What Your Business Manager Really Thinks About Your Art Collection

Courtesy of Gagin Fujita
Gajin Fujita's 'Ghost Rider' will be on view from L.A. Louver at Frieze L.A. Fujita paintings range from $25,000 to $200,000.

Does that painting "fuel" you? "Is it historically relevant?" And, um, can you afford it? Art and money pros weigh in on how new buyers can choose wisely.

Starting a serious art collection isn't for the timid. "Even if you have an immense amount of money, getting access or figuring out what to do can be confusing," says collector Tina Perry, the GM of OWN TV. Frieze L.A. executive director Bettina Korek acknowledges that the art world can be opaque. "The internet is bringing [some] transparency," she says. "But, practically, at an art fair it can be intimidating to ask what something costs." So in an unprecedented move, Frieze is offering an unofficial price guide to works being shown at the Paramount Studios-based fair. The document (to be shared with select collectors and advisers) highlights 32 works ranging from $3,000 to $250,000. For first-timers, it demystifies the market — but doesn't make art any less risky.

Hollywood business manager Chris Bucci says about 10 percent to 15 percent of his clients (who include Emmy- and Oscar-winning producers and talent) are serious collectors; the rest are at least casually interested in fine art. If a client is considering a $250,000 piece, Bucci makes a referral to an art adviser. But if someone falls in love with a $1,500 painting, he'll merely oversee the transaction and make sure it's added to the client's insurance policy. "I'm not going to tell them they can't buy a piece of art. I'm just going to tell them what they can afford," he says. "Like the car they drive or the house they buy, it's in the eye of the beholder."

Lisa Schiff, who works with A-list collectors like Leonardo DiCaprio, advises clients to ask three questions before buying: "Is the work visually or conceptually compelling? Is it historically relevant? Is the artist strategically positioned?" Vernissage Art Advisory's Rachel Cole and Chelsea Petronko, who've counseled Cara Delevingne and producer Jeff Franklin, say new buyers are often sensitive to an artist's message. "Young collectors are looking for contemporaries who have a social mind as well as something that will hold value," says Petronko. "We focus on education to make sure whatever they choose, they'll be happy with in five years."

Bucci reinforces that any major purchase should be well negotiated and properly documented — he may counsel a client to sell a piece in order to make room financially for a new one. (One Savitsky, Satin, Bacon & Bucci client paid $5,000 for the first item in a new collection and recently sold it for $15,000.) "The question used to be, 'Can you invest in art?' and now it's, 'How do you?' " says Korek. "But one risk of seeing art solely from an investment perspective is it can take away from [collecting's] potential to become a personally rewarding practice." Perry, who buys art because "it fuels me," has a cardinal rule for her and her husband's collection: "If this devalued, would we be upset?" she asks. If the answer is yes, they don't open their wallets. "That can't be why you're buying it. It has to have other value to you." Bucci agrees, albeit for more pragmatic reasons. "With a traditional equity or bond investment, there's always a buyer and a seller," he says. "With art, you don't have that same kind of marketplace."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.