Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you ever wanted to know about the art world but didn’t know who to ask. I’m your host Charlotte Burns and I’m joined today by Glenn Fuhrman, a man who wears several hats—notably as an art collector who founded The FLAG Art Foundation in New York, and also as a highly successful businessman who’s the co-founder and co-managing partner of MSD Capital.
“I lived in a one room studio apartment for the first eight and a half years I lived in New York, and spent all of my disposable income on art. And I had a very clear view at that time that I could not afford to buy inexpensive art.” – Glenn Fuhrman
We’re also joined by Amy Cappellazzo, a chairman at Sotheby’s and co-founder of Art Agency, Partners.
“One of the things that is a little bit of conundrum in collecting is how do you keep your eye as sharp for young material?” – Amy Cappellazzo
Before we get to today’s episode, here’s your regular reminder to subscribe to our In Other Words newsletter at artagencypartners.com. And now, onto the show.
Charlotte Burns: Thank you both for being here today.
Glenn Fuhrman: Thanks for having me.
Amy Cappellazzo: Thank you.
Charlotte Burns: Glenn, you are notoriously press shy. You don’t give very many interviews—which I know because I have been asking you to do this for years.
The main reason you’re here today is to talk about The FLAG Art Foundation, which is the nonprofit contemporary art institution celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Do you want to tell me a little bit about how and why you founded FLAG?
Glenn Fuhrman: Sure. it’s funny, that was 10 years ago, but the seeds for FLAG I think were planted more like 30 years ago. I was studying art history in college, alongside finance. And my first semester junior year, I spent abroad in London studying nothing but art history. At that time, in 1986, it was very much an active time for Charles Saatchi. He was putting on great exhibitions at his private space—
Charlotte Burns: —Oh, interesting.
Glenn Fuhrman: —And that was where I would go to see contemporary art when I was in London. There was no such thing as Tate Modern back then. There was really no place to go to see contemporary art, other than maybe a rare piece at the Tate Britain.
When I started my career, I would go to London for Goldman Sachs and I would always find time to go see what was going on at Charles’s space. I think I had that in my mind that there was a private collector putting on these great exhibitions of contemporary work that was not for sale—at least at the time. Of course they would all come for sale down the road—but, at the time, they were really just exhibitions that were fantastic to see and enjoy.
So, I think when I began collecting, in the back of my mind, maybe always had this dream of having a type of exhibition space, and of course I would always go to the Rubell Collection in Miami and Martin Margulies Collections, so there were other individuals that had put on exhibition spaces for their own collection. But I wanted to do something a little bit different, mainly just because I don’t think my collection was as big or as interesting to sustain a program itself. But I thought it would be fun to have a space like FLAG putting on exhibitions that were not based on my own collection, that were really more oriented around a Kunsthalle concept where each show would have borrowed works from wherever we could borrow them, like a regular museum.
And one step further, we thought: what if each show would have a different curator, so it would really constantly have a new vision, and we could work with that curator in a different way. And so that was really how FLAG got off the ground and the concept behind it.
Charlotte Burns: Two things occurred to me when you said that. The first is that the collections you’re referring to, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that there really weren’t that many private foundations, and now it seems like there’s been a real explosion. There are a lot more private foundations, but still, most of them present the collections of their founders or there are people who present other works—but they’re often involved in a market in a much more ostensible way than FLAG is. You seem to have drawn a divide between them: you are a collector and you are, in your day job, handling investments. How and why did you make that distinction with the foundation?
Glenn Fuhrman: I really thought The FLAG Art Foundation would allow me to enjoy a different aspect of the art world. I loved collecting. I love speaking with other collectors. I loved working with artists, and FLAG I saw as a way to work with all those different groups in a new and more expansive way, that was not about my own collection or about my own collecting.
Each one of these shows that we organized became a tremendously rewarding experience for me, but it had nothing to do with me acquiring work, so it allowed me to just be involved in the art world in a totally different way that I found very enjoyable and want to continue doing because it’s something that I can enjoy, aside from having to write a check and buy a piece of art.
Charlotte Burns: Yes, a different kind of check.
