Buying Art: Why It Pays To Call In The Experts

When Christie’s sold a Modigliani painting for $170 million last month, it made headlines around the world. That gave us a ‘eureka’ moment here in Chicago. Our great revelation was that buying art is the common denominator of the luxury interior design world. But everyone always tells us that our firm has a very different point of view on the art buying process than some of our peers.

Astor Street Entry

Gregg Lane found this bold, graphic mid-century painting by Donald Hamilton Fraser to make the antechamber of a vintage Gold Coast apartment come to life. It is contiguous to the foyer, and the painting is visible as soon as you enter the home’s front door. Photo: JLI Astor Street Residence

To explain, we have to start with the basics: Every client we work with wants to integrate art into their home. But they’re rarely totally sure what to buy, and have all sorts of questions about the process, from whether the art should match the furniture to installation and insurance issues.

Astor Street Guest Bdrm

A mid-century painting by artist Joyce W. Treiman, also from Gregg Lane, is the perfect blend of exuberance and serenity for a bedroom. Photo: JLI Astor Street Residence

Of course, many of our clients already have some significant pieces. Or, in the case of serious collectors, they have extensive and significant array of artworks. But there’s always room for more, especially when they’re making small shifts or big changes in their décor. And while most of our clients aren’t buying $170 million paintings, the work they are considering is pricey—and often downright expensive. And they want our advice on what to buy.

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Gregg Lane specified a series of steel etchings by Brooklyn-based artist Karin Haas for this living room. Mounted together, the series creates a powerful focal point. Photo: JLI Lincoln Park Home

Given the cost of artwork today, we consider it a serious investment—and investments require expertise. If you’re investing in the stock market, you use a trusted advisor or stockbroker with impeccable credentials. If you’re doing a home, you use a trusted interior designer. And the same goes for buying art. While many interior designers do undertake the art buying process, we’re firm believers in relying on the counsel of experts.

LSD Penthouse Master Bed detail SMALL

For a pair of avid art collectors, Patti Gilford found a series of watercolors by 20th century American artist Elizabeth Ockwell to complete their Master Bedroom sitting area. Photo: JLI Lake Shore Drive Penthouse

A look at two of the teams we work with—Gregg Lane Art Management and Patti Gilford Fine Arts—substantiates this approach. Both firms have deep and timely knowledge of the local, domestic and international art markets, which is no small feat given these arenas speed, volatility and fickle behavior. And they both offer expertise that can only be gleaned by studied and knowledgeable professionals who devote themselves to their work.

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To add cool, graphic drama to a glamorous dining room with a sleek modern vibe, Patti Gilford found a pair of 20th century collagraphs by artist David Shapiro. Photo: JLI City Retreat

Strong relationships with galleries, dealers, curators and auction houses are also critical when buying art, notes Kate Lane Ferraro of Gregg Lane. “The world is a big place, and it’s impossible to know what’s trending or who’s producing seminal new work without the acumen of the professionals who are in the trenches, so to speak. We’re constantly talking to our contacts around the globe—be it in California or China—to stay on top of all the forces that are impacting art. And our relationships give us incredible access to emerging artists,” says Kate.

Bernfield Mster Bdrm Final

A series of 14 mixed media pieces by German artist Monika Bartholomé from Patti Gilford made the perfect foil to draw the eye up and punch of the palette in a monochromatic, supremely streamlined master bedroom with low-slung furnishings. Photo: JLI City Retreat

Patti notes, “It’s all about transparency. The art world is really complex and not easy to navigate without a deep understanding of its nuances. Clients want to substantiate costs, and there are so many layers we have to peel back in order to do so. For instance, it’s critical to evaluate an artist’s context, content, technique, historical performance and more. That takes the kind of expertise you can only gain from having a constant and long presence in the market.”

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Patti Gilford suggested this oil painting by New York based artist Susan Laufer; its soft, muted tones and indistinct lines balance the room’s straight-edged Modern furnishings. Two color lithographs by Frances Whitehead complement the piece and add interest to the dining area. Photo: JLI Gold Coast Residence

But our favorite part about dealing with our brilliant art consultants is the thrill of scoring a deal when they tell us about the fantastic emerging artists they follow. OK, make that a relative deal. As we noted when School of the Art Institute, Chicago (SAIC) had its most ambitious Alumni Exhibition earlier this year, a whole lot of artists that are now out of reach—even for buyers with big budgets—were once SAIC students selling their work for a fraction of the price. Think Jeff Koons, Tony Lewis, Wu Tsang, Rashid Johnson, Angel Otero and more. It’s a case of coulda, shoulda, woulda—if we’d only known! But now we know, and more significantly—we apply that knowledge to our luxury interior design work.

11 Dec 2015

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