A consultant with extensive experience with top collectors and institutions around the world, Wendy Goldsmith talks to us about navigating the art world, her changing clientele, the Western market and Asian collectors.
Wendy Goldsmith first joined renowned British auction house Christie’s 19th Century European Art department in London over 20 years ago. There, she would travel across Europe and West Asia, sourcing key material for auctions and heavily contributing to the house’s name and fame. After becoming its youngest Director and Auctioneer, she moved to New York and became the International Head of 19th Century European Art. In 2003, she returned to London and established herself as a private art consultant – Goldsmith Art Advisory.
Goldsmith’s experience includes achieving some world-record prices in the art auctioning world while working with top collectors and institutions around the world. These days, she works out of her Mayfair office, focusing on Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary paintings and sculpture. We talk to her about the importance of art advisors, navigating the art world and the Western market, and the changing face of Asian collectors.
Goldsmith Art Advisory’s Wendy Goldsmith on Navigating the Art World
Where have you been spending time over the past two years?
The last two years have been spent mainly in the UK. When not working in London, I was exploring many of the regional British museums and staycationing in some of our gorgeous country hotels whenever openings allowed. The only trip abroad was a trip to America last spring when I was able to sneak in due to my American passport. It had been too long not to see clients.
Have you been able to travel when possible during the pandemic and have you noticed people’s travel patterns changing due to it?
It was exceedingly difficult for people to travel, hence almost impossible for them to view paintings and attend art fairs – because they simply didn’t exist. The vaccine became the gamechanger, allowing the confidence for globetrotting to the world’s cultural capitals once again.
Has the demographic of your client base altered in any way in recent years?
There is no question that the clients have become younger and younger and younger, and they start at a much higher level; in my day you’d have 50, 60, and 70-year-olds buying the great works and the younger ones would start collecting with prints. Now you have 25-year-olds starting with seven-figure pictures which, having done this for so long, I still find extraordinary. 40 percent of the new clients at auction are under 30, as they are so comfortable buying online as well which is where all the sales seamlessly moved to over lockdown. In addition, the depth of the market is like nothing we’ve ever seen. Almost every country is involved – there were many years when certain nationalities would dominate; the Japanese in the late 80s, then the Russians, then the Italians yet now, literally everyone is enjoying the ride, with Asia leading the way.
Are there particular types of works that are notably popular at the moment?
Art that is popular to Western buyers has been filtering over to the Asian audience over the last few seasons. Now you have Western artists appearing more and more in the Hong Kong sales, which we never saw before when they were dominated almost purely by Asian artists. The experiment was a great success, especially as Asian collectors are educated and sophisticated, wanting to collect in-depth. They started with the obvious artists such as Andy Warhol, but have moved on to the likes of Nicholas Party – not necessarily a household name for those outside of the art world.
Are there obstacles to accessing specific works from the Western market for Asian collectors? How can these obstacles be overcome?
The problem with the current market is that everyone seems to gravitate to the same artists, which makes access the most difficult hurdle. Working with an advisor helps to overcome these obstacles. They have usually worked for years to cultivate relationships with the galleries, along with various other key colleagues, in order for their clients to have priority for the next great work to appear by their coveted artist. The other way to gain access is auctioning, which is why we have seen some outstanding prices in recent years. The person who puts their hand up in the air longest is the one who wins. Cash is king. It’s the great equaliser, without any waiting lists.
How has the pandemic affected your own ways of working?
Technology changed everything, and thank goodness we had it. Viewings were impossible over lockdown although, at one point, I did have a warehouse opened up exclusively to show a client one painting. The entire warehouse was completely empty, except for the managing director showing us around. I had to pull a lot of strings to make that happen, but it was the only way that deal could have gone through. That was early on during Covid but as time went on, collectors became more and more accustomed to buying online, especially new ones, once they were familiar with an artist and could see a high res jpeg, or had faith in the seller such as the brand names of Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
How would you say the pandemic has affected the buying and selling behaviours of your clients? How so for a wider collector base?