Amy Cappellazzo: It’s interesting because in the past ten—first of all it’s hard to believe that FLAG is ten years old, because I guess that means we’re ten years older—so that feels shocking.
One of the things that has interested me as I’ve followed your program. First of all, FLAG kind of grew and picked up some of the artists and energy and verve that was happening in the alternative spaces in the previous 10 years. So, maybe as some of the alternative spaces in downtown New York were struggling a little bit more with funding or branching out, or frankly just needed some kind of refreshing and reinventing of what they were doing.
I was so impressed to see that there were relationships between very established artists as well as very emerging, and I think it’s interesting to see how FLAG has picked up and maintained some, not just the energy, but also some of the artists that were mainstays of the alternative space world.
Glenn Fuhrman: I would say that is definitely a focus of FLAG and a focus for me. I have always enjoyed collecting established artists alongside less established artists, and interestingly enough, the artists that are more established actually love seeing their work hung beside less established or less well-known artists.
With FLAG’s 10th anniversary, we’re doing a lot of analysis over our last 10 years, and we’ve shown 486 different artists in our 50 shows. I love the fact that in that top 10 in terms of artists who have been in most of our 50 shows, at the top is Jim Hodges, who’s been in 10 shows, which is 20% of our total exhibitions, Robert Gober, Charles Ray—but then Jennifer Dalton, Awol Erizku, Jim Torok and Ewan Gibbs: not artists that just jump off the evening sale. So, I love the fact that we have them. Then others include Louise Bourgeois and Cindy Sherman.
So, it’s a great combination and I think that is something that we always enjoy doing, and obviously our curators enjoy doing also, because these shows were curated by lots of different people, all of whom enjoy this juxtaposition of the more established alongside less well-known artists.
Charlotte Burns: To what extent through this process have you discovered new favorite artists?
Glenn Fuhrman: Significantly. I’ve definitely discovered lots of artists through this process. And FLAG has a tremendous team. Stephanie Roach, our director, has been the director since the very beginning. John Rider and Rissa have been with us for almost five years each. Rissa recently left to move back to North Carolina, but we’ve had a tremendous staff that has been very helpful in organizing these shows, crafting these shows, counting the number of women at each exhibition—which is something Stephanie has done a great job of, so that we make sure that we’re cognizant of balance—
Charlotte Burns: You’ve always been doing that?
Glenn Furhman: We’ve always been doing that, and it’s something that I take a lot of pride in. We’ve always tried to be as representative as we could be. It’s just something that we’ve always thought about and is a central part to how we operate.
But in terms of discovering new artists, yes, I mean curators are always bringing to the floor names that I was not familiar with. And it has been fun to not just see the work but meet the artist, be with them during installation, having them come—oftentimes with their family—to the opening, I mean, it’s a very exciting thing to work with a large group of artists in these different ways, and just get to know their practice better.
Charlotte Burns: Is that a way for you of bypassing the gallery system? A lot of times people talk these days about the professionalization of the art world and the fact that there are constant mediations between the buyer and the creator. Is this a way for you to sort of bypass that and have a more direct relationship?
Glenn Fuhrman: You know it’s funny. Everybody’s trying to come up with ways that there really is an economic purpose to me setting up FLAG and it’s totally natural. But, it really has never been that way. I mean it’s still—
Charlotte Burns: —I don’t mean economically, actually, I mean in terms of enjoying that conversation, in terms of having that access.
Glenn Fuhrman: No, because I’ve always enjoyed that. I’ve always had that conversation whether there was a dealer involved or not. Everything I’ve ever bought is always going through a dealer—I’ve always respected that process and that aspect of the art world.
But even though I may be buying Ed Ruscha from Larry Gagosian, I’m still going to Ed’s studio every time I’m in LA, and I’m still talking to Ed directly in a way that is not facilitated by the gallery—that’s a relationship that predates even Larry showing Ed.
So, I’m always interested, and that’s one of the benefits of collecting contemporary art, is the ability to have that conversation—if you want it. Some collectors don’t want that conversation or don’t want that interaction. They just want to engage with the art work itself and not be confused by a relationship that may be positive or negative and affect their view of the work. I enjoy that part of the contemporary art world; I like meeting the artist and hearing a little bit more about his or her practice.
