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The Art of Curation 101

Sept. 1, 2015

Two NYC gallerinas offer up some handy tips and tools

How do you build an art program for your project that complements your hard work but doesn’t overwhelm it? One that creates a powerful statement that speaks to the user but doesn’t intimidate? And furthermore what are some best practices in the sometimes daunting task of art curation? I&S asked Caroline Tilleard and Anna Maria Cuevas, co-owners at Cuevas Tilleard Projects, a gallery in New York City, to create a guide for our readers who might need hand-holding through their first go-around in the process.

build relationships
In our ever expanding global marketplace, the “art world” somehow manages to stay small. So remember, relationships matter. On the primary market, money alone will not secure the best works. Gallery owners are wary of speculators. They want their artists’ works to find stable, loving homes. Waitlists have formed for big name artists like Jeff Koons and for young hot shots like Harold Ancart, so becoming a gallery-going regular is the most important step in acquiring art. This will open you up to the “back rooms” of galleries. These private showrooms provide exponentially more options for your clients beyond the exhibition on view.

budget yourself, and do it early
The price for art can be infinite—anyone for a $179 million Picasso? Talk to your client about the artwork budget early. Do they want to build the room around a unique work? Or do they just want to complement the style of the room and the furniture within?

Knowing your budget guides your search, in a very literal sense. Galleries at similar levels of the market clump together geographically. For example, in New York the Upper East Side hosts very established artists and price points can be at $200,000 and up. In Chelsea you’ll find mid-career and established artists with price points at $20,000 and up.

Being aware of your own geographical market zones will help you to find the best for your buck without going overboard on your budget.

beauty is important
Contemporary art can be “ugly.” Sometimes the idea is the artwork, and sometimes, this is not pretty. The new Whitney Museum’s fantastic first exhibition America is Hard to See (up through Sept. 27) has many works that go above and beyond in confirming this (see page 32). But don’t be afraid. It is still okay to discuss beauty in art. What clients want to live, dine, or work with is different to what they may find interesting in a museum or gallery setting!

however, don’t make aesthetics your only priority
Galleries and artists appreciate customers who are interested in and want to talk about a work’s content and historical relevance, not simply how it will fit within a space.

In his most recent series, Malegría, Puerto Rican-born, Brooklyn-based painter Sebastian Vallejo creates expressive abstractions. The work is beautiful. However it becomes more meaningful when you understand that Vallejo’s practice is a response to his heritage. He breaks away from his artist father’s figurative style; he works to capture the light of the Caribbean. Painting with his hands there is immediacy to his mark making. In the spirit of Duchamp with his ready-mades, and Pollock with his action painting, Vallejo is constantly playing with the idea of opposing forces—joy and happiness vs. discomfort and annoyance.

When you allow layers of complexity into the discussion (biography, historical influences, physical and material strengths, and limits) the result will be a more meaningful acquisition. And whenever possible, spend time looking before anything is purchased. Art is a long-term acquisition, but 99 percent of the time, our “first love” isn’t who we commit to spend our lives with. The easy appeal of what initially catches the eye can lose its luster. Find something that will engage on many levels.

Accompany clients to galleries, art fairs, biennales, and auction previews. Use your relationship with a gallery to take works on consignment. For the cost of transportation you can oftentimes install a work in the space for a week-long risk-free trial.

remember, different mediums thrive in different environments
Works on paper love to be framed under glass and installed in an interior corridor. They don’t like sunny window-filled rooms. The same goes for photographs.

Video art can activate a retail space 24/7. LA-based Petra Cortright makes videos in which she plays with her own image through the filters of FaceTime. These works are odes to millennial vanity. The soundless videos are fun, weird, and strangely watchable. Installed in a window, or projected on a wall, they would draw attention at all hours.

Paintings are great in restaurants. The scale of work on canvas can be immense, creating an opportunity for a unique and dramatic feature. The recent controversy over the removal of Picasso’s Le Tricorne from the Four Season’s Restaurant shows how inextricably linked artwork and space can become in a patron’s mind. Thinking of paintings on a more practical level, the canvas support provides a subtle sound dampener. Even better than this, Matias Cuevas paints on carpet. His mastery of fire and color staining alchemically transforms an everyday material into a thing of beauty (see image above). The dense nature of the carpet could absorb sound and its rich fibered hues could add interesting texture to a room.

go online
If your client isn’t located close to a major city—or even if they are—there are some really well-regarded online options for browsing and buying art:

  • Artsy: The “Pandora” of art, it is a great way to begin your search. Expect to fall down a few rabbit holes looking at different styles, mediums, or artists. Artsy will directly connect you to galleries to buy.
  • Artspace: Sorts works by medium, price, size, color, orientation, region, style. You can purchase through the site.
  • Paddle8: Gives you immediate access to hot young artists. It’s best to use Paddle8 if you know which artists you are hunting for. Purchase is possible through site-hosted online auctions.
  • Exhibition A: Run by finger-on-the-pulse gallerist Bill Powers, and his wife Cynthia Rowley. The site works with artists to commission editioned artworks available for purchase.

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