"What do you do?" I am often asked.
"I am an art consultant."
Although there are many kinds of art consultants, most people calling themselves art consultants are sales representatives for art galleries and represent a group of artists. My firm, by contrast, has no inventory, and thus we can be objective about how we advise clients in art purchases. The firm provides art and art services for corporations, private collectors, and museums. We advise clients on the purchase, framing, placement, installation and maintenance of works of art. We also deaccession (sell); determine market value; inventory and catalogue collections; advise clients on the conservation and restoration of art; arrange art exhibitions; and give art tours to galleries and museums.
The artwork that we purchase is not necessarily expensive. Our purchases for clients have ranged from $25 for an unframed piece to $130,000 for a major work. In buying art we work with a network of agents and galleries worldwide.
During twenty-five years of art advising, my company has faced some challenges that reveal something of the nature of our work. Here are a few examples: When a corporation filed bankruptcy, the creditors hired me to value and sell all the art (including the china, crystal, and silver from the executive dining room). The bankrupt corporation inflated the value of its collection in an effort to satisfy the dollar demands of its creditors.
For example, the corporation valued a model ship in its collection at over $75,000. I photographed the model ship and sent the photographs to some of the most authoritative dealers and auction houses in the United States. Unanimously, these experts valued the model at about $3,000. In a subsequent lawsuit between the creditors and the bankrupt corporation, the creditors asked me to be an expert witness in the matter of the collection's value. I agreed, and the result was that the bankrupt corporation settled out of court, just moments before the case was to go to trial.
One of our higher-profile projects was for Gerald Hines, at the Galleria III. Here, we arranged the commissions for the hand-painted sky mural on the ceiling above the stairs and for the hand-painted ivy design frieze that extends from Macy's to the parking garage on levels one and two, and also decorates the center atrium.
Another aspect of our work is reflected in the following fun experience. Partners in a law firm commissioned me to take their star employees for a tour of the Houston art scene. With the law firm hiring a bus and providing refreshments, we toured art galleries and museums for an afternoon.
One large corporation asked us to arrange an art exhibit in the lobby of its high-rise office building, while an insurance company scheduled us to reframe and reinstall its existing art collection. One of the paintings had inherent technical problems; the paint was falling from the canvas. We took the painting to a conservator, who viewed the painting under ultra-violet light and advised us to suggest the client return the painting to the dealer. The client had purchased the painting in California, which state has strong laws protecting consumer rights in art purchases. Our client could have claimed triple damages if the California gallery had refused to return his money. Because we were the advisors for the company, and because we know law and precedent, we saved the company from a bad art purchase.
A few of our representative clients have been American General Investment Corporation, Arthur Andersen & Co., First City National Bank, Hines Interests, Interfin Corporation, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, Madison Benefits and The Staubach Company.
I believe a corporate art collection should be more than decoration for a company's office. Art can educate both employees and visitors, while raising public appreciation of art. When brochures and exhibitions introduce the company and its art to recruits and visitors, art can even function as a marketing tool. Further, a collection can enhance community relations, as management supports the visual arts through buying art. An art collection can enhance the work environment, affecting employees' moods and productivity. And finally, art can be an investment for the company, although most corporations do not purchase art primarily for this reason.
Copyright, 2006, Jacqueline Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.
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