Amy Cappellazzo: Have you ever met an artist where the relationship was disappointing?
Glenn Fuhrman: Yes, I’ve had really one interaction in my 25 years of collecting where it was a very negative interaction and I definitely will never, and have no interest in ever even looking at a work by that artist again, let alone purchasing it, so that’s just—
Amy Cappellazzo: —Right.
Charlotte Burns: Did you love it before? Was that a big change for your—
Glenn Fuhrman: It is just, just now something I don’t even think about, it’s just been so destroyed by that negative interaction. Which—it is what it is.
Charlotte Burns: Yes.
You fell in love with a table and chairs sculpture by Robert Therrien, which is too large to live with. And I wondered how that had changed the way you thought about your own personal collection?
Glenn Fuhrman: I started collecting when I was in my 20s and I did have a hard time breaking into the New York art world. As one of my mentors at Goldman Sachs said to me at the time, “Glenn, you’re young and you look even younger.” And I think that when I was going into galleries and asking for information about works even as basic as how much something cost, I literally could not get anybody to even speak to me.
It was very, very difficult to be taken seriously. And for whatever reason, European dealers just were more interested in talking to me and working with me, and I had made a foray to the Basel Art Fair and had met a lot of European dealers. The very beginning of my collection was mostly being purchased through European dealers. I bought from a gallery from Mönchengladbach in Germany for example, I wouldn’t even know how to pick that place off a map, but I had a great relationship with the gallery there.
I met Anthony d’Offay early on in my career as a collector and he was very supportive and offered me great things. And at one point he introduced me to Robert Therrien’s work—and to Robert directly—and I really loved the work and had the opportunity to buy this giant table and chairs which was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and was so excited to buy it even though I knew I would never be able to live with it because it was the size of a house, let alone fitting in my house.
But, yeah, I think that was a transitional moment where I said: “I can figure out a way to enjoy this and love it and lend it, and have it be installed in other places. And it doesn’t have to be in my living room to enjoy it.”
Charlotte Burns: Yes, you mentioned Anthony d’Offay: when I first met you I worked for Anthony d’Offay and I think, in fact, I bought you a sandwich the first time I met you when you came to Anthony’s apartment.
How do you find art now, is it just through looking still? Do you still get as much opportunity to go out and learn and look?
Glenn Fuhrman: I’ve always found art the same way, which is just looking at a lot. You have to see a lot of bad art, I don’t like using that term, but you’ve got to see a lot of bad art that you don’t like to find the good art that you do like because it’s only by seeing lots of things and you say “Oh, I like that one I really love.” That’s when you know, for you, that piece is great.
Now fortunately, some of the things that I love may be in somebody else’s bad art category, which is great. That’s what makes the world go round. If everybody only wanted the same few things, it wouldn’t be that interesting. So, everybody can have their own taste and their own view of what is really great art and what is mediocre art, and that’s what makes the world go round.
I love to look at art. I will make notations when I go to museums, when I go to galleries, when I see something that I’m not familiar with, I’ll write the artists name down. I used to have to go look them up in different ways, now it’s so much easier. Obviously you can Google it and in two seconds you have their entire history and background, and where they went to school, where they show and what their price history is, etc. So, it’s much easier to discover when you see something that you like. I still like to go to galleries, it’s a little bit harder and I don’t go as much now that I have three young children. But I still like to go and look and see a lot of art.
Amy Cappellazzo: A lot of the thing you bought that were primary market earlier in your collecting life have now become mainstream establishment, standard-bearers of great contemporary art of our time. One of the things that is a little bit of conundrum in collecting is how do you keep your eye as sharp for young material? Good analogy to this, I was riding the car with my son the other day and he wanted to put on his hip-hop music station and I was listening to something that probably sounded a bit like LiteFM or something, classic oldies, right? And I was thinking and telling him that someday the music he likes would someday be in this sort of classic oldies category, and there would be something that his children would want to listen to that you would struggle to train your ear to like.
I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit to this in your own collecting because it’s inevitable that we become sort of sentimental for a particular time in the collecting cycle that sticks out.
