Art Demystified: What Is The Role of Art Advisors?

Here's what you get when you hire a consultant.

Advisors help navigate complex acquisition processes for collectors. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images.

What is an art advisor, and what role does she or he play in the art market?

As the contemporary market has grown, more and more collectors are chasing a finite number of works by brand-name artists or hot up-and-comers, and they want to be sure that they’re making the right choice. Advisors help collectors buy art by offering a variety of services to simplify the acquisition process.

In return for services such as advising on what artists and what works to buy, negotiating with galleries, bidding on works at auction, and introducing clients to market experts, advisors either take a percentage of the sale price of an artwork—typically between 5%-10%—or charge a fixed monthly (and sometimes yearly) fee.

“Simply put an art advisor educates a client, helps to focus their interest, and provides access to the best quality artworks within a given budget,” New York-based art advisor Wendy Cromwell tells artnet News in a telephone interview.

“When you use a very qualified advisor,” she continued, “you’re acquiring a vast trove of knowledge that’s been cultivated over years of looking at art, analyzing auction sales, and understanding the inner workings of the market.”

A man bids on a work of art at Christie's New York in 2006. Courtesy of Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Whether collectors buy at auction, at fairs, or from galleries; advisors can help get works. Courtesy of Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Because art is an intangible asset with few concrete value-adding characteristics, it’s difficult for many collectors to differentiate between the quality of different works. Today many collectors rely on their trusted advisor to help them navigate the complexities of contemporary art, and the art market.

“We’ve gotten into this environment where the advisors are in the middle,” the collector and dealer Adam Lindemann told the BBC“You don’t just buy your art, you buy your advisor and then your advisor tells you what to do.”

And with rising demand, galleries often sell only to their most loyal or high-profile clients, making it difficult for new buyers to get access to desirable works. A respected advisor on the other hand can use their connections to help facilitate access to artworks normally reserved for loyal repeat customers.

“There are a lot of novice collectors out there who don’t realize that you can’t run through the doors and make your first purchase,” dealer David Zwirner told the New York Times in 2006. “Primary market galleries like us often have three-year waiting lists. We’re very picky.”

Beyond providing access to elusive artworks, advisors also help refine their clients tastes, and introduce them to dealers, artists, and other experts. “Ultimately an advisor brings expertise and connoisseurship,” says Cromwell. “Meaning the ability to distinguish a great work of art over an okay work of art by the same artist, and being able to look outside of trends and identify areas of interest and quality that perhaps aren’t obvious ones.”

The downside to relying on art advisor is that the age-old “buy what you love” mantra is lost when a market expert tells you what to purchase. As a result, art collecting has become increasingly homogenized and eclectic, individual collections have become increasingly rare.

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