Managing Artists’ Collections No.2: A Deeper Assessment

Managing Artists’ Collections No.2: A Deeper Assessment

This 2nd newsletter in the series, “Managing Artists’ Collections” explores the next step of management in greater depth.

When an artist’s body is gone what happens to their body of work?

So many late-career artists have lamented, “What’s going to happen to all my stuff when I’m gone?” Their “stuff” is, of course, the collection of their life’s work as well as their archive. We’ve been amazed to occasionally discover those artists who have given up on an art world they see as a rat race and have instead submitted the disheartening opinion that after their passing everything should be destroyed. But the majority wants to preserve their work and their story. To whom can they turn for advice? There are so many worthy cases that it’s impossible for one entity to work with all of them. Each needs focus and commitment to succeed in implementing the appropriate strategy for the particular artist.

The art market is complex and capricious. For those with little or no experience, weaving one’s way through it requires a guide. Several members of our Curatorial Board regularly provide this specialized advisory service either independently or together with DIAA. We’ll be introducing you to each of them on a regular basis. One such member is Saul Ostrow, who is also a co-founder of Art Legacy Planning, LLC. ALP is a team wherein each member has a specialty: Saul Ostrow is a noted critic. Mary Dinaburg is a veteran art advisor who has not only worked with pre-eminent artists but has been advising galleries and museums on exhibition projects for decades — with extensive experience in Asia. Kathy Battista an art historian and creator of the Master’s program in Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming publication, Creative Legacies: Critical Issues in Artists Estates (Lund Humphries). ALP’s financial advisor — Bryan Faller — is that book’s other co-editor. He is an advisor at an investment management firm and a faculty member of Sotheby’s Institute of Art. The company’s COO is Salvatore Schiciano, a former Director at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery (New York) where he fostered relationships of artists and artist’s estates with many institutions.

We can’t stress enough that the art world has a plethora of fine art advisors. Google “art advisor” and you’ll get more than 300 million results. Virtually all professional fine art advisors are individuals. Their depth of experience, art historical knowledge — and that bygone term, connoisseurship — varies widely. Because virtually all of them are engaged to guide the acquisition process for private collectors, they serve, for the most part, as private brokers between buyers and sellers. On the buy side, they seek to establish relationships with wealthy individuals who will hopefully develop into serious educated collectors. They use their good relationships in the market to provide access for their clients to buy what they feel to be top quality artworks. On the sell side, transactions take place directly with artists, artist estates, and major collectors — often in concert with the galleries that may have exclusive representation. In the best-case scenarios they can sometimes slip quietly under the radar for their wealthy clients, buying directly from established private collections. Cynics would characterize this as the world of the 1/10th-percenters, many of whom are more concerned with what’s hot in contemporary art rather than really seeing and understanding cultural significance. After all, buying art often has a lot to do with the benefits of social bootstrapping.

This cartoon and the lead cartoon are from Peter Hastings Falk’s book, Aaron Sopher, Satirist of the American Condition (Baltimore Museum of Art, 1991)

The primary issue for any artist’s estate collection is to first determine the overall quality level of the works. In short, was the artist an innovator or a slavish follower?  In our previous newsletter we recommended Alan Bamberger as a first step in this advisory process. With that guidance in place, we recommend artists and estate managers exploring a deeper assessment by the ALP team. Their advantage is in their teamwork as each member brings specific expertise to bear in their disciplines.  The primary issues include legacy, preservation, archives, and value-enhancement for the owners.  And, even if the determination is made that much of the work is derivative and decorative, their advice will steer owners in the right direction.

For the most promising bodies of work, the group’s expertise translates into quicker analysis and prescription of strategies to be implemented to maintain and further the artist’s legacy. As part of this process they actively introduce their artists’ work to curators, museum professionals, writers, galleries, and even collectors. In the case of an estate collection, they advise on the best plan for continued maintenance as well as disposition through gallery sales and, when appropriate, charitable donations to museums. In instances where an estate already has their own art advisor in place, they reinforce and augment the project by providing adding their strategic viewpoint.

In order to determine the scope of what must be done ALP first asks prospective clients to begin with the questions on its website. If ALP’s response is positive the next step would be a private consultation. Keeping in mind that every case is different, ALP will review not only the nature of the body of work but also the client’s (artist, collectors, and artworld professionals) particular wishes and needs. They identify the key elements and stages that are required to produce a strategic plan.  After this initial meeting, a proposal is drafted and reviewed for the client’s approval. ALP’s full assessment of the legacy planning leads to a review of the existing legal arrangements, inventory, databases, and archives. This evaluation allows a unique marketing narrative or “brand” to come into focus for the client. At that point, the client will have received the foundation of strategic planning for the future. The final step takes place when the client decides to engage ALP to implement the plan. ALP staff as well as other artworld professionals most pertinent to the plan are engaged. Every aspect is clarified, including advisory services for specific projects such as publishing, trust and foundation development, exhibitions, and management.

The moral of this story is that legacy planning should begin as soon as an artist is fully committed to a life in art. If the right strategy is in place at a young age it can extend throughout a career and beyond.  Ultimately, the objective is to create a chapter in American art that will last forever.

Don’t miss:

On Thursday, June 27th, 2019 you can meet ALP member Kathy Battista, who is launching her newest book,
New York New Wave: The Legacy of Feminist Art.

Kathy will be on a panel discussing the past, present, and future of feminism and art.
The event will run from 6:00pm–8:00 pm at P.P.O.W. Gallery located at 535 West 22nd Street, 3rd Floor.