Story by Adrienne Garnett | Photographs by John Rizzo
Financial gain. Status. Decoration. Devotion. Regardless of why they do it, collectors often find that acquiring personal art becomes an endeavor that takes on a life of its own, a combination of sport, investment, and downright passion.
Whether you’re a seasoned collector with a well-edited gallery that could give MoMA a run for its money or a novice who’s just embarked on the adventure, one fact stands true: there’s always more to learn. In our quest for enlightenment (or even just a few tricks to pull out of our hats during gallery jaunts), we canvassed gallerist Anelle Gandelman of Anelle Gandelman Fine Art in Larchmont; art advisers Anita Aronoff and Jacqueline Sheinberg, co-founders of Art Guide, an art consulting business in White Plains; and Chappaqua residents Drs. Marc and Livia Straus, veteran collectors listed among the “The Top 100 Collectors in America” by Art & Antiques Magazine and founders of Peekskill’s esteemed Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. Here, they share their art smarts and insider tips.
Anelle Gandelman Fine Art, Larchmont
Anelle Gandelman’s gallery only may be a year old, but it’s already made a name for itself—and its owner—in Larchmont’s burgeoning art scene. There, the one-time art and design director focuses on “emerging collectors” (her twist is on the phrase “emerging artists,” which refers to entry-level artists whose sales have not yet transcended direct-from-the-artist or gallery status). “Emerging collectors are those who have been learning about art and collecting but who don’t really know that much yet,” she says.
Her clients, by and large well educated and often professionals in the financial industry, typically are interested in emerging and mid-career artists to build their collections. While many of them have honed in on a particular focus (such as modern, African tribal, or Asian contemporary art), many newcomers have little or no preconceived notion as to what they’re looking for other than the medium and whether they’re interested in abstract or representational work. The gallerist offers guidance by showing them a broad range of artwork, registering their responses, and offering them more options in that genre.
While Gandelman admits that she wouldn’t hang every piece that resides in her gallery on her own walls, she says that in order to consider selling art, she does need to have an emphatic response to it, believing it’s a strong work and one worth collecting—feelings individuals should also experience when considering a piece. “Moreover, an artist has to have had a steady career in the arts—or, at least, show the potential to have one,” Gandelman says. “My clients aren’t just buying a $100 painting to fill a spot on the wall. The art I sell needs to show some investment potential, even if that’s not the main consideration.”
Anelle Gandelman’s Insider Tips:
1. Go with your gut instinct. It may seem obvious, but buy what you love and love what you buy, a principle often low on a rookie’s priority list.
2. Establish relationships. Educate yourself about what’s going on in the art field and make connections with its insiders. Get in good standing with gallery owners and art retailers and ask them to alert you when select pieces are on hand. Add yourself to gallery mailing lists so you receive invitations to openings and special events.
3. Avoid buying giclÃ©es or limited-edition prints. These are just overpriced posters of original artwork. Don’t confuse giclÃ©es or limited-edition prints with fine-art prints such as lithographs or etchings, which are original pieces in their own right.
4. Get documentation. The artist or gallery should provide papers such as a bill of sale, a letter of authenticity, and the artist’s resume, biographical information, and statement, which you should file securely. Photograph the work and the artist’s signature and record the size, medium, title, date, and condition, as well as any identifying marks or numbers.
5. Don’t get hung up on the investment aspect. Make sure you’re not paying too much for a piece, but, at the same time, don’t get too wrapped up in making a profit, or “flipping it.” There are much more secure investments if financial gain is the goal.
Jacqueline Sheinberg and Anita Aronoff
Art Guide, White Plains
Anita Aronoff and Jacqueline Sheinberg were de facto art advisers long before they formally took the plunge into the relatively new field. Back in the 1970s, when the women were team-teaching a continuing-ed course at
Sheinberg, who created the Department of Education at the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase and later was appointed director of education there, and Aronoff, who in a previous life sang with the New York Grand Opera and served as a guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hold initial consultations at their clients’ homes to gauge style preferences, discuss budgets, and take measurements of potential art sites. Then, clients field a torrent of questions. Do they want to collect emerging artists or established ones? Are they interested in a specific focus, such as a particular period, movement, or culture? Are they collecting for aesthetic reasons, status, or possible financial gain? A slew of visuals are sorted into stacks of “like,” “dislike,” and “well, maybe.” Armed with this foundation, Aronoff and Sheinberg bring clients to artists’ studios and galleries where they choose work to “live with” for a few days to see if they’re interested in purchasing it.
But helping clients select art is just the tip of the iceberg. Art advising services also can include representing clients in negotiations and at auctions, obtaining authentications of pieces, arranging for commissioned works, recommending appraisal services, selling art, and cataloguing larger collections. “We help clients understand how to best preserve their investment,” Aronoff says, “as well as check the quality, rarity, condition, and provenance of the work and fairness of the price”—like a tourist guide helping to navigate the exotic, sometimes foreign, and often exciting art world.
