Gallery Spotlight: Museum Works Galleries

Laura Schell

In tough economic times Robert Casterline sees the silver lining in art investing. Anyone interested in diversifying their portfolio and beautifying their walls can request the grab bag of services Casterline can provide. He is a collector, an art dealer and an investment broker whose rolodex, if he had one, would be fatter than his client’s wallets, which enables him to acquisition some of the most sought-after art in the world. He has owned galleries across the country including in Miami, Los Angeles, Aspen and New York.

On January 27th Casterline opened the latest installment of his Museum Works Galleries in Chicago with partner and furniture designer Jordan Goodman of JG Custom Designs. The unique twelve thousand square foot space on the coveted 18th floor of the Merchandise Mart was brimming with over a thousand partygoers to welcome the works of emerging and established artists alike. The gallery trades in rotating contemporary collections by artists like Marcus Jansen, Danielle Procaccio, and Mark Acetelli and features selected works by acclaimed artists such as Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Ryan McGinness. The gallery is steered towards a more serious collector with works ranging in the high hundreds to several thousands of dollars.

“Investment artwork is always qualified as the work of an artist that is typically shown in museums and whose art is sold at auction. Where as an emerging artist is more speculative, and their work is not sold at auction,” Casterline explains. The value of important pieces has not decreased as some may have expected given the economic climate. Casterline admits that there was a small dip at the start of the financial crisis but that now he is taking on more new clients than he has in the past. “Even clients that I have known for awhile are coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going to put a hundred pieces of gold under my bed.’” And why should they hide when their investments can be aesthetically pleasing?  Although the advantages to buying art go further than the client’s wall, it is a currency that has no exchange rate. “There is no national identity on an Andy Warhol or a Picasso.  They sell just as well in China or Japan as they would in New York.”

Sounds foolproof but Casterline advises his clients to invest wisely considering the risks with the advantages.  “It’s a process.  With a client I will sit down and talk about their likes and dislikes.  I find out what their short and long time goals are and then I go over what they can expect.”  Casterline assists his clients in purchasing a work of art that will easily resell.  The choices at Museum Works Galleries vary in price, medium and style. “It really is a destination for collectors and the fact that someone can see a $7,000 painting by an emerging artist along side a Lichtenstein, it gives the collector choices. And in the art world that is what we find most exciting.”

And if that is not enough, Casterline can look elsewhere for a client’s specific criteria. “There are many ways to find art. It comes to me through an estate, an auction house, or another broker. I am constantly in touch with other dealers to see what they are finding.”  Casterline’s expertise spans 15 years.  “I got started in the art world before there was an Internet.”  It was when Casterline was a European tour guide working for American Express right out of college that he started collecting. “I attended every auction and I collected all the catalogues.  I started learning about authenticity and about what makes one piece of artwork more valuable than another.  Over time my collector base grew and people started coming to me because they wanted to buy what I was buying.”  At one time Casterline owned the largest privately-held collection of original PEANUTS comic strips, which he sold to the Charles M. Shultz Museum after Shultz’s death. Collecting art gradually evolved into investment consulting, which then presented the opportunity to open galleries.

“Museum Works Galleries is an art gallery first and foremost,” says gallery director Cameron Dubois.  “But we also specialize in custom furniture. The gallery acts as a showcase for JG Custom Design.” All of the furniture in the gallery is designed and created by Jordan Goodman, a Chicago native, and is available for purchase, including Dubois’s desk.  The furniture fits in nicely with the gallery’s locale.  The Merchandise Mart is mostly a mall of interior design showrooms.  “A different clientele here is the interior designers.  They will see our art work or our furniture and recommend it for a client or they will use it for a show house which is great for us to advertise in other locations, and let know people know that we are here,” Dubois says.

Casterline met Goodman in Colorado where he runs his Aspen gallery. “When Jordan found out that I was interested in opening a gallery in Chicago, he said we would like to be involved. I liked his design, but I also liked that most of his work he does custom. So I can go to him and come up with an idea and he can take it from the beginning stages right through to the completion. I didn’t want to open a designer show room. But I thought to bring in a unique furniture designer could only compliment the artwork.”  Goodman’s refined furniture designs accentuate the contemporary works and yet they stand on their own as works of art.  Chairs with bold lettered upholstery and low-riding coffee tables made of walnut and cherry wood with metal details create a comfortable social space where art enthusiasts can relax as they mull over the worth of a piece of art. “As the word spreads and people come up to see us, they seem to really love the diversification of our gallery.” And what’s not to love except that extra zero on the price tag?  But art is worth every penny and more if it enriches our lives and our history.

Museum Works Galleries is located at 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1850.