It remains a problem for Asian collectors, especially Chinese, as they literally cannot leave the country. Nevertheless, when there is an exhibition in say, Hong Kong, there are queues out the door. Local collectors can’t go elsewhere to view and experience art, so this is a very big event for them, even more so than usual. Art Basel Hong Kong was a huge success in March. Then the series of auctions held at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips saw some extraordinary numbers from this captive audience.
When looking at recent sales in Hong Kong, is there anything notable in the types of collectors? Or the prices reached for particular works?
There is a trend in every sale. At the moment, collectors are looking at Black artists, they’re looking at women artists and even within this field, they are looking at female surrealist artists. Every collector is always looking for the next big thing which speeds up exponentially. This again stems from technology. There’s such unprecedented access to information so people’s tastes are constantly in flux.
More broadly, art fairs in Hong Kong (from Art Basel in May to Unscheduled more recently) have in 2021 reported strong sales – do you have any comments on this in terms of what it says about the market in general? Does this have longevity?
The art world is not going anywhere. Again, there’s just greater and greater depth of the market as a whole new generation of worldwide buyers come into the marketplace. The younger collectors obviously start at the contemporary side of things with what their friends are collecting and what they understand. Sometimes, they then work backwards to early modern, which looks like such good value in comparison at the moment. On the other hand, their parents started with some classic names they knew from their art history books – Van Gogh to Renoir to Picasso – but as these artists become harder and harder to come by (as well as increasingly more expensive), some of them realise that it was actually more fun in a way, once they collected what they wanted, to move on to contemporary. So it’s really interesting where all the generations are meeting.
What might be your predictions as we come out of lockdown?
As we come out of lockdown, people are going to be more and more selective of the number of art fairs they attend, as well as the actual auctions. Having said that, they are also grasping any opportunity to see art in person once more. You can become familiar with paintings by a particular artist but nothing duplicates the experience of actually standing in front of a work of art. Interacting with artists is also the lifeblood for collectors – they love a good studio visit. They get great satisfaction from meeting with artists, understanding their thought processes, seeing their progress, supporting them and often, becoming friends. It is a dynamic that will last for hundreds of years.
Are there art fairs you have booked to visit in your calendar currently, now that some areas are opening up?
The size and numbers of art fairs may become reduced as many of the smaller galleries are realizing that without the huge expenses of these overheads, between travel, shipping and hotel costs, plus of course the cost of renting a booth for the fair, they can do just as much and more with .jpg and online viewing rooms. It’s also an impetus to get clients back into bricks and mortar galleries and view proper exhibitions. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to Art Basel Miami in early December, along with some excellent satellite fairs. Plus, everyone is in a good mood in the sun.
How can people try to navigate a complicated and increasingly overwhelming market?
The art world has become an almost impossible beast to navigate, even for professionals. That’s why an art advisor is so essential if you’re going to take collecting seriously. It would be physically impossible for a layperson to go to all the exhibitions, auction viewings, museum shows, gallery openings I attend, as well as read all the websites I look at, the previews for the shows and art fairs – not to mention the endless auction catalogues. So you really need someone in your corner: a support system, a teacher and an educator to really understand the complexities of this absolute minefield, especially when there can be so much money on the line. Art advisors pay for themselves, just in that aspect alone.
What advice would you give to burgeoning collectors unsure of how to build their collections?
You can’t see enough. Look at art anywhere, anytime and at any opportunity. Start to really understand your taste which is why it also helps to see the bad, in order to understand the good. It can take years to gain the confidence and education to build a collection so there’s no need to rush but if you’re still unsure, some professional advice would make all the difference.
You can find out about Wendy Goldsmith and Goldsmith Art Advisory here.
(Hero by Iona Wolff)
This story first appeared on PrestigeOnline Hong Kong