“Top Billionaire Collectors” promises the headline of a recent online article on Forbes.com. And indeed, the article
identifies 14 billionaires whose private, individual, fine art collections exceed $700 million in value.
It also points out that Estee Lauder’s chairman emeritus, Leonard Lauder, gifted
$171 million to New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art so that the
museum would not have to worry about relocating from its current, prestigious
Upper East Side location.
It is these super-wealthy patrons, along with an army of eager novices and
cultivated art collectors, who comprise the aggregate lifeblood of the art world. Art
is, understandably, an all-consuming passion for those who produce art. But what is
it that causes some gallery goers to be seized by a “sui generis” connection with an
artwork and a desire to purchase it?
For a glimpse of the affecting arena of art collecting, I sat down for an impromptu
conversation with an experienced fine art advisor. Susan Lanoue is a 20-plus-year
veteran of the art-consulting business, and owns her own vibrant gallery, Lanoue
Fine Arts, located on Boston’s Newbury Street.
The conversation began with a forthright, curiosity-question: what kind of price
range would a new collector typically consider spending? “As far as the price point of
a first time purchase, it really depends on where a person is looking for art,” Lanoue
said. “In open studios situations, $500 to $2,000 is reasonable.” But if a collector is
looking for an artist with a solid exhibition track record in respected galleries, such
mature works by mid-career artists might range from $5,000 to $15,000.
“Beyond mid-career artists, it’s fair to say that $50,000 is an average point of entrée,”
Lanoue said. She carefully emphasized that investment-quality works may be purchased
for greater or lesser sums, and that the scarcity and the condition of a particular artist’s
available work is a factor. Other factors include whether an artist remains productive
or has deceased, and whether the artist’s work has been subjected to the test of time.
“One ought to use the most important rule of thumb in collecting and ‘buy what
you love,’” Lanoue emphatically noted. “The most satisfying aspect of what I do is in
introducing people to works of art that I’m passionate about and seeing them share
in my enthusiasm.” She said there is no greater compliment than when a collector
refers their friends to her gallery to seek her advice.
Depending on the initial conversation with a client, the time frame for a follow up
conversation will largely depend on if the client’s initial purchase has depleted the
budget they’ve set aside for art acquisitions. Most people who are serious about
collecting are straightforward in disclosing when they are ready to make another
purchase. When a client’s budget is less of a concern, Lanoue said, she generally
speaks with them within a two-to-six-month period, dependent on having works
that would appeal to that client. “There is no universal procedure one follows in
cultivating a collector other than the building of a sincere relationship over time,”
Lanoue said, adding, “it is my duty to be well informed, to be a careful listener,
to understand my client’s goals with regard to art, so I can advise them properly.”
Introducing a little levity, I asked: when working with a married couple, is it
typically the male or the female who is the “Decider?” Lanoue did not razz me for
this frivolous probing. “In the cases of couples making decisions, there tends to be one party who spearheads the process,” she said. “On average, a woman will be
more likely make the initial foray into the gallery, then bring her spouse back to see
things she was attracted to, particularly if they are collecting for décor versus hobby,
passion, heirloom and investments etc. However, the ultimate decision maker may
end up being either party.”
In a typical workweek, approximately 50 percent of Lanoue’s time is devoted to