Art Collectors planning ahead turn to Bardo Consulting Group, Inc.

Anthony Brass

Art collectors make careful selections that enrich their lives and improve their living surroundings and space. But they understand that almost as important as their choice in art, is what to do with their pieces when they are gone.

Paintings and other works will last forever. And, newer, future owners must be carefully contemplated on and planned for by the current owners to avoid future problems in rightful ownership.

That’s where Pamela Pierrepont Bardo, A.S.A., A.A.A. and the Bardo Consulting Group come in. In addition to being nationally known as an appraisal personal property management firm and fine arts consulting specialists, Bardo’s firm helps art owners in portfolio management and with their estate planning and advising to disperse valuables.

Bardo Consulting Group obtains fair market value for clients’ art, and provides services for insurance and legal purposes, estate tax, divorce and donations. It’s her estate planning services across the country that attracts many long-time art collectors who wish to plan correctly to whom they leave selected works.

“We help people to let go of their possessions at a particular point in life—when they’ve had beautiful things all their life—and they want to keep the expenses down at the time death to a minimum,” Bardo says. “Part of that is ‘earmarking’ their personal property for various people. We help them to not only appraise what they have, but to tell them what’s probably going to appreciate similarly over a period of time, so that they can leave things to various children in an appropriate and kind way.”

Bardo says that they view personal property as currency and another part of one’s assets. She says that assets can be used as collateral for many loans—their firm has done many appraisals for collateral and loans—and she says it is part of a person’s net worth.

“People don’t realize that the property doesn’t need to be Rembrandt or George III, but it can be a lot of property,” Bardo adds. “Over the course of one’s lifetime, one accumulates an enormous number of things. In a four-bedroom household, there are generally at least a thousand items. Something has to happen to those things when someone dies. They have to be sold or donated or given away.

“We try to make that a process of either ‘planned on’ in advance in a economical and thoughtful way, or we try to make it as easy as possible on the occasion of death so that the personal property does not become either a time pit or a big expense.”

One of the goals for Bardo’s firm is to understand and alleviate the emotional connection of the works with the collector. Through historical and financial research and factual, rational communication to both owner and their potential heirs, the dilemma can be overcome.

“What we usually do is to do our homework and find out about the artwork, in terms of how it (paintings and works) places in the history of art—whether it has an art historical value—and what it’s actual market value is. Then, we present the facts to the heirs; we sit down with them and talk about all of the different fine arts in the estate and present options for making choices so that they know what the values are. So they know what would be the future outcome of making certain choices in terms of the appreciation and marketplace,” Bardo says.

Of course, sometimes the personal connection can trump any thought of releasing certain works to the public or at auction.

“If a person is sentimentally tied to a piece and they don’t care about the facts or the actual value, there’s nothing any adviser can do for them. The most we can do is present the facts and the rational thinking, and they have to take it from there.”

Although there is a degree of pathos involved for Bardo and the firm when discussing the possible separation between the collector and their works.

“We always have empathy with our clients. It’s never easy to see a person struggling with their emotions over their objects. We see a lot that in divorce especially. But for us, we’ve been in business for thirty years. We have observed a great number of decisions made based more on objectifying of the situation and we always hope people take into account the information that we give them.

“Because we are (at) arm’s length, we don’t have any vested interest in the outcome of the decision. We’re there to help them make good choices,” she says.

Sentimentality over art is born for the collector early, sometimes at a much higher price at auction. Bardo did have a client in New York that wanted a work at auction that belonged once to the great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt. The client paid seven times the high estimate for the piece.

“It is not, by any shape of the imagination, worth the huge amount she paid, but she has it, and she loves it; she’s thrilled, and that’s what it’s about for her,” Bardo says of the attachments fostered by the collector and others despite cost.

Other collections that Bardo has worked with have been glass pieces by Steuben owned by an art collector and his wife (ending in a successful donation). Also, an all-abstract painting collection was appraised in a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago.

“When I went to appraise it, they were all very important, early twentieth century (pieces). The collection turned out to be worth $12 million. They were some of the most wonderful examples: one was Gabriele Munter; a Picasso drawing; a Chagall painting; and two Calder oils. It was pretty exciting to see.”

Bardo was head of the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery and print collections, and curator of collections at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Bardo sees a difference in Chicago’s art collecting scene and the crescent city.

“Chicago was and is a major art center; it’s such an international center for the production of art. New Orleans has very fine artists and superb museums, but it is more known for (collecting) antiques and decorative arts.”