Museum and Fine Arts Consulting, LLC

Since 2003, Museum and Fine Arts Consulting in Chicago has been a stalwart art leader in helping individuals and companies refine, shape and select artwork to complete a look for their homes and offices.

Lela Hersh next to a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph.

Lela Hersh is the founder and president, and provides personalized advisory and research services to cultural institutions, corporations, galleries and private collectors.

Hersh brings to her business a Master of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Society of Appraisers. She has shaped her professional aesthetic eye for art through her curatorial work and experience at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (eight years as Director of Collections & Exhibitions and 20 years overall), as an instructor at the School of the Art Institute, as a dealer at the Marianne Deson Gallery, and her wealth of research in forgery and authentication. Hersh is also a frequent contributor to art magazines and catalogues.

Hersh and her business are in demand. Art connoisseurs and business owners looking for a trained eye know that her background and integrity can help them assimilate artwork into a chosen space. The clientele can be quite varied in the art consultation business.

“A client will bring me in to do some research or have their work authenticated,” Hersh says. “I’ll look at it; I’ll compare, read up on it—I might travel with it to take it to an authenticator.”

“And a lot of people I’m working with aren’t necessarily in the “art world,” she says. “They’ll go to an art fair and want something there.”

Hersh says that their selection process is part of an education.

“I try to find out everything I can about a client: what they read; what kind of music they listen to; and I try to find them something in the genre they like, but an artist that I believe is more serious than a ‘Sunday painter.’”

Lela Hersh in front of a Chuck Close and Robert Mangold.

Hersh does try to prioritize the residual value of the piece under consideration and its aesthetic qualities to their home or office. Collectors, naturally, are and will continue to be interested in a piece’s potential monetary benefit.

“I talk to the client about what drives the value,” she says.“I try to keep them away from that when choosing work. But it’s difficult for collectors to ignore that aspect; they want to know if they will be able to get rid of a work if it loses value or their interest in it wanes. But the bottom line is: the work of art has to be something they can live with. What I think is really fantastic might be wonderful for a museum, but not necessarily work within my client’s life context or personal space.”

Hersh helps foster the aesthetic sensibilities of a collector without arbitrarily dominating the final decision. But her expertise will often trump any apprehension in the collector’s mind when it comes to an unfamiliar artist or collection.

“I have never bought anything I am not comfortable with,” she says. “If I really think the artist does work of a ‘lesser level’ than I’m interested, I won’t buy it—I just can’t. I really have to believe in the work that I’m buying and the collector and I have to come to an agreement.”

She has had the opportunity to be around important collections and has been able to see the best works of many artists. Hersh adds that she must be able to satisfy the customer with her knowledge and with the breadth of work she feels is good.

“You’re going to find something that people like. I just try to keep them at the galleries that are showing strong work—with serious artists who are committed to the creative process.”

Hersh’s consulting firm has achieved success by helping its clients make smart choices, and by also advising them on how to place the art in their personal space.

“I go to people’s houses and arrange their works. Placement is one thing; buying is another. Part of my job is to educate them.”

Lela Hersh

Tastes vary from home to home, and backgrounds and exposure to certain genres can affect choice and placement. She says everybody has a reason for their art preferences; perhaps they were exposed to contemporary Minimalism early on, or more classic works.

“I tend to see that people who don’t have a lot of (art buying) experience go more for the ‘figurative’ or landscape work; it’s more comfortable to them. That’s what they’re used to looking at. They like looking at an artist with who can render well; and make something look like what it represents.

Hersh added that collectors don’t always buy into what the contemporary artist is portraying or trying to communicate. They might not understand the content, but what is important for them to know is that the content is in their response to it.

Her company provides instruction on how to care for the works of art. Art placement both has aesthetic purposes as well as practical needs (like not placing a color photograph near an intense light source).

“We’ll talk about art care. We’ll talk about the color—is it going to fade (or how long will it be before it starts to fade)?

“Some clients are concerned with these types of issues – someone buys something, they want to enjoy it—and they don’t care if it fades. They want it to add to their life now and they’re not as interested in it surviving for another 50 years.

Lela Hersh

“When corporations buy a work, they sometimes want it in the lobbies and offices to make the employees feel good. They don’t care if light is streaming in. Usually, I can get them to change an acid matt or something like that, but it depends. Some people listen to absolutely everything I say: they’ll put the color photograph in the hallway where it’s cool and doesn’t get hot. Or, I’ve had people do major work on window treatments—if you’re going to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on a work on paper—you don’t want it just to “burn.”

Many of Hersh’s clientele want pleasing lines with a creative view, from abstract to classic tastes. Her experience and discerning eye has helped enhance many collectors’ space.

“The more I look at a work, the more I understand it; the more I understand the artist, the better I can read it, the more I like it (or perhaps don’t like it). I’m really influenced by what I know most. I really listen to collectors and try to place something I think is good within their parameters. And usually that works out fine.”