Barbara K. Levin Fine Arts Associates, LLC

Anthony Brass

In the 1980s Barbara Levin founded her art appraisal and consulting firm, Barbara K. Levin Fine Art Associates, with a specialized area of expertise and decades of continually refined, professional evaluation practices.

Levin says she looks at any project the same way: “The client has to be educated about exactly what is involved in an appraisal; and (they need to know) what they’re going to get in the appraisal so there aren’t any questions or surprises in the final report.”

Levin added that the timing of when they receive the final appraisal report is paramount.

The successful process is always educational for her clients, as Levin’s firm helps individuals and larger companies navigate through the changing times of the art consulting world.

“It’s specialized. There are people that haven’t had one (appraisal) done in many years,” Levin says. “Years and years ago it was quite a different field. As fine art continued to rise in value, the difficulties or challenges associated with the practice has changed dramatically from ‘off-the-top-of-your-head.’ Early on appraisals were often done by coming and taking a look, and giving a number. Our methodology (now) requires that we do the research and evaluation; and we have to support our numbers.”

Levin’s consulting firm distinguishes itself from others in that she is an American Society of Appraisers (ASA) Accredited Senior member—her certification, of course, includes the fine arts.

She has an art history background with a practical and necessary academic knowledge of her field. She is also very specialized in her work.

“There are many appraisers that do everything that there is out there when they walk into a house. I only specialize in fine arts: paintings, works of art on paper and sculpture. That is a very different approach to the practice,” Levin says.

Levin’s clients are wide-ranging from individuals, museums, insurance companies, Fortune 500 companies, some IRS background experience, referrals from conservators and auction houses. “There’s a very wide possibility of sources for clients. They’re all treated exactly the same. The final product has to be at the right level, no matter which source it comes from.

She has seen the metamorphosis of the appraisal business through the decades.

“I would say since the `80s, there’s less corporate collecting. There’s still major collections and corporate work that I do. It’s not as popular as it was in the late `80s early `90s. It’s not quite as broad as it used to be,” Levin says.

Also, she says that different economic times can alter the collector’s market for high-priced pieces and their pursuits of them. Those times can affect the appraising businesses too.

“These challenges are like for any other small business—obviously with unemployment and the lesser availability of credit—people are deferring things; they’re spending only on what’s necessary.” Levin added another influence on individuals is the estate tax situation; it is another question mark into how people deal with their estates, in terms of these tax rates. And, the deferral (idea) for certain estate taxes can be an issue for her business.

Levin says her art history background is a necessity for results in the arts. She has a broad background to draw on when she enters the field.

“What I see, even as specialized as I am in this area, the arts field is huge in terms of what you see.”

For years Levin has combined her art history, and her regular accredited testing (recertification every five years includes 100 hours of education) and lectures, her own speaking engagements, and has cohesively built up her business.

“Having taken everything under the sun, history just is irreplaceable. And going through the program that I have through ASA, in terms of the technical aspects of appraising, is the other side that’s irreplaceable. The combination facilitates good work.”