COLLECT: How to Find an Art Advisor: Kate Robinson

FYA Talks With Kate Robinson 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.

New York-based Kate Robinson consults on the collections of various domestic and international clients, with a particular eye towards modern and contemporary work, including new media. With a background in art history from the University of Chicago, Robinson cut her teeth at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Contemporary Art, with James Rondeau, eventually serving as the department’s Acting Collection Manager. She left Chicago for a position in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art department in New York, after which she transitioned into private consulting. Robinson has been deeply involved with the Performa 2007, 2009 and 2011 biennials, most notably as the founder of the Performa Visionaries, a young patrons’ group that’s more post-graduate ‘think tank’ than stuffy black-tie affair.  She is also a member of the 2011 Performa Curatorial Circle, in which capacity she is presently working on Francis Stark’s exciting commission, “I’ve had it, and a half,” which premiered on November 4, 2011.

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

Kate Robinson: People hire advisors for different reasons: guidance, investment advice, help in purchasing (including bidding and negotiating), so it’s hard to say. When you feel you have one or more reasons and have some money to spend on art, it might be time to speak with an advisor.

Johnson: How does one find an art advisor?

Robinson: Word of mouth. The biggest names aren’t necessarily the best. Meet with a bunch of advisors and see whose eye you like and whom you get along with.

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

Robinson: The relationship between a client and an advisor should be an ongoing conversation. There are no right questions or answers but a willingness to ask questions is critical. Generally speaking, I think you should consider what they like and want (or don’t like or want) and why. More specifically, a client should have a sense of his or her goals.

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

Robinson: A client should ask a potential advisor about his or her fee structure. Many advisors work on commission (taking a percentage of the purchase price) while others command a monthly retainer (calculating a fee based on the advisor’s time and the client’s estimated purchases among other factors).  Advisors have a fiduciary duty, and there should be total transparency with regard to all financial transactions.

A client should also ask a potential advisor whether or not the advisor has any conflicts that might limit the advisor’s ability to work fully and transparently in the client’s best interest.

Johnson: What makes a successful collector?

Robinson: An adventurous spirit, an interest in art and ideas, and wide-open eyes.

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

Robinson: The benefits are numerous and far reaching. The advisor not only provides (or should provide) access to the best work available but also should serve the collector in an educational capacity, help to curate a client’s collection and advise on good investment opportunities.

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

Robinson: Expose oneself to as much art as possible. Go to galleries, museums and other institutions. Pay attention to the art all around you whether it be at a friend’s house or a restaurant, in a movie or magazine, on TV or something you see while traveling. (As artist Alex Israel says, “Life is your readymade; seeing is believing.”)

Johnson: Any resources you’d suggest for those looking to buy their first work or edition?

Robinson: If a client wants to start purchasing before hiring an art advisor, I would recommend buying at a benefit auction for an esteemed art establishment, like The Renaissance Society in Chicago. I would also recommend looking at the editions that places like Artists Space have up online. It’s significantly more likely that a collector will find an excellent piece for a reasonable price by going through one of these channels. Conversely, I would recommend that a new collector, without an art advisor, avoid commercial auction houses and galleries, since such a collector would be more likely, in these contexts, to buy lesser works (or even damaged works) for high prices.

Johnson: What are some things people should consider when collecting new media?

Robinson: Firstly, I don’t consider “new media” particularly new. It’s been an important and dynamic aspect of forward-thinking museums and private collections for over twenty years now. And more and more artists are using “new media,” such as film and video, in conjunction with painting, sculpture, and photography. If a collector is particularly interested in an artist and wants to build a collection that is an indicative survey of the artist’s work, I would advise him or her to purchase the best examples of that artist’s work across all relevant media, including “new media.” For example, I acquired Elad Lassry’s Untitled (Agon), 2007 (Super 16mm color film) and Karen Kilimnik’s Kate Moss at the Beginning, 1996 (DVD), for a client who is a significant collector of Lassry and Kilimnik’s works in other media, and I think that these “new media” acquisitions are an essential complement to the theme and structure of this client’s existing collection.

I also think that it’s important that clients understand that that “new media” works almost always require some sort of installation technology (such as a projector, flat screen or computer), which can often constitute an additional expense on top of the price of the work and will have to be maintained, repaired, and/or even replaced over time.

by Alexis M. Johnson