Real power in today's art world is held by advisers—shadowy figures who tell the rich what to buy and play auction houses and galleries off against each otherby Ben Lewis / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
One effect of the explosion of demand in the art market has been the rise of a figure distinct from gallerists, dealers, auction houses, curators and museum directors. This is the art adviser, whose role is to mediate between the other players.
Art advisers are not new. Charles I used them when he acquired his collection in the 17th century. But in today’s era of rapid growth, UHNWIs (ultra-high net worth individuals) are forming a new class of monarchs and dukes, all keen to establish their own “courts,” for which an art collection is the sine qua non. Wealth does not confer an instant knowledge of art history or supply a familiarity with the thousands of names on the globalised market. It certainly does not mean—in a world where waiting lists for the best artists are longer than those for NHS operations in the 1980s—that you can buy what you want. Collectors are unlikely to have the time or patience to trawl the six or seven big annual fairs, let alone smaller ones. As a consequence, almost every new collector has an art adviser.
They come in many sizes, from multi-million dollar deal-makers to young art history graduates—often from Sotheby’s MA courses—keen to earn a living from their favourite pastime, looking at art. I met one of these, Sima Familant, at a party for a New York opening. She had brought along two thirtysomething Wall Street financiers. One was already collecting works (he had ten); the other, judging by the way he was grooving on the dancefloor with a young female artist, was likely to start soon. “With people who are new to contemporary art and don’t understand the market, it is difficult for them to make good choices as they don’t understand why one thing is $10,000 and something else is $20,000,” Familant told me.
I met Mark Fletcher, a young but established adviser, in his flat on the 66th floor of a new skyscraper on the edge of Central park. His real estate was an embodiment of the art boom: he’d gone up in the world since I had last met him in a small uptown flat on only the sixth floor. His living room walls were themselves a work of art—a vast technicolour mural by the trendy young Brazilian artist who calls himself Assume Vivid Astro Focus—and, on one of them, was hung a large screenprint…