(Do you need an art broker?)
While the terms are often used interchangeably, it is important to make a distinction between art brokers, art dealers, and art agents. Art dealers are gallery owners. Their job is discovery, promotion, nurture, and advertisement of the artists they represent. There is a lot that goes into getting that done, but that's what they're doing. Art agents are often former gallery employees or owners. Their focus is more narrow, as they generally work with fewer artists that a gallery would. They work on their clients' behalf in placing art commercially on the market. Agents facilitate selling of art and receive commission when the business is done.
An Art Broker works for the collector. She may have similar functions as an agent and a dealer in discovering art for clients, but the expertise required is very different from the dealer and the agent. Brokers are usually experts in a particular field such as African American works on paper, modern art, Dutch masters, or contemporary abstraction. They work exclusively with collectors and help them locate the right pieces for their collections. Of course, if someone is buying, then some other collector is probably selling. The art broker will work both sides of that transaction.
If you are serious about collecting art, it is important to have a reasonable knowledge of the art market and the particular styles or artists you are interested in buying. You’ll get to know a lot about the art and artists you love, but maintaining the level of knowledge needed to engage capably in a constantly evolving art market is a full time job. This is where the art broker comes in. Art collecting is an expensive indulgence. Wasted time and mistakes are more expensive and take a lot of the fun out it. Art brokers aren't cheap, but a good one is worth every penny.
Being an art broker does sound glamorous. On television they’re always at fancy parties, nattily togged, looking down their noses at someone or something and speaking in a British or North East regional accent. It is actually a hard job. There is a very high level of skill and knowledge required to be good at it. Art brokers need to be well versed in specific periods or artists they are dealing with. They would be expected to be able to authenticate works of art that a collector/client is interested in buying. A good broker would be able to advise on works that may be of interest for investment. It wouldn’t be uncommon for an art broker to have multiple clients interested in artists or art from the periods the broker is expert in.
Art brokers aren't cheap, but a good one is worth every penny.
Art brokers services generally include confidential consultations, advice on trends, value and quality, global sourcing, research and authentication of art, negotiation with sellers, bidding at auction, administration of purchases, and art market reports. Commonly, commissions are also only charged on completed transactions so there can be a lot of unpaid work if a deal falls through. When the client is a seller the package of services will differ. They would include the standard consultations and advice, contacts with private collectors, curators, galleries and auction houses as well as advice in choosing the right method, venue and time to sell. Often brokers will also work as collections consultants and they can manage a client's collection. Collection management will include curating, planning and budgeting, representation of the collection, regular appraisals for insurance, and tracking and maintaining documentation of authentication and provenances.
Serious collectors make good use of good art brokers. The advice on a sound deal and how to promote and use an art collection on the market will be crucial for a collector who sees art as an investment, and who may expect revenue from it in the future. Reliable advice from an expert who follows the market, who is knowledgeable in the art you are interested in, and who will protect your interests, make art brokers vital to a collector's long term success.
William S Jiggetts