Glenn Fuhrman: Well, it’s really interesting because my collecting history, the arc of my collecting, has gone in a very different way because, when I started collecting in my early 20s I literally had no money. I did not come from a wealthy family so I didn’t have any family money. I basically was taking whatever money I made in my career and spending all of it on art. I lived in a one-room studio apartment for eight-and-a-half years—the first eight-and-a-half years I lived in New York—and spent all my disposable income on art. And I had a very clear view that at that time I could not afford to buy inexpensive art, which sounds ridiculous. But I had this view that if I bought an inexpensive work of art by nobody that anybody had ever heard of $1,000 and I got fired from my job, it was probably worth zero and I couldn’t sell it for anything. But if I stretched and bought something for $5,000 by Ed Ruscha, it would be worth something. Maybe only $2,500, but at least it would have some value.
So when I started collecting, I actually only bought established artists, because I had this fear that I was putting literally all my eggs in this one art basket and if I got fired, I had to have it be worth something, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to have food.
It was then over time that I started to really enjoy meeting, seeing younger artists’ work, and then really working and buying younger works. But, you know, even the younger works that I bought I was still buying relatively little work. I wasn’t buying this giant, venture capital-oriented portfolio, some of which would go on to become stars, and the rest of which would go on to—
Amy Cappellazzo: —Saatchi style. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenn Fuhrman: You know, whatever. I mean, everybody has their own collecting model. But I was just buying the things that I really loved. And when I found an artist that I really loved, I just started buying them in depth. So, the core younger artists that are not as well-known that I have, you know, I might have 10 or 15 works by them. I don’t really have one work by anybody. When I liked somebody’s work, I wanted to buy it in more depth.
And so, similar to you, it’s funny you mentioned that about the music. I was just listening to the new Paul McCartney album. And it’s really good. And to some extent, it was making me think that I like that new Paul McCartney album the same way I’m excited to see Ed Ruscha’s next work, and I might rather buy a new work by Ed Ruscha than a new work by a young artist.
For me, I like buying another work by an artist that I’ve been collecting for 20 years so that I really can see a story, and I can watch their evolution over time.
And that’s how we live with the art as much as we can, where we have rooms devoted to individual artists because we’ve collected them for so long. Right now, we have a whole room of nothing but Brice Marden, and it’s great just to see that over time. And that room we change over, so before it was all Brice Marden it was all Ed Ruscha and, before that, it was all Ellsworth Kelly. It’s fun to kind of do that, and we change it up every few years, and all of a sudden it’s like you bought a new apartment, but you just changed the works on the walls.
Amy Cappellazzo: Well, that speaks a lot to the fact that your early mentors were European dealers, because that’s actually really a European style of collecting, different from the sort of American butterfly collection: one of these, one of those.
Charlotte Burns: Do you think that’s true?
Amy Cappellazzo: Yes, I mean, I think there’s always been a tradition among European collectors and European dealers of following an artist throughout their career, collecting in depth. European dealers pretty much depended that the same collectors would come back and buy the next show. The concept was that you could run a very successful smaller gallery with a devoted group of collectors and a handful of key artists, and that’s how it went. Whereas, probably because the marketplace was always somewhat bigger in America, and also because Americans maybe prefer range over depth as a way of being in the world, that is not exactly the hallmark of an American style of collecting.
Charlotte Burns: That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way.
Glenn Fuhrman: I mean, it’s fun to live that way. And I’ve got to give credit to my wife, because I think she really allows us to live in a way that many are unaccustomed. When we bought our apartment, right when we got married, we installed an entire room of nothing but Jim Hodges works. I think we might have had, like, 40 works by Jim Hodges in this one room, and it was experiential. There was almost a meditative aspect to the room and it was a really great part of our apartment. I loved it. I loved going in there. I would just read a book, or bring a newspaper, and just be surrounded by this one artist’s work, which was really beautiful. And ultimately, we had children, and that became—
Charlotte Burns: —I was going to say, didn’t that become your daughter’s room?
Glenn Fuhrman: Actually, now it’s the twins’ bedroom.
Charlotte Burns: So, what are your plans for the collection? I mean, obviously you live with it and you love it. At this stage, do you think about what you’ll do with that?
Glenn Fuhrman: I’m still far enough away, hopefully, where I don’t have to think too much about it. But I, of course, think about the different options.
