Art collecting is on the rise. From the growth of online art sales, to the proliferation of private collections and museums around the globe, the practice of acquiring art is becoming more widespread. With the increase on the buyer side of the market comes the need for knowledgeable experts who can aid in the process. So if you’re considering a career as an art advisor, here’s what you should know to get started on your professional path.
Key qualifications for the role
An art advisor should be a connoisseur—an expert on art with the experience and scholarship to back it up. As the role requires knowledge of the art world, ideally an art advisor is someone who has held positions at an art gallery, a museum, an auction house, or another art institution, or has received substantive education about art history and the art market. In addition to possessing the right experience and knowledge, an art advisor should also have a positive reputation in the field and established relationships with galleries and other art sources.
No formal rules but a code of ethics
Although there is no formal regulatory body for art advisors, there are trade organizations that have established rules for their members. A code of ethics for the field maintains that first and foremost, an art advisor should only serve the needs of the client. As such, art advisors are discouraged from holding inventory, acting as private dealers, or accepting additional compensation—from an artist, vendor, or a gallery—that could create a conflict of interest.
What makes a good art advisor
It’s a profession that requires a multitude of skills. To start with, an art advisor should be a good listener – someone who can understand the needs of their client. This also means that it is not the personal aesthetic of the advisor but that of the client that should take precedence. Just as important is the advisor’s business acumen and knowledge of the art market. Acquiring a work of art is, after all, a business transaction. An art advisor should, therefore, understand the market value of a work, conduct due diligence on pricing, quality, and provenance, and be a good negotiator. But it doesn’t end there. A good art advisor also needs to know what to do after the transaction—from framing, installing, and lighting the work to insuring, cataloguing, and loaning out pieces from the collection.
What to discuss with potential clients
Before setting off on a search for art with a client, take the time to discuss expectations and cover all bases. Firstly, there must be clarity about the client’s needs. Are they building a legacy collection? How many pieces are they looking to acquire? What is their overall budget? Do they have an interest in a particular period of art? Next, ensure that clarity is established about the fee structure. Will you be paid based on the time spent with the client or as a percentage of the money spent? Alternatively, are you establishing a long-term relationship with the client and will be compensated by an annual salary? Finally, whatever the stipulations, make sure to have a written, signed agreement that clearly outlines all that was discussed.
How to find clients
As with many other professions, the key to finding clients for art advisors is to market their expertise and expand their network. How? Find opportunities to showcase your knowledge: give art tours, conduct lectures, and teach classes. Another surefire way is by word of mouth. Ask your existing clients for referrals and speak to collectors—even if they’re not currently growing their collection, they probably know those who are and need your skills. Last but not least: connect! Attend industry events, gallery openings, auctions, and lectures, and meet with fellow art world professionals.
Source: Sotheby's Institute of Art