in the contemporary art market is who paid how much for what.
Every day artists, galleries, and collectors, connect to shape the contemporary art market, and this article will provide a brief analysis of how these interactions emerge, and the vital role an art consultant plays in the construction and cooperation of these players.
The art market differs from every other international market.
The way art is traded, sold, and bought is through auction houses, galleries, private collections, and museums, frequently with the assistance of art consultants, curators, and general art experts. Art consultants are essential actors in the art world, as they advise clients, negotiate with galleries, bid on works at auctions, and introduce buyers to market experts. Thus, much of the art market’s uniqueness derives from the fact that many art collectors and buyers cannot evaluate the quality of artwork without guidance from experts; even the most accomplished collector of contemporary art is often confused.
Since art is an intangible asset with a few particular value-adding characteristics, it is difficult for many collectors and buyers to differentiate between the quality of various works, and for such, rely on their trusted advisors to help them navigate the complexities of the art market to build a well-curated personal collection. Some frequently asked questions from art collectors and buyers to art consultants are: Is there a concept behind the artwork? How does it relate to other works? Is this a reasonable price? How will this piece look with my other pieces? Art collectors and buyers need substantial reassurance before they splurge on art, and many of the institutions and practices of the art market revolve around providing these types of services.
How do art collectors and buyers choose the art they buy, with or without an art consultant?
First, art collectors and buyers use brand names as a certifier of quality in a multitude of different settings. There are two prominent brands in the art market: the gallery and the artist. Gallery brand names stem from a profoundly organized hierarchical system where their position in that “bureaucracy” captivates collectors. For many collectors, a gallery’s reputation is the most significant aspect when choosing a gallery; thus, a gallery’s status is incredibly important. Artists, like galleries, are also brands, particularly when they reach a certain level of popularity within the art world. Their status has two critical implications upon their artwork: its value and its recognition.
Therefore, a notable gallery has the power to advance a represented artist’s prominence in the contemporary art market, and the relevance of an artist’s brand has the potential to capture more valuable collectors and buyers. Another notable aspect of brands in the contemporary art market is a “Winner Take All” feature, where a large section of investments on art is focused on a small number of artists.
The aspect mentioned above has always been a structural feature of the art market. Art collectors and buyers customarily associate an artist’s authorship with quality; therefore, purchases are centered on specific artists and galleries who represent those artists. This trend has recently intensified by the globalization of the contemporary art market.
What is an art consultant, and what role does she or he play in the art market?
An art consultant is an expert in the world of art. An art consultant is knowledgeable on both past and present art, and possess the necessary skills to evaluate all genres of work. He/she is capable of attributing authorship, defining authenticity, and providing a precise judgment of quality for each artwork analyzed. Furthermore, an art consultant typically has professional experience from working at a gallery or a museum, or he/she held a previous position in art management. Thus, an art consultant should understand the market value of an artwork, conduct adequate diligence on pricing, quality, and origin, and be a well-versed negotiator.
A proper art consultant also needs to know what to do after the transaction — for example, framing, installing, lighting the work, ensuring, cataloging, and loaning out pieces from the collection to other galleries or museums. An art consultant’s principal role is helping his/her clients understand the complex maze that is the art world. However, the exact reasons for why an individual would inquire an art consultant can vary. For example, a buyer may be new to the sphere of art collecting and needs guidance and connections with top galleries and auction houses. Art consultants can facilitate the process of collecting by researching galleries to visit and by booking appointments. Additionally, the art market is notoriously a relationship-based business.
Although an art collector might know which work he/she wants, frequently, only an art consultant with the right connections can obtain the access needed to secure a specific piece. Galleries often sell only to their most loyal or high-profile clients, making it difficult for new buyers to get access to desirable works. A respected consultant, on the other hand, can use his/her connections to help facilitate a path towards artworks usually reserved to certain customers. Also, an art consultant can help an art collector acquire a specific taste, for instance, investing in contemporary art rather than renaissance art.
Nevertheless, the downside of relying on an art consultant is that the age-old “buy what you love” mantra is lost when a market expert advises a buyer on what to buy. As a result, art collecting has become frequently homogenized and eclectic, and individual collections have become increasingly uncommon.
What is the difference between an art consultant and an art dealer?
There is a crucial distinction between art consultants and art dealers. Although both have the expertise needed to design an impressive collection of art, each represents, and gets compensated, by a different player in the world of art. An art consultant works for individual clients, providing them with a neutral guide in the process of acquiring a single work of art or building an entire collection.
Contrastingly, an art dealer’s responsibility is to the artists they represent and their respective work. The artists pay them with a percentage, usually 30%-60% of the sales of their work. In conclusion, the act of art collecting is rapidly, and globally, increasing, primarily from the rise of online art sales and the proliferation of private collections and museums.
Thus, with an increase in art collectors and buyers, comes the demand for experts who can assist in the process. Art consultants are an indispensable tool for any buyer who is serious about securing a superb collection of artworks that will enrich a home in the present and enrich the owner in the future.
Chiara Lewis was born in New York City and raised in Italy from the age of 3. Surrounded by beauty, her love and appreciation for the arts grew tremendously. Since childhood, Chiara has been fascinated by the universe, the way human knowledge interacts with human curiosity, and the way music defines and relates to our lives, and fuses all of those aspects in her large-scale paintings. She began to express her passion for the Fine Arts through painting and drawing. These interests were cultivated during high school as an AP Art student and further developed at Georgetown University, where she is pursuing a double major in Studio Art and Cultural Anthropology. In the summer of 2019, Chiara worked with Agora Gallery as a digital marketing intern.