With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.
I’m a real estate developer with my own firm, and I also collect art. I hired a personal art adviser just prior to the pandemic and now see that our tastes are not aligned. Nothing I’ve acquired through her speaks to me in a deep way, and I’m skeptical that any of it will perform well for me. Walking the Armory Show together in September, she kept nudging me toward ultra-contemporary pieces that I simply don’t like. Nevertheless, everyone there knew her and it was incredible to get such instant access to major players. I want to get a new adviser, but don’t know the politics here. Will I be burning a bridge if I dump her?
Being a top executive, you’ve surely fired many employees. Maybe it was the klutzy estimator whose miscalculations skyrocketed your budget, or the creepy project manager who serially harassed the women on his team. You surely mustered the courage to axe an underling, but in this instance it’s almost as if you’re treating the adviser as an equal, or possibly even a superior. The art world operates on social ladders, and it’s clear that you would have replaced her already if you didn’t hold her contacts in such high regard. The adviser seems to have cast a spell over you, but the only proof of her prowess is a bunch of butt-ugly post-talent art that you can’t even offload to a charity thrift shop.
How is it that you can build corporate complexes and yet have a personal complex that doesn’t allow you to trust your own taste in art? Predicting how the market will perform is a crapshoot, but knowing what you like ought to be a lot easier. Do you let somebody order your food at a restaurant without looking at the menu? You should be engaged in a conversation with the adviser—don’t just let her put paintings on your tab. Maybe you’re intimidated and don’t want to be a party-pooper by saying no, or it could be that you two just don’t groove together, but the best way to avoid hard sells and rectify this relationship is to make sure she knows what you want. You seem to suggest that buying art is more than just financial speculation, which is true. It should be an emotional investment too.
Not being in touch with yourself is what led you to this adviser, so who’s to say that the next one will be a better fit? Remember that you are a walking checkbook and she’s a commission-collecting broker. You don’t need her to mingle with hungry art people who covet your money, especially if you keep buying directly from them. The biggest disadvantage to sacking her is that you will, for sure, keep snorkeling in the same petri dish that is the art world. You may suffer the slings and arrows of her gossip, but bribing city council members and indulging disgruntled architects with giant egos has prepared you for this battle royal.
During the NFT fervor last year, I left a solid job to go work for an NFT platform. It felt like a great fit because tech and art are my specialties. Many friends thought I was crazy, but I went for it in a pandemic YOLO moment. The NFT market tanked shortly after I started and we barely made a splash. My salary was paid in crypto and is now worth virtually nothing. Do you think I can get my old job back?
It appears that you’ve learned a humbling lesson about your own fungibility. We revere risk-takers who boldly leap into the unknown, but banking on the popularity of NFTs was a whopper of a mistake. You used to be the Big Mac, and now you are just plain Fuddrucked. Your old job probably isn’t available anymore, but given your yen for tech, webcamming is a growing field worth considering. If that isn’t your speed, we heard that the Geek Squad is looking for a technology curator at the Best Buy in Weehawken.
Your queries for Chen & Lampert can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org