Episode 62 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Sue Stoffel cont’d / The Eternal Optimist

Sue Stoffel interview continued.

Carey: That’s the idea. I think Creative Capital was encouraging fiscal sponsorship, because in a way this is what a lot of non-profits know how to do, Creative Time as well.

What they know very well is those wonderful things that Ann told you even about raising money, what needs to be done which means that’s the level of expertise that were artists to be able to use that they’re really conversive. They’re pro’s in how to do that. I haven’t seen this happen a lot and I think it’s very difficult for artists to raise money. Right now the art world seems to be changing so much or perhaps that’s just the whole world is always changing so much.  

Stoffel: Well, one of the projects I’m working on going forward which has to remain nameless now is finding exhibition space, living space and production space for visual artists and performance artists.

I think that’s the most pressing need right now, and the fact is that every creative person in New York is being priced out real estate wise. We’ve watched that in Brooklyn, we’ve watched that on the Lower East Side, going to Hoboken and to Philadelphia is not the answer. So I’m working with a non-profit to market empty storefronts, empty buildings, empty spaces on a temporary basis to artists in need so that they can have a studio or even an exhibition.

So it’s working with the real estate industry to make them understand that that social responsibility will come back to them in a big way by working with the creative community here in New York.

So I think that’s a viable alternative to building new studios and new buildings to work with existing structures and to make them suitable for artists to use even at a time temporary basis. So that’s one of the project that I’m working on now.

Carey: You’re working with galleries at the Lower East Side and I assume that’s how you find artists and work with artists – what are you seeing happening in the art world now? Are you excited about what you see coming out? I’ve talked with so many different people, some people say things like, there’s great work coming out, other people complain of the lack of depth in work being produced too fast, artists are thinking too much of the market. What’s your perspective on the new art that exist?    

Stoffel: I’m the eternal optimist. I mean, there’s such a disconnect between the art market and the art world and emerging art world, artists are creating extraordinary work with very resourceful materials.

I don’t agree that they’re making work too fast for the market. I think smart dealers and good dealers and long terms dealers allow artists to work at their own pace. It gets a little stressful a couple of weeks before the opening of the show but I think that model still works. The pricing structure is still where it should be. You shouldn’t have to mortgage your children to pay for a work of art. It’s the last priority at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of life’s necessities and it is actually disposable income.

So I’m not discounting art as an asset class and all the art investment funds but it’s not something that I’m interested in professionally or personally. I’ve been buying art for 30 years and the value of the collection has grown astronomically but it’s not why I do what I do. It’s not about the value. It’s about the support and the encouragement and the commitment of believing in these artists who are coming out of art school and have this incredible need to do what they do.

In that interview Sue Stoffel explains how she became a collector and I think it sheds light on how direct and simple the process can be for collectors. It started with one work of art, and from there her interest continued to grow. Like many collectors, she looks for art in galleries and talks to gallery owners about work she likes. That is primarily where she finds artists and new work. To be on her radar, and the radar of most collectors, your work needs to be on exhibit in places where collectors go.

She is a New Yorker, and most collectors in New York are looking at galleries on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where new galleries open all the time. So getting into group shows in that part of Manhattan by going to those galleries and getting familiar with the scene would help you meet collectors like her. If you are not in New York, then go to whatever neighborhood is near you that has galleries that collectors go to.

If you are a seasoned artist or emerging, this is one way to get more exposure in a new scene – by going to those galleries and looking for ways to get into group shows that can lead to sales and opportunities for solo shows.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.

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Episode 33 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Todd Levin

Todd Levin interviewed

The next interview is with Todd Levin, Director of Levin Art Group, an art advisory firm in New York City that assists private individuals in the creation and stewardship of large, museum-scale collections. This is a unique aspect of the art world, where some of the biggest deals take place and also where interesting collections are built. Mr. Levin is well-spoken and offers a concise education on how the world of art advisors operate.

The Interview

Carey: Can you explain your role at Levin Art Group? Exactly what is it that you do personally in the art advisory firm that you direct?

Levin: The art market has historically had a lack of regulation with regards to transparency, and some individuals believe this situation should change. With so much money at stake, art advisors are increasingly responsible for a significant portion of their collector’s net worth, and by extension earning large sums of money themselves. This has resulted in many unscrupulous and/or inexperienced people recently entering the art market, and specifically the field of art advisory. Some of these individuals have done significant damage to the reputation of my field. Because of the foregoing, I believe any responsible art advisor today should act as a public face for the role of art advisory practice by conducting themselves with transparent integrity.

