ART INDEPENDENT is a fine-art agency designed to act as an independent intermediary on a wide range of consulting services, commissions/sales, and creative collaborations. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing its founder, Allison Malafronte, about the changing landscape of the art market and how AI assists collectors in navigating this new environment.
Chamberlain Fine Art: Chamberlain Fine Art was created with a "new art-world order" in mind. As collectors now increasingly access and purchase artwork online, it is clear that the traditional gallery model is changing. How do you understand these developments in the art market?
AI: Both forms of buying art -- the online art-sales space and the brick-and-mortar gallery -- still co-exist, but yes viewing and purchasing art online is becoming increasingly prevalent. Sites such as the Curator's Eye, AmazonArt.com, Saatchi Online, Paddle8, Artsy and others are leading this trend, which is essentially catering to our digital society’s preference for instant communication, connection, and consumerism. For art purchases that are more decorative in nature, the online art-sales space offered by some of these large sites can be attractive for many collectors. They can sift through hundreds or in some cases thousands of images by subject, style, and/or artist; upload a picture of their current interior and see the artwork shown to scale; and with the click of a button have something delivered to their home or office in a few business days. But I still think interacting with the artwork in person and having a fuller understanding of the artist who created it is very important before making a fine-art purchase. I think what is happening is, as this new online model is emerging, it’s creating a rethinking of how we have traditionally interacted with and purchased art. This evolution is also making space for new forms of representation and sales to emerge, whether through online galleries, physical galleries that are adapting to the change, or through more independent forms of direct artist-to-collector interactions and transactions. Chamberlain Fine Art is actually ahead of the curve in that I think you are one of the only strictly online galleries offering traditional work. So you are keeping up with contemporary developments, but still offering a classic style, which is interesting.
CFA: Embracing this new paradigm for art collectors is exciting, but it can also pose challenges. How does AI help collectors navigate this new environment?
AI: Art Independent starts with the needs of the collector, so after I learn as much as possible about his or her interests, preferences, and goals I then present a portfolio of about five artists whose style, mindset, and body of work I feel best fulfills those needs. We then begin the process of narrowing down the choices through a thorough discussion of each artist’s work and background. Next we decide whether we will go after existing work or commission new pieces. There are times, yes, when the client just wants something graphic, decorative, and/or abstract, and I will then find the work through one of the popular online sites and present the options to them. But in general, I think the first step is for the client to fully understand what they are after and realize how important a purchase this is. The way we go about getting the actual artwork is of secondary concern, whether it’s directly from the artist, through a physical gallery, or through an online gallery. If a collector is buying the work sight unseen through an online gallery, I think there needs to be someone involved who is familiar enough with the artist and his or her work (and has seen it in person) who can speak on their behalf and make sure you will be satisfied with your choice. Art is an expensive purchase that you will live with for most of your life, so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. A lot also depends on the style that the collector is after. You are going to find very different art on AmazonArt.com than you will find in a gallery in Santa Fe, for instance, or in a private studio in Europe. So the goals of the purchase or project are first, and then I will use whatever source best suits the goal -- my personal connections, private studio visits, public spaces, online sites -- to help the client connect with and decide on the right artwork.
CFA: The process of buying art differs for each collector as much as his or her aesthetic preferences. How do you work with collectors and designers to address individual styles and tastes? What is your process?
AI: The interview process is the first step, and I prefer to do that in person, but I can also consult by phone or Skype. I learn as much a possible about the particular goals of the art-collecting or design project. I look at other art the clients have purchased in the past, or I’ll ask them to show me images of artwork (for art) they are drawn to, or architectural and interior spaces (for design) that exemplify what they are after. It’s also important for me to know the end goal of the art purchase or design project. Is this strictly for investment? To surround yourself with something beautiful? To make a statement of some kind? Is it for a business or organization and therefore needs to create a certain mood or atmosphere? If it’s a design project, do we have room for creativity or are we following a specific blueprint? Once I fully understand all of this, the next step is introducing the collector or client to the artist and artwork that I feel will take their collection or project to the next level while matching the goals of all parties involved.
CFA: We have all heard and hopefully heeded the advice that we must love what we buy, but we are also concerned with how we invest. How does AI help collectors invest wisely?
AI: The topic of art as an investment is difficult for many reasons, and it again depends on the type of artwork we’re talking about and the individual whose collecting it. In the more mainstream end of the contemporary art world, we’re getting closer to art becoming a publically traded asset on the stock exchange, which means art as investment will have an official, Wall Street-driven protocol and procedure. This will likely be quite different from the motivation of someone who is investing in art for cultural or emotional reasons or because they believe in the future of a particular artist. In general, most art advisors and consultants will advise you to not let investing be a primary motivation for buying art because, although there is potential for high returns, there is also great risk. Especially if you’re dealing in the primary market and especially if you’re investing in art outside of what has been branded and valued as “contemporary art.” In either camp -- the more cutting-edge top tier of the art market or the independent areas where art is purchased for reasons other than trend or hype -- there is no guarantee that anything you buy today will have value tomorrow. If I’m speaking to collectors in the traditional or representational art world, investment for a future profit is rarely part of the conversation. People who are drawn to that kind of artwork are usually more interested in using art to add to their life, surround themselves with beauty, and create a well-curated collection. Those paintings could possibly sell for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars 100 years from now. Or they could end up in someone’s attic. There are no guarantees.
CFA: Hopefully, one thing that technology will never change are the relationships that art cultivates. For collectors, insight into an artist's philosophy and vision can often provide a unique connection to the artwork itself. How does AI help foster the relationships between artist, gallerist, and collector?
AI: I encourage collectors to get behind one or two artists they really see potential in and follow their careers. Normally, one would do this by going to their exhibitions, reading about them, and following their website, blog, or social media. When possible, however, I prefer to help artists and those who are interested in their work connect in a real way, rather than removed or remote. It’s my pleasure to create a connection between two people whom I think should meet and who seem to have similar thoughts, philosophies, or even experiences that could benefit each other. This actually tends to happen rather organically just in the natural course of my work or when I’m learning about and looking at art for my own enrichment. After speaking to or meeting someone, he or she might say something, show me a piece, or share an idea that sparks the thought of another artist, patron, or art professional who had mentioned something similar. It makes sense to then introduce these people or encourage them to see the art or artist in person. There is nothing greater for artists than meeting someone who truly understands and believes in what they’re doing and wants to help them on their journey. And there is nothing greater for a collector or art professional to find the kind of artist and artwork that really speaks to them and inspires their creativity and work.
CFA: What is your long-term vision for Art Independent?
AI: Once I have accomplished certain goals for Art Independent -- creating long-term relationships with patrons and collectors, and getting more connected to the mainstream contemporary art world -- I would like to eventually start representing select artists independently. My hope is to have a full understanding of how all sides (business and art) of the big-picture contemporary art world work and bring them together in new and appropriate ways.