Should You Work With an Art Consultant?

December 2, 2015
Photograph of two woman looking through an iPad inside a luxurious room.
Photo courtesy of Heather Marx

Every week, we'll be your guide as you navigate the world of buying art in our series, The Collector. 


When you're just starting out buying art, you may find it helpful to work with a consultant. These art experts/historians/therapists can help you hone in on what you love and where to find it, and it can be a very important relationship to develop. Some collectors always work with consultants, or you may find that she's helped you become so knowledgeable about art that one day you'll be ready to pass her on to your less experienced friends. Still deciding whether or not you need a consultant? Consider this:


Why Should You Work With a Consultant?


The two main advantages of working with a consultant (sometimes known as an art advisor) are their expertise and their connections. Along with having an extensive knowledge of art history, they'll know the art scene on the scale you're looking for, from the hyperlocal to the global market. For beginners, this can provide some guidance with figuring out what type of art you're interested in and save you a lot of time compared to educating yourself. They'll know the ins and outs of gallery openings, artists to watch, and (if it's your thing, although we recommend it not to be) trends to follow. They'll be able to help you figure out the best types of art to suit your needs, whether they're aesthetic, decorative, or financial. They'll also already be comfortable with the business aspect of buying art, are familiar with how to value pieces, and are often able to get you the best deal. 


Why Shouldn't You Work With a Consultant?


It typically comes down to whether or not a consultant fits into your budget. Most often, consultants will ask for a commission of the final price of any artwork you buy under their guidance. Sometimes they'll also have an hourly rate, particularly when you're turning to them for general advice rather than specifically looking for art to buy. Fees can add up, and you'll need to take a look into seeing if those extra costs are worth it to you.


There is also the less tangible con of working with an advisor where you may find that you simply enjoy the experience of arriving at a piece of art you love on your own organically rather than having someone more or less pick it out for you. For many collectors, it's exactly the thrill of the hunt and the joy of gallery crawling and immersing themselves in the art world that draws them to collecting. Take some time to think about what your priorities are. 


What Makes Someone a Good Consultant?


There are a lot of qualities that an ideal consultant possesses. The first is an intimate knowledge of art and the art market. She does not have to be an expert in all fields of art, but she must have a few areas where she'll be able to tell you everything you need to know about the past, present, and future of that field. For those areas where she's not as knowledgeable, she must have established a wide network of contacts and sources so that she's able to research any other area you may find yourself drawn to. She's also a good psychiatrist and helps you understand your taste and what you really want from collecting art. Based on her knowledge of available art and a clear understanding of your personality and preferences, she'll present you with options that both suit your immediate needs and stretch your intellect and open your mind to new ideas. Her ultimate goal is to find the best art at the best prices to suit you. 


She's also happy to share her knowledge of both art and the art world with you. She introduces you to her sources, has you accompany her on gallery visits, and takes you to artists' studios. She's very open with her communication and keeps you up to date on how things are progressing all along your journey. She's also totally transparent financially so that you have a complete understanding of how much she makes from each transaction and how she makes it. When you consider a consultant to be your guide, it's all about trust that they're guiding you in the best direction possible. 


Are Consultants Regulated?


The short answer is no, there is not any regulation or liscencing of art consultants. However, there is one important association that tries to establish standards of quality and fiduciary responsibility. The Association of Professional Art Advisors (the APAA) is a collective of consultants that adhere to what they consider to be the best standards for advising. The primary criterion for joining the APAA is not based on the size or splendor of the collections they have built, but how they operate their businesses. They cannot have inventory themselves, since that would result in inherent conflicts of interest and an advisor that cannot objectively acquire a piece of art. They cannot earn their money on the discount that dealers might give a reseller. Whatever discounts are received by a consultant should automatically be passed on to the client. They must charge by the hour, by a percentage of the value of the entire project, or some combination of the two. The discount structure or the ownership of art is not a factor in the decision to buy. 


The attempt to universally impose these standards has not been successful. Many very competent art consultants do not belong to the APAA, so it's not necessary to consider their membership to be a requirement, but it can help when analyzing your prospects. A basic understanding of the ideal ethics of art consulting can help ensure that your advisor is truly working for your best interests. 



If you don't want to navigate the art market on your own, a knowledgeable, trustworthy consultant can help you make the most informed decision of what art to buy, ensure that you're getting a worthwhile deal, and save you a ton of time. If you're interested in working with a consultant, Markel Fine Arts does offer consulting services. Please contact us at for more information. 



I've been in the market for art pieces for my home and work space. Not knowing much about art, this really helped me with how to go about finding them. There are so many things to take into consideration when making this decision: knowing what galleries to go to and when, they have inside connections that will in turn help to connect with other artist, and helps you in making the decision on what kind of art I want/ looking for. After reading this, I will definitely be looking in to getting a consultant to help in this process!

3 May 2017

I obviously advise not approving this comment to publication but I just wanted to let you know that I noticed a typo in the first paragraph under your "Are Consultants Regulated?" header. Money is spelled "moeny".

Otherwise, this is a great article. As someone in this industry, I really appreciate when businesses acknowledge that their services may not be the best fit for everyone, beyond reasons like cost. To me it definitely reads far more honestly than someone trying to make me some sort of aggrandizing sales pitch. Very stylish website to boot.

Grace Walsh
7 October 2016

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