The one option is to donate it. You can’t really donate it all to any place, because no museum wants the whole collection. They might want to pick the top handful of works, or the top groupings, but nobody would want it all. I certainly have absolutely zero interest in having my own museum, so that’s definitely not something I’d want to do.
Charlotte Burns: Why does that not appeal to you?
Glenn Fuhrman: I mean, I didn’t want to do that with FLAG. I definitely don’t want to do that after the fact. There’s enough great museums in the world. I don’t feel like I need a Fuhrman Museum. It’s just not something that interests me.
But then, the other thing is, art has appreciated in value to a significant degree. I look at somebody like Aggie Gund, who just sold one painting to facilitate this Art for Justice charitable mission that she’s on—I was very proud to be a founding sponsor of that organization with her. Those types of things, selling some work and letting somebody else buy it to live with it, to enjoy it, and then using the proceeds to do a big foundation or philanthropic project sounds—
Charlotte Burns: —Deaccessioning, really, in a way.
Glenn Fuhrman: —Yes, it sounds very appealing to me. I love museums. I’m a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, and I definitely have given and will give many works to MoMA and support them in many ways. But all museums have too many works. They can’t show them all. They spend as much time, or more, in storage than they do on the walls. So, yes. The absolute crème de la crème of a collection maybe should go to a place like MoMA, but maybe a bunch of works should be sold. Let somebody else enjoy them. They’ll ultimately end up in the museum anyway. All great artworks, over time, end up in a museum – there’s no Leonardos left, right? So, every time you go through time, more and more is being given to different museums. Let somebody else live with it. Take the proceeds of some type of sale. Do something philanthropic. Make the world a better place. That sounds pretty appealing, too.
Charlotte Burns: You and your wife in 2013 sponsored the creation of the nation’s largest free Wi-Fi network, covering 95 city blocks in Harlem. Why that, and why then?
Glenn Fuhrman: That was a very specific situation. It seems so long ago. But we were reading in the newspaper, Google had just moved to New York City. They had just taken out a lease on a huge building in Chelsea. And I was reading an article in the New York Post that said, as part of this kind of coming to New York City, Google has decided to give the few block radius around their building in Chelsea free Wi-Fi, free outdoor Wi-Fi. And in the article it said how much it cost for them to do that, which, in the scheme of things, was not so significant to me. I thought it would be much more.
At the same time I was reading this article, and I’m saying, “If there’s any part of New York City that doesn’t need free Wi-Fi, it’s the few blocks around Google’s new New York City headquarters.” And I just said, “Why don’t we try to do something like that in a part of New York City that could actually really use it?”
I called the Mayor’s office, just total cold call. I said, “I’d like to talk to somebody about a city project that I have in mind.” And to his credit, Mayor Bloomberg was the Mayor at the time, he and his team got very much behind this. I said, “We will finance the entire thing. All we need is some coordination and help, because I don’t know how to figure out, to work with the—
Charlotte Burns: —The logistics of the whole thing.
Glenn Fuhrman: The logistics of it all. And of course, we also needed real-world help in terms of indemnification. You know, God forbid if an antenna from a lamppost fell and hit somebody. How do we make sure that nobody could sue us, you know, that kind of thing.
Charlotte Burns: Yes.
Glenn Fuhrman: These were all projects that have been dealt with, all issues that have been dealt with hundreds of times before. But through Mayor Bloomberg’s cooperation and coordination, it came together really, really quickly, I mean in the scheme of a bureaucratic environment. Part of this was facilitated, it was coming to the end of his term, and I think they all very much wanted to get this done—
Charlotte Burns: —Get it wrapped up.
Glenn Fuhrman: —Before he left office. And so it all happened very quickly. We established this free Wi-Fi network all throughout Harlem, and it’s been a great thing. You know, I look at the statistics, and we get these incredible statistics: how many people are using it, what are the top sites they’re going to? You know, it’s all completely blind.
Anybody can access it. You don’t have to give your name or address or anything like that. But, we can see what it’s being used for.
Charlotte Burns: Has that changed over time?
