Today, top collectors often rely on art consultants for advice on what to buy – and one of the better-known names is New York-based consultant Lisa Schiff.
Ms. Schiff, who considered Leonardo DiCaprio as a client until a few years ago, has been in business since 2002 and now has an office in TriBeCa that also serves as an exhibition and production space for artists.
In a recent telephone interview, Ms. Schiff spoke about the impact of the pandemic on her business, the NFT craze and the state of the global art market.
This conversation has been edited and truncated.
How has the pandemic affected business?
Many of my clients bought more houses and started renovating them so that they had more empty walls. That generated a lot of business. The pandemic has also pushed us all very far in the online sector.
What are the implications of that?
I now see two forms of value creation: a traditional system and a new system, where investment value and critical and aesthetic values are separated and the art is lost.
Traditional value creation happens over many lifetimes as an artist goes through a number of consensus-building benchmarks: other artists, curators, institutions, academics, collectors. Over time, some artists and some of their artworks evolve to blue chip.
Today it is quite confusing. Certain auction houses mimic the collectibles market. Everything is a tchotchke to mirror. Evening sales are for stuff that those auction houses know they can take advantage of this week. You’ve got sneakers, dinosaur bones, some NFTs, 50 artists you’ve never heard of, and then three artists who should be in a night sale.
This is really disturbing. I don’t understand how I can afford $3 million for an artist who is 30 years old and has no museum shows. I am terrified of this weird marketplace based on nothing but information and chatter.
So where are we going?
We are entering really dangerous territory because it has inspired a whole host of new financial mechanisms. The new banking system does its own valuations based on what is currently being traded at auction.
What do you think of Beeple, who sold an NFT at Christie’s for $69 million last year?
That’s not art. That is something else.
Why isn’t that art?
Second, that the only qualification of your success is based on what someone is willing to pay, it is completely unrelated to any aesthetic and critical value. NFTs, by the very nature of how you define them, take the art out of them.
I have no problem publishing digital art, or whether it should be more secure in a blockchain. I have a problem with something that is immediately linked to the price at which it is sold.
Besides, I buy and sell NFTs. I just don’t think of them as art: I’m guessing.
You are an art consultant, but you also sell art that your clients own. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
I treat them as very different companies. I have customers who sell things. I cannot offer my customers’ items to my other customers, because then I represent both parties. You have to be transparent.
What was it like advising Mr. DiCaprio?
It was a huge treat. He is 1000 percent a real collector. He collects dinosaur bones, stuff from travel and travel, odds and ends.
Can you give examples of artists he likes?
Camilo Restrepo from Colombia, who had shows with Steve Turner in LA I would never have watched Camilo Restrepo if it wasn’t for Leo. I saw the work through his eyes and loved it.
Art prices only seem to be going up, especially when it comes to blue-chip art. Is art a bubble?
At the moment, that is absolutely not the case. These four artists have a bubble, but these 1,000 artists have a drop.
I say to new collectors: Art is not liquid. If you feel like you might need your money for an emergency, don’t collect art, because your negotiable window is about two weeks long – unpredictable. And if it’s not there, don’t try to sell it. Yet everyone does that, and they hate it, and they’re furious.
On any given day, even your $100 million Jean-Michel Basquiat head is worth zero — until you compare it to the person who’s willing to pay what you think it’s worth.
That’s not the impression people have of the art market.
Because they just see the auction prices and everything going high. They also don’t understand the whole system of auctions. How many works were guaranteed? That says a lot about sales. Things cannot be sold completely without a guarantee on them. It’s tough in any industry right now. We are in an unforgiving, capitalist kind of space.