Carey: I know you’ve been in this business for over twenty-five years—and as you’re saying some come and go, or do damage, do unscrupulous things. You have a track record that’s very powerful and very good. How is it that the art market becomes regulated? You said it was becoming more so, but it still seems that it’s something that is, to my knowledge, quite unregulated compared to any other kind of investment. Is that correct and, if not, how is it being more regulated?

Levin: One has to be careful how one uses the term “regulation.” Some people attempt to make the point that the art market is completely unregulated, as if it’s the Wild West. This is a fallacy, because there are existing state and federal laws that govern contracts and transactions that take place within the art market.

As opposed to other types of highly regulated business models that demand far more transparency, however, there is a distinct lack of transparency within the art market. That allows for opportunistic advantages as well as nefarious behavior to take place, which in other professions would be addressed by those contractual and transactional laws I just mentioned. I wouldn’t suggest the art market is unregulated. That’s an incorrect description. I would say that from a legal standpoint it certainly is a very opaque model.

Carey: Right, and we were talking about nefarious actions or unscrupulous deals, is that essentially selling artwork to private individuals or, I imagine, even to public institutions, that is not valued at what the advisor is saying? Or is not as valuable as the advisor is contesting? Would that be an example of an unscrupulous behavior?

Levin: I suppose there’s many types of unscrupulous behavior one could participate in. At its core, the job description of an ethical art advisor is to constantly provide their clients the most exceptional work available at the best possible price. An advisor is only going to be as good as the sum of their past experience and expertise. In addition, I should add that the true measure of an experienced art advisor occurs when the art market suddenly seizes or severely reverses. So there are other ethical concerns in addition to correctly vetting the authenticity and/or market value of artworks.

There can also be a great amount of manipulation that has to do with the market from a financial perspective. There is a fine line between attaining the best possible financial results from a purchase or sale on your client’s behalf, and being involved with market manipulations that could negatively impact an artist’s market in the short- to mid-term. There are other situations where strong conflicts of interest exist. One must work strenuously to avoid conflicts of interests.

Carey: I understand what you’re saying. An example would be buying a lot of an artist’s work to inflate the value of work, right?

Levin: As far as an example, let’s think of it this way. I have a client who has an interest in a specific artist. I then agree to work with a second client who also would like to purchase work by the same artist. After this, I am later offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to access what would be considered the masterpiece that this artist created.

So I’m offered this singular art work: to which of my two clients shall I offer it? I have more than one collector avidly interested in this specific artist, and they both have the requisite monies required to purchase what would be considered the most important art work by this artist. At that point I have a strong conflict of interest – deciding who gets this artwork. And that creates problems for art advisors. I’ve had discussions many times with a number of advisors whom I respect tremendously, and this is my standard query. The general response I get is a shrug of the shoulders and the offhand response, “…oh, you know, it all works out in the end…”

I’m specifically interested in these matters because I’m a board member of the APAA (Association of Professional Art Advisors). And not only am I a board member, but I also participate on the specific committee within the APAA that handles ethical issues. These are the sort of queries we discuss in committee. We try to come to an understanding as to how an art advisor can behave ethically within a market that is opaque, as we said earlier, and also fraught with these sorts of conflicts of interest.

Carey: What this brings to mind for me is hearing dealers like Larry Gagosian or other major dealers kind of vetting their clients to some degree based on their history, their collection. So if you just want to buy an Anselm Kiefer, as I understand, you just can’t go in there and buy that one piece.

Levin: In the case of a gallerist most people assume the gallerist’s client is the person who walks in with the wallet to purchase the work of art. But the true client of the gallerist is their artist. It is the gallerist’s responsibility to have the best interests of their artist at heart, and not necessarily the collector. It’s understood that more than one collector will want a specific work in an exhibition by an artist at a gallery such as Gagosian, so Mr. Gagosian’s job is to decide where that art should be placed to best serve the interests of his artist. If the artist’s work is in demand in general terms, of course there would be more than one person who would want a specific work of art in a gallery exhibition. Particularly in an exhibition where a couple of the works are clearly viewed as being the most desirable. That’s a normal state of affairs, so there is no conflict there.

Now, for an art advisor, who is their client? It is neither the artist nor the gallerist. The art advisor’s client is the collector who is paying them for advice and counsel, and hired the advisor to access the very best works available and then negotiate the best financial transaction. As I said earlier, if an art advisor represents a number of clients, and all those clients want the exact same art work by the same artist, the advisor has a legitimate conflict of interest.

When you discuss what a gallerist’s responsibilities are and what an art advisor’s responsibilities are, one must be clear that these are different situations with different end goals. Whether a gallerist or an art advisor, one needs to understand who the client is in any given transaction.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.

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