There’s so much wrong with the this tendentious New York Times story about art advisers, it is hard to know where to start. From the lede that conflates three extremely different stories of leading auction house specialists who now make a living as “advisers” to the willfully naive idea that many of those now acting as advisers would not have simply been doing the very same thing while working for dealers over the last half dozen decades, the story hyperventilates through well known and commonplace information.
Perhaps more egregious than the mis-representation of what so many of these professionals are doing is the baffling use of Bernard Berenson as a paragon of disinterested art advising.
Do the editors at the Times not know any of the incredibly well-documented instances of Berenson’s actively seeking rise above the poverty he was born into by advising the wealthy on art they wanted to buy? Starting with Mrs. Jack, as Isabella Stewart Gardner was known, and following over 25 years as an adviser to the Duveen brothers, Colnaghi and others, Berenson made a substantial amount of money in the picture trade.
Its cringe-worthy that the Times does not know this and soft-headed that the writers of this story would offer Berenson as an ideal of incorruptible connoisseurship:
For decades, art advisers were a small club of professionals who personally helped build collections for clients, using their scholarship and connoisseurship. Their role was to consult and offer expertise, rarely to make deals. Bernard Berenson, the Harvard-trained art historian, was a famed counsel to the collector Isabella Stewart Gardner.
“I’m not anxious to have you own braces of Rembrandts, like any vulgar millionaire,” he wrote to her in 1900.
But the rapidly changing art market — characterized by soaring prices, high fees and a host of wealthy new buyers from Wall Street and abroad — has prompted scores of new players to jump into the pool, from young art-world arrivistes to former auction-house executives with an abundance expertise and connections. “It’s the Wild West,” said Abigail Asher, who has been an adviser for 25 years. “It’s like being in a gold rush mining town. We have been the miners for years and a lot of people are just showing up now.”
What’s worse is that this last quote from Abigail Asher surely refers to a large group of inexperienced and un-credentialed advisers who have been popping up to server the uninitiated, not Messers Bennett and Meyer or Ms. Cappellazzo.