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Allan's Intro


Having a Fool for a Client

Being an Advisor Doesn’t Make Me Immune

BY Allan Schwartzman
co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts


Photo credit: RTImages/Alamy Stock Photo

I have never understood the simple wisdom of clichés, adages and proverbs (or really what the difference is). I don’t know what it means to save a stitch in time (and probably could never get the hang of it) and, while I understand that ignorance can be bliss, for me it is torture. But there is a saying I do understand: a lawyer who serves himself has a fool for a client. The same just as easily applies to the art advisor. Indeed, I may well be that fool.

As an advisor to my clients, I have no trouble pulling the plum from the pile or walking a collector through a strategic analysis and telling them with absolute certainty which decision, when faced with a number of choices, is undoubtedly the best one for them. But when it comes to making a decision about acquiring a work of for myself, I am usually filled with uncertainty. I turn to three or four people for validation (often each more than once)—and even then I can suffer paralyzing doubt.   

Allow me to make clear that I never put my own collecting interests ahead of a client’s. I buy after my clients pass. But even with the range of collectors we work with—and the precision with which we seek out the best next acquisition for each—we find ourselves at times presented with amazing opportunities that we are, at that moment, unable to place with a client. That is when my eye begins to wander into the byways of my own personal passions, and the limits of what I can afford.  

I should add that I have never thought of myself as a collector. Indeed, I never had the desire to buy art. The art world I entered was like a small town, and because of the relationships I had with many artists, I never felt that I was without art. I thought art collecting was for people who felt outside of it, who could, through collecting, buy a personal connection to a creative world. 

But when I started making more money than I needed to get to the next month, I figured I was probably better off putting a disproportionate amount of my money into what I knew, rather than what to me was that abstract and unknowable world of “investment”. 

All that changed when I had the great opportunity to buy a masterpiece by an artist I have always considered to be one of the greatest living painters, and, in this case, from what turned out to be a pivotally important body of work (but that’s a story for another time). Then I understood the passion of collecting.

Recently I decided to buy a painting that I believe is another one of those turning-point acquisitions—a fantastic and significant work by another artist whom I consider to be among the best living painters. While I see a broad horizon for this artist, and see this painting as a wise investment (even though I buy art for love, there’s a certain price above which I cannot afford to buy work that I don’t believe will rise in value) this is a really expensive purchase for me. It is more than twice what I have ever spent on a work of art—a sum I have no business spending. We are not our clients.  

It still gives me anxiety to be making this purchase, but like a moth to a flame I am convinced that it is too great a work—one that moves me deeply in a number of ways—that I cannot (emotionally) afford to let it pass. So, I have decided to take the plunge and, unlike the professional that I am when dealing with my clients, who possesses a steady hand and a stern mind—my stomach is filled with butterflies, so many so that I cannot restrain from sharing this very private secret. 

As the great late collector Robert Meltzer said to me a long time ago, “If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t count”. These are wise words to collect by.



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