Glenn Fuhrman: No. I mean, it’s a lot of YouTube. It’s a lot of video streaming. It’s kids doing their homework. I mean, it’s just a lot of what you would normally use in your daily life—
Charlotte Burns: —Daily life, yes.
Glenn Fuhrman: —That people in this very substantial area in upper New York are able to access. Now the city has come around, and there’s these free Wi-Fi hotspots all over New York. So this was done many, many years ago, before those kinds of things were available. I think it had a big impact. I don’t think it’s as necessary now as it was back then.
Amy Cappellazzo: So, Glenn, you’ve done so many amazing things in your life. Very successful career, and the FLAG Art Foundation is incredible. You’re a trustee of many great organizations and institutions: we mentioned the Museum of Modern Art. I think you’re on the ICA at Penn.
Charlotte Burns: Tate Americas.
Amy Cappellazzo: Tate Americas. Like, what’s next? What are you still itching to do? What else is there? And by the way, you’re not in your August years, so I don’t mean to put this in, like, a bucket list sort of category. You started FLAG at an important moment, when New York non-for-profits and alternative spaces were sort of waning, and you picked up some of that slack. Okay, you clearly wouldn’t start FLAG today. It wouldn’t have possibly the same impact it’s been able to have, because we’re in a different moment. What’s the next thing for you?
Glenn Fuhrman: I have no idea. I don’t think that far ahead in that way. Even in my life, I don’t think that way. I wake up every day, want to try to have a great day. Try to do the best I can at whatever I’m doing over the course of that day. I can’t wait to go and see my kids every morning. I mean, I have really little kids. My kids are six and four and four. So, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do on the parenting front, which is going to take a lot of time for the foreseeable future. And that’s what I want to do. I can’t wait to spend time with my kids. That’s the favorite thing I like to do today.
But, I don’t know. I definitely have ambitions to do what you’re talking about. I think that sounds terrific. What it will be, what it will look like, when it will happen? I don’t feel any urgency. We’re now starting our second decade at FLAG. We have a lot of ideas with what we want to do there. I’m involved in some other projects that I’m excited about that are in formation. And I’m still growing a business and that, thankfully is doing well, which allows me to kind of enjoy some of these other parts of life, which are so wonderful. So, we’ll have to see.
Charlotte Burns: Both of you are involved in markets, and advising people on investments. Where do you think we are in the cycle now?
Glenn Fuhrman: I defer to Amy to start on that one.
Amy Cappellazzo: Well, you know, markets are all cyclical, so you have to always mind wherever you are, wherever you feel you are in the cycle.
The demand is just so high for quality in the art market. I just can’t see that waning particularly. I think things that are a little bit lesser quality, where people got carried away a bit, you can see some correction in those areas. We might feel some bumps along the way with certain artist’s markets that maybe got very hot very quickly. I would just put out there that, you know, we’re in a very uncertain world, in a very uncertain time, I suppose? Maybe we always are, but perhaps now more than ever. So, you know…
Glenn Fuhrman: In terms of art, I’m still very positive on art, say, where art is going and the market for art. I don’t think about it as an investment, per se. My collecting is a little bit different. I’ve never sold the works that I’ve bought. I still have—
Charlotte Burns: —You’ve never once sold anything?
Glenn Fuhrman: I once did one sale to facilitate the purchase of something that was very expensive, and I had to sell something to pay for the new thing. But I’ve never sold the works, in 25 years of collecting, and don’t have any view of doing that anytime soon.
Having said that, I do think that art has grown into a very viable and attractive asset class. I think the dynamics of art are such that that will probably continue for the foreseeable future, driven by increased wealth creation around the world. The simple fact that for whatever reason, logical or illogical, wealthy people from China and New Jersey all want to own the same works of art, and so that makes the prices go up. So, it’s a barometer for overall growth of wealth around the world, which seems to be growing a lot.
There’s going to be more and more printing of money across the globe because every economy has too much debt out there, and you only can solve that by printing more money, raising taxes or cutting spending. I don’t see anybody doing a lot of spending cutting and I don’t see anybody doing a lot of tax raises. And the only thing to do is print money, however you want to define that, in the many different ways it can be done and the many different euphemisms that they come up with to say that, “Well, we’re not really printing money, but we’re doing quantitative easing,” or whatever you want to call it. Ultimately, there’s more money out there, which is driving up the price of physical assets, of which art is a beneficiary of that.
