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The Secret World of Art Consultants

by Kathryn Born

I thought art consultants were people who took rich collectors on shopping trips to art galleries and then took a cut of the sale. Then I met with art consultant Ann Ayres of Ayres Steinmetz, Ltd. and realized the process was nothing like that. Every art consultant is different, and the approach for every client is different. The process for individuals looking to start building a collection is very different than a corporate client with a tight budget and a lot of wall space. But for those situations, she discussed an interesting world; one with clearinghouses, psychology, branding, and I even created a conspiracy theory to keep everyone’s attention.

Editors Note: Image captions are the original captions which accompanied the images on Ayres Steinmetz, Ltd.’s site

5 Things I Learned:

1. In corporate collections where they want simple, affordable pieces, art consultants have the option of working directly with wholesale art markets. Galleries mark up their art too much for consultants to do large-scale purchases on a restricted budget.

"Commissioned artwork pulls together color, architecture and balance in this dining room."

"Commissioned artwork pulls together color, architecture and balance in this dining room."

2. What? Did you say wholesale art markets? There are warehouses and clearinghouses for original art? There are ateliers (French for “workshops”) that are chock full of unframed art and are generally only open to those in the industry, just like how the Merchandise Mart is only open to industry professionals?? YES! Can you believe it?  Ann explained this to me and I couldn’t move onto the next topic, I was so fascinated. The whole idea of a warehouse was so interesting that I tracked one down and will have a whole post about one of these places next week.

"Simply framed vintage LP jackets bring definition and novelty to this condo dining area."

"Simply framed vintage LP jackets bring definition and novelty to this condo dining area."

3. Again, every art consultant is different, but some art consultants work with almost any budget. If you only have $300 to spend on artwork, that’s pretty limiting, but not impossible. Again, because they have the option of wholesale and a Rolodex of individual artists, there’s not the $3,000 minimum price you see in a lot of the galleries.

"Oliography can be a very affordable option. The poster ink/design is transferred to canvas. Once brush strokes are added, it looks like an actual oil painting."

"Oliography can be a very affordable option. The poster ink/design is transferred to canvas. Once brush strokes are added, it looks like an actual oil painting."

4. As a first step for individuals, and art consultant may come to your home and work with the main public rooms as a starting project.

"We cleaned and refurbished several of the historic portraits, and reinstalled all twelve portraits with appropriate lighting."

"We cleaned and refurbished several of the historic portraits, and reinstalled all twelve portraits with appropriate lighting."

5. As a first step for businesses, they often look at brand image instead of an individual’s personal preference. Per Ann, “The question you ask is, when people come in and see the art, what are they going to think and how will that reflect on your company image? If you pick an exciting abstract piece, you have to make sure that’s what you’d like to be associated with. For a tech company, for example, maybe that’s exactly the image they’d want to convey. My responsibility is to show them only things that are going to work for them, stuff that’s highly skilled and well framed.”

Ok, I promised a conspiracy theory and I’m not going to let you down. Before I posted Lisa’s piece about collecting , I wrote an intro about art consultants that spoke to the reputation they seem to have. And it’s not that anyone says art consultants are bad specifically, it’s just that every single art collecting guide seems to aim to dissuade you from hiring one. Now I see why; art consultants aren’t true competitors to galleries, but they don’t often work together either. When they work in wholesale and direct-to-artist circuits, it can cut galleries out of the picture. Pun intended.