Beyond a collector’s immediate desire to own a work of art, there needs to be a compelling argument for why it’s worth plunking down hard-earned cash. This job is best handled by the art advisor, who as neither the artist’s dealer nor the artist is free to explain the merits — artistic and financial — of said work of art to her collector. But what does the collector’s art advisor look for when making the case to collect?
Hallmarks of Collectibility
Taking a Cue from the Dealer: Themes in a Body of Work
If you’ve been to an artist’s solo show at a gallery whose aim is to grow its artists’ careers, you’ll find an exhibition of works that speak to a well-defined theme. That theme, whether it be medium, subject or artistic method, becomes apparent when you spend time with the art. For threads less visible, the gallery’s press release, located at the front desk, ties up the not-so-obvious for exhibition viewers.
Continuity and Consistency
The importance of continuity and consistency in an artist’s body of work cannot be ignored, and it is often the artist who doesn’t develop an overarching scope to his or her body of work that makes it difficult for the advisor to “sell.” Why? Because one of the advisor’s roles is to explain the significance of an artwork, situating it firmly inside the artist’s overall artistic output and within larger art making and market trends. Collectors want to understand the artist’s intentions; and, there’s nothing more cogent than showing his or her other works as a comparison, highlighting how the artist has developed and is positioned to continue on this path. The artist who makes “one-offs,” who one day slides from noir realism to colorful abstract expressionism, is a tough artist to contextualize and an even tougher one for a collector to categorize. It is the white flag of inconsistency, and collectors are looking for the artists’s commitment, for his or her conviction to explore an idea no matter how difficult it becomes. That’s something that all collectors feel excited to buy into.
If you revisit an art history textbook or read the news about artist’s currently selling for astronomical figures at auction, there’s at least one thread in common: More people can easily recognize the hand of the artist than can not. They can say, “That’s a Gustav Klimt, that’s a Gerhard Richter, that’s a Marlene Dumas.” Though the principle of visual recognition is a place to start, it does not account for the many factors that go into determining an artwork’s significance. One caveat is to not be put-off by an artist who moves, say for example, from collage to sculpture. Rather than showing inconsistency, it could be a sign of growth, a new series in which he or she explores a previous theme with heightened intention.
There are no hard and fast rules, and it belongs to the advisor to assess and apply all her industry resources as a means of determining an artwork’s significance and value.