I also think you have a very unusual situation in what’s going on in the world on the technology side, that people may or may not admit to benefiting art as a viable asset class. Which is, people are, rightfully so, growing more and more terrified about electronic criminal activity. And the fact that every wealthy person in the world has a nightmare that they wake up and go to their J.P. Morgan account and it’s empty, and that’s because somebody electronically wired all their money out overnight, or some other way. And you just can’t do that with your Picasso that’s on the wall in your living room, down from where you’re sleeping.
You know, it used to be that it was a lot easier to break into somebody’s house and steal their painting than it was to break into J.P. Morgan and rob the vault. Now, it’s much easier to electronically steal somebody’s money and it’s not worth it to try to break into somebody’s home, or to break into a museum, or to break into somewhere to just steal the art. So, I think the physical ownership of art has become very, very attractive in an era where having a big bank account is less secure.
Amy Cappellazzo: People are very attracted to the physical nature of a work of art. The fact that it’s portable, can travel and sell in multiple currencies. It’s a bit like your grandparents keeping cash under the mattress. It was something you could count on because it was physically there.
Glenn Fuhrman: I’m amazed at how many people want to own Bitcoin or Ether, or these new made-up things which have no basis of value. Just go buy a painting that’s by somebody that’s established. And yes, it can go down—
Amy Cappellazzo: —Yes.
Glenn Fuhrman: —But there’s something to it. You can take that Picasso and go to Japan and go to Korea and go to China and go to Oklahoma. It has real value in any of those places. You take Ether to any of those places and most people say, “Well, what’s Ether?”
Charlotte Burns: It’s interesting. There have always been art market booms around war-time periods because people can’t take the house with them, but they can take their painting off the wall if they’re moving, migrating somewhere.
Glenn, you generally shun the stage, but you have taken to it recently as an interviewer, notably in a conversation with Larry Gagosian at the 92nd Street Y. Did you enjoy that experience?
Glenn Fuhrman: I did. I have done quite a few interviews actually on a small level: for the past 15 years I’ve been doing artist interviews around a boardroom table for 40 or 50 people at a time, and have interviewed almost every artist that we’ve talked about today.
They take a lot of time to prepare for, but they’re really great ways to really get to know the work of an artist that you’re interested in, get to know the artist himself or herself. And so I’ve really enjoyed that.
I had interviewed Larry once before as part of that series, and spoke to him at Wharton Business School about the art of business many years ago and it was super successful, we had a really good time. The school loved it, they filled up the entire room, and then actually had two satellite rooms filled up where people were watching on closed circuit TV.
So, it was something that I had thought about wanting to do again at some point. And Larry has been such a figure of interest for so long and really hadn’t done anything like that, that it just seemed like a good time, and I’m on the board of the 92nd Street Y and so it was something that they had asked me to do—they have a lot of speaker-type programs—
Charlotte Burns: —They have a great program, yeah.
Glenn Fuhrman: —So it just all seemed to be a fit for my interest and my involvement with the Y and Larry was happy to do it with me, so it worked out well.
Charlotte Burns: Do you prefer being that side of the table, asking the questions?
Glenn Fuhrman: Yes, in general I’d say I like the control position. I like asking the questions.
Charlotte Burns: So I wanted to ask you, how has the art world changed since you opened FLAG, what are the major shifts would the two of you say over the past decade. I mean 2008 was the beginning of a totally different economic cycle than the previous few years before that, and now we’re coming up to a different economic cycle. I mean that’s an obvious change, the boom and bust that we saw in that past decade. The expansion and the proliferation of art fairs: things became much more international, Asia became more important, Europe became perhaps slightly less so. What would you identify as those major changes and where do you seem them going in the next decade?
Amy Cappellazzo: Certainly the greater financialization of the art market is probably the most marked change in something that will not go away and only become more expansive and nuanced, sophisticated and complex. So that includes the financialization that is guarantees, third party guarantees, fractional ownership, syndicate buying. There’ll just be more and more of that as the capital flows in and as it becomes a more sophisticated product in terms of what you can do with financing it. Expect to see only more of that.
