January 20, 2015 Nine Dot Arts

A crash course on art consulting for artists


The magic happens at our corporate headquarters in TAXI.

The art world: it may just be the final frontier.  For something that’s been around since the Stone Age, art remains as potentially scary, mystical and cloaked in opacity as it’s ever been – for the general public, certainly, but also for buyers, dealers and even artists.  At NINE dot ARTS, however, we believe that the art world could benefit from a little transparency and straight talk, which is one of the reasons we started this here blog.  As with much in the art world, we’ve discovered there’s a hefty amount of artist misconception and misunderstanding floating around about art consulting: nebulous ideas snatched from cocktail party chatter, offhanded comments in MFA programs, poor past experiences with other firms.  And so, to clear up the confusion and put forth a true record of how NINE dot ARTS does business, we’ve laid bare our industry for your consideration, education and, we hope, your reading pleasure.

What is Art Consulting?

Excellent question!  In brief, corporate art consultants work with corporate clients such as hospitals, hotels, law firms, real estate developers, restaurants, energy companies, etc. to procure art for those companies’ spaces.  We act as buyers on the client’s behalf, selecting the best work to fit their art program.  While buying art and putting it on the wall may seem straightforward, it can actually get as complicated as the lines in a Pollock painting pretty darn quick.  We manage everything from budgeting, placement, lighting, freight, storage, installation and, of course, selecting the art itself.

30-second History of Art Consulting

Art consulting first emerged in the mid-1950s with David Rockefeller’s One Chase Manhattan Plaza.  Former MoMAcurator, Dorothy Miller, served as the first corporate art advisor and led Rockefeller’s art committee to purchase works by Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell and James Brooks.  Since then, companies have purchased art to enhance and promote their businesses, attract top talent and clients, humanize their spaces and connect to the greater community.

What’s so Special About Art Consulting?

For starters, art consultants bridge the artistic and business worlds in a way that other artists, dealers and galleries can’t.  Unlike galleries and dealers who only work with a set stable of contracted artists, NINE dot ARTS has no exclusive contracts with artists or galleries, enabling us to work as an unbiased source on our client’s behalf.  This buying power allows us unlimited freedom to work with any artist or gallery in the world to fit a client’s needs, giving us unparalleled access to any and all art and making the globe our art-filled oyster.  This model benefits our clients because it ensures a truly unique and well-rounded collection instead of one dominated by a particular aesthetic.  It also keeps each collection fresh as we’re not recycling the same group of artists over and over in each project.

Unlike most individual collectors who acquire work over a lifetime or museums that collect over several lifetimes, corporate collections may come together in large acquisition phases, one office, one building at a time.  Because of this complex procurement process, art consultants must carefully plan a collection early and keep it viable for the long haul.  That early planning includes developing a vision for the collection and ensuring art/architectural cohesion.  We may have summed up that work in two sentences, but the reality includes hours of work and years of experience.  First, we pour over floor plans and architectural renderings to make sure we understand the spatial demands of each project.  We work with architects and designers to add lighting, create art niches, add backing and move fire strobes and thermostats, which always seem to be smack dab in the middle of the wall, so that the art can do what it does best.  After that, we develop a visual and verbal language to determine a collection’s criteria and goals.  Once we’ve got these in place, we know exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to selecting work for the collection.  We search far and wide to find the best art for each project: hitting gallery openings, visiting studios, consuming as many art journals, magazines and blogs as humanly possible, reaching out to art schools, trolling the internet, picking each other’s brains, flying half-way across the country, driving through sleet and fog in the boondocks to get to a pop-up art event.  Basically, we turn into art-seeking missiles.  In over 95% of cases, we reach out to artists before they come to us.  Because we put work we present through our initial vetting process, the odds for final placement are far greater than say a walk-in buyer at a gallery.  Finally, when we do purchase an artwork, we take care of framing, storing, transporting and installing the work.  We do a huge amount of legwork before, during and after each art purchase.  We take a big ol’ chunk of the stress and burden of the business side of art off artists’ shoulders, which frees them to work on their creative practice.

Which brings us to potentially our greatest selling point: paying artists.  While consultants don’t represent artists, they can have a tremendous impact on their careers.  According to Roseanna Martorella, author of Corporate Art, corporate art collectors account for more than 50% of all art sales outside of New York City, making them the largest direct supporter of artists.  Let that number sink in – 50%!  Art consultants serve as primary connectors between the artists and the businesses in those sales.  With over $3 million in annual revenues, NINE dot ARTS sustains and promotes artists’ practices, helping them thrive financially and creatively.  We’ve catapulted Phil Bender into a higher tax bracket with art placements in The Crawford Hotel at Union Station and Colorado Convention Center among others.  Every week we send checks to painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers, illustrators and encaustic, collage, mixed media, video and installation artists.  In 2014 alone, we worked with more than 252 individual artists and creative businesses nationwide.  Not many galleries can boast they’ve placed that many artists annually or ever for that matter.  With projects in 17 states and counting, we’re constantly expanding the number of artists we’ve placed in corporate collections from California to New York, Minnesota to Texas and back again.

Additionally, as corporate art budgets remain modest in size, consultants lean on emerging and mid-career artists to develop strong yet affordable collections.  Often corporate collections grow from a business’ local artistic community.  Corporate collecting provides not only essential financial support but also crucial artistic validation that can lead to gallery representation, museum shows and large-scale commissions.  We’re also responsible for being the number-one buyer of Michael McClung’s art, outpacing sales from his galleries and studio.  We’ve challenged emerging artists likeAdam Buehler, Deanne Nixon and Sandra Fettingis to create their largest works to date to critical acclaim.

How do Art Consultants Keep Their Doors Open?

Perhaps you didn’t know, but NINE dot ARTS, like many other consulting firms, is a real brick-and-mortar place (2,584 square feet in fact), situated in the heart of Denver’s River North Art District in a lovely urban oasis called TAXI.  We keep our doors open, our staff employed, businesses supplied with art and artists working by purchasing art at a wholesale price and selling it at the retail price.  Our standard practice splits the retail price of a work 50/50 with individual artists.  (Check out our earlier post on art pricing and the importance of wholesale and retail pricing.)  We’ve heard gripes and moans about the 50/50 split because we’re “not a gallery.”  Presumably, these artists think we don’t invest as much time, energy and money into their careers as a gallery would.  True, we’re not giving you a solo show but we are working to get you paid, plain and simple.  The easier you are to work with, the more likely we’ll keep coming back to you for future projects, which could lead into a life-long relationship.  Additionally, we often hear “you don’t have the same overhead as a gallery.”  In actuality, we have a higher overhead.  Whereas the majority of the gallery’s overhead goes into the retail storefront (patching and painting walls, track lighting, vinyl lettering, etc.), the majority of NINE dot ARTS’ overhead goes towards paying a highly educated and skilled full-time staff of seven.  That staff constantly works to make sure artists succeed both aesthetically and financially.

Next time we call to inquire about your newest work, we hope you remember: we’re on the same team.