COLLECT: How to Find an Art Advisor

FYA Talks With Consultant Lisa Schiff About When You Need an Art Advisor and What to Do When You’re Ready

ForYourArt talks to some of the most sought-after advisors in this ongoing feature about how to find an art advisor and how to make that relationship a successful one.

After you’ve purchased a few works, you may be ready to step up your collection’s A-game. But you’ll need a pro to help you really take it to the next level. Enter: your expert art advisor. With their industry-insider knowledge, gallery relationships and wide-ranging market experience, you’ll be able to build your burgeoning collection with confidence.

Lisa Schiff, of Schiff Fine Art, is an NY-based art advisor with a global focus specializing in post-1960s work, helping her clients find works from established and emerging artists. With an eye toward the market, Schiff regularly surveys fairs, auctions and art schools and educates and guides her clients’ purchases through a variety of outlets from galleries and artists’ studios to private collections and auctions.

Schiff sits on the boards for the Sculpture Center, Rhizome, and LA><ART.

Alexis M. Johnson: How does one find an art advisor?

Lisa Schiff: I think the best way to find an art advisor is to ask galleries who they recommend, who they trust and believe in, and who really knows what they are doing. The relationship between an art advisor and a gallery is the key factor to getting access to great works. Galleries are the gate keepers. If they really trust an advisor, they will often trust that the new collector he or she is bringing in will be a great one.

Johnson: Should you talk to many before deciding on one?

Schiff: Yes I think it’s great to interview a few art advisors before deciding on one in particular. As a collector, it will help you to define your goals to go through the exercise of finding one. It turns out to be a very close relationship. Aesthetic preferences are personal and sharing this with someone who you are going to trust to help you make the best decisions is a hard balance to strike. When you enter the art world, you are bombarded by opinions—gallerists, curators, critics, other collectors, advisors, artists—everyone has an opinion on what you should and should not buy/collect. You want your advisor to guide your own voice and not define it—to help you find that confidence and not feel swayed by everyone else’s opinions. Also this relationship is a financial one. The advisor will know about how much money you are spending and what your financial interests are—contemporary art is very expensive so you want to be very clear about how you are spending money in this arena. Art is not liquid. Whether or not you care about art as investment, you want to trust your advisor to understand the market and the numbers.

Johnson: When do you know you’re ready for an art advisor?

Schiff: I think everyone could use an advisor. A good advisor has his/her nose to the ground in a way that a collector often doesn’t have the time for. The fee is minimal in comparison to the savings that an advisor can provide. The art world is expanding massively and so are the choices of what to collect—an advisor can clearly see the horizon and sift through a lot of it.

Johnson: What are some of the questions clients need to be able to answer when they first meet with an art advisor?

Schiff: They really need to be honest about how much money they would like to spend annually—at least one year out. Budget will define most of what happens next. Then a collector needs to try to articulate his/her taste—do you like figurative, abstract, colorful, minimal, etc.—just a general idea to start with. Also one should think about long term—are you just filling your walls or do you want to really engage and build something special.

Johnson: What are some of the questions collectors should ask an art advisor before they start working with one?

Schiff: What sorts of collections have they worked on, how they structure their fee, will they be available at art fairs, what is their education and background, what institutions/curators do they affiliate with, what galleries do they have good relationships with, etc.

Johnson: What are the benefits for clients when they hire an art advisor?

Schiff: For one, just being able to sift through mountains of information. Definitely better access to works and an understanding of the global art world and art market.

Johnson: What makes a successful collector?

Schiff: A good art advisor and passion.

Johnson: What is your advice for the collector not quite ready for an art advisor?

Schiff: Jump in. The only way to learn is to start living with art. Inevitably after a year or two, your taste will evolve. The only way to get there is to begin collecting.

by Alexis M. Johnson

Also see Learn How to Survive the Contemporary Art World.