Charlotte Burns: Do you think fractional ownership will become a mainstay, Glenn?
Glenn Fuhrman: I hope not, it seems too weird to me. So that what? So that people are going to say, “I own 2% of that Picasso?”—
Charlotte Burns: —Like a share, yes.
Glenn Fuhrman: —It’s definitely possible, if not probable, but that to me, it doesn’t seem that interesting. But I do think, just like ETF’s I’m sure, I guess an ETF with owning a portfolio of pieces of artworks, I could understand how you could market that as a part of a portfolio, so I certainly can see it happening.
Amy Cappellazzo: It’s definitely the exchange-traded fund model, that’s definitely what you’ll see.
I think I’m a bit like the Fuhrmans over here like, “I like to own what’s mine.” There’s an impulse and an instinct for that, but you can see how you can make this kind of product that could be financially interesting.
Glenn Fuhrman: I mean the thing about the art world that has changed to me is just, it’s become so global, clearly. And the power base has really solidified around a handful of players. The number of dealers that have such a presence in so many different markets with so many key artists — it really is a handful of dealers that seem to be the ones that really make the market move. And it used to just be much more disparate and many many more players involved and it seems to have consolidated around almost like FANG — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — have kind of been, that’s the tech market to many people. To the art market it’s Gagosian, Hauser and Wirth, David Zwirner—it’s just a handful of players.
Charlotte Burns: Do you see any—
Glenn Fuhrman: —And by the way Sotheby’s and Christie’s would be in that mix, so it’s like the lines have blurred a little bit too I think, between the auction houses and the dealers.
Charlotte Burns: Yes, I think that’s true. And to end, I wanted to ask you, what advice would you give to aspiring philanthropist collectors?
Glenn Fuhrman: I mean I always just say, do the things that you love doing, and buy the things that really excite you. The great thing about being an art collector is waking up and looking at the works that you purchased because they moved you in some way. We recently had to repaint our apartment, and so we took a bunch of the art down and I came home and there was just no art on the walls, and it’s just so depressing and so sad. When you have the art up, it’s just so happy and joyous and beautiful, that comparison to me was just so stark.
If you’re lucky enough to have works of art that you love, just live with them, enjoy them, and similarly on the philanthropic side, do something that just makes you feel good, and if it makes you feel good, I’m sure it’s going to be doing good things for the world.
Charlotte Burns: Anything that we didn’t discuss that you’d like to address, either of you?
Amy Cappellazzo: Oh, maybe I’ll ask you this: you’ve three small children, as you mentioned — how would you feel if one of your kids wanted to be an artist?
Glenn Fuhrman: It wouldn’t be my first choice.
Amy Cappellazzo: True confessions here.
Glenn Fuhrman: But, I think that if my kids want to pursue being an artist, I’ll support whatever my kids want to do that makes them happy. But, we’ll see, we have a long way to go. My kids are artists, they all love making work and I have their artwork hung all over my home and my office, so they already are artists. But, in terms of professionally—
Amy Cappellazzo: —Dad, I’m not going to Wharton. Forget Penn, I’m not going to Wharton.
Glenn Fuhrman: That I’m not as driven about, in terms of the specificity of where they go to school or what they do, but I would like them to have a complete education and be prepared to support themselves, and have a job that enables them to make their own money, get the pleasure that I get from spending money that I’ve earned myself. That is a fantastic feeling, and something that I feel to the core anytime I’m lucky enough to buy something that I really enjoy, it gives me great pleasure knowing that I worked for it, and that this is something that I’m able to buy because of whatever I’ve accomplished and been able to earn myself and I just would want my children to be able to experience that same level of joy.
Charlotte Burns: What about if your kids wanted to be art dealers?
Amy Cappellazzo: That’s a great life! Oh, come on!
Glenn Fuhrman: Yes, as I said, whatever they want to pursue. I know my wife will support them and anything they do and so will I.
Charlotte Burns: Thank you Glenn and Amy for being my guests, it’s been a real pleasure to have you here today.
Glenn Fuhrman: My pleasure, thanks for inviting me.
Amy Cappellazzo: Thank you.
Charlotte Burns: Thank you both.