Jacqueline sheinberg and anita aronoff’s Insider Tips:
1. Be clear about what you do and don’t like. Don’t worry if you sound hopelessly unsophisticated. It’s impossible for professionals to show you viable pieces without communication. Exercise the same frankness when in the galleries.
2. Bring potential acquisitions home. A painting that catches your eye in a studio may not have the same effect in your living room. Reside with it in your own setting for a few days to confirm your love for it.
3. Beware of tourist traps. While journeys abroad can be prime places to scout for art, avoid impulse purchases while on vacation. If you plan to shop overseas, be sure you’ve done your homework—finding reputable galleries and researching artists—before hopping on a plane.
4. Understand financial arrangements. Aronoff and Sheinberg suggest that when working with art professionals, all arrangements be spelled out ahead of time, including how the process works, which responsibilities fall to the advisers and which to the clients, and how consultants get paid. When purchases are actuated through art advisers, there’s usually a professional discount passed on to the client (like buying furniture or accessories with an interior designer). Aronoff and Sheinberg add their 20 percent fee to that price.
5. Care for your collection vigilantly. Gallery owners or art advisers can help develop a system to protect your collection from exposure to pollution, humidity, heat, and light. “We advise clients about archival maintenance, including issues such as sunlight, temperature, humidity, and acidity,” says Aronoff. “If a client is crazy about a work on paper, particularly photography, we take into account where this piece is going to hang—certainly not in direct sunlight.” The duo also suggests that clients frame paper works with ultraviolet-protected Plexiglas or museum glass.
Drs. Marc and Livia Straus
Founders, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, and Chappaqua Homeowners
Money was tight back when Livia and Marc Straus first began collecting contemporary art. The couple had wed at the age of 20, while Marc was in medical school and Livia was teaching elementary school and earning her master’s degree and then PhD in theology. They had no discretionary assets, but art was both a passion and a priority, and they were willing to sacrifice to pursue it. “The third painting we bought cost two times my internship salary,” Marc says. “We had to pay it off over two and a half years.”
Since those early days, many of the emerging artists the Strauses discovered have become household names. They bought an Ellsworth Kelly when Kelly hadn’t sold a piece in years; they discovered works by Nigel Cooke, Damien Hirst, and Tim Eitel. “Collecting is an essential part of our home and of our lives,” says Marc, who for years practiced oncology in White Plains, has edited three textbooks on lung cancer, and received countless grants for his seminal work on lung and breast cancer. “Livia and I come to art from different perspectives, but extraordinarily, we rarely disagree when we want to purchase something.”
The couple buys directly from the artists or galleries, acquiring pieces that they believe are truly remarkable and breaking new ground. In recent years, the Strauses’ primary motivation for collecting has expanded from their thrill of discovering new work to the joy of sharing it with the public. The couple co-founded the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, a nonprofit arts and education organization located in Peekskill that presents exhibits and programs to enrich the understanding of contemporary art. In June 2004, they opened the center’s 12,000-square-foot exhibition space that showcases long-term installations as well as rotating exhibitions—some of which include temporary loans from the Straus’ own collection. Say Livia: “The work has enriched our lives, and that’s part of the motivation for our sharing things at the Center.”
Drs. Marc and Livia Straus’ Insider Tips
1. Explore. Look at a lot of good art in good places, such as museums, art fairs, and galleries, before you buy anything. See if something you are considering provokes an intense inner feeling, telling you that you literally have to have it.
2. Tread carefully at auctions. Auctions are funny places to learn about art; they offer plenty to see but the quality can be enormously uneven. It’s also easy to get caught up in the hype and feel rushed to buy. Novices may do better with first purchases from galleries, using the auction experience to gather artists’ sale histories and resumes and check relative fairness of pricing.
3. Learn how to determine a fair price. The Strauses recommend that newcomers do some online homework to find artist auction prices and ask gallery representatives to explain their prices. “I think that all work from beginning artists is too expensive, but we buy it all the time,” says Marc, pointing out that new artists have no market yet. “What you’re doing is making a commitment to the art itself.”
4. Consider installations out of doors. Outdoor art transforms one’s perception of both the surroundings and the art. Don’t limit yourself to only art that lives inside your home; expand your horizons.
5. If you embrace a theme, let it be one that holds meaning for you. Though the Strauses have no formal plan, some commonalities do run through their collection. For example, all of their art was created after 1950. Still, the couple’s first criteria when responding to art that interests them is to listen to their instincts. “We’ve never had a plan to our collecting,” Marc says, “it’s completely organic and that’s worked for us for forty years.”