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ART TALK - Part 2

by Alan Bamberger

Q. I’ve been collecting art for about 20 years and really enjoy my collection. My kids are 5, 8, and 10 years old and I’m wondering how to transfer my love of collecting onto them. I’d like them to keep my collection entirely within the family when their time comes to inherit it. I’d also like them to begin collecting on their own. Any suggestions?

A. This is a classic “you can lead a horse to water” scenario.

p>Expose your kids to art. Visit museums. Take them to art openings, art galleries, art auctions, artist studios, and out shopping for new pieces for your collection. Whether they develop a love for art as a result of the time you spend together is anyone’s guess. Do your part to expose them to what’s available out there and be satisfied with that.

Once your kids get the hang of things and begin to develop their own preferences, allow them some say in where you go and what you see. Let them tell you what art they like the best and why. Give them occasional opportunities to plan out the itinerary rather than you leading them. With them in control, let them spend as much time as they want either looking at their favorites or asking questions about them – even if you don’t happen to agree with their choices. That’s the best way to maximize their potential for developing a love and reverence for art and art collecting.

Regarding the ultimate disposition of your collection, don’t make too many demands or place too many restrictions on your kids. Don’t insist that they keep it together. That’s about the worst thing you can do and is a great way to turn them off to art altogether. Taste in art is a highly personal thing – you like what you like, I like what I like, your kids will grow up to like whatever they choose to like. Think about how you would feel if you were forced to appreciate someone else’s art that you didn’t really like.

Another point to keep in mind is that to many children, the furnishings and decorations that they grow up with have strong family connotations, both positive and negative. They remind them of events that are not necessarily related to beauty, artistry, or historic significance. The best portrait painting in your collection, for example may signify nothing more than “that mean looking old man who stared at us every time we walked into the den .”

Instead of trying to control the destinies of your children and your collection, educate them about your art’s significance, the marketplace so that no matter whether they decide to keep, sell or donate, they won’t be taken advantage of. When they’re old enough to understand, provide them with appropriate contact information for dealers, appraisers, conservators, institutions, and whoever else’s services they may need. Advise them of your preferences as to what you’d like to see end up where, but don’t insist that that’s the way things have to be.

Q. I’m an antique dealer. I bought a painting by a Western artist that dated from the early 1920s and offered it to one of my better customers for what I thought was a fair price. He said he would buy it so I put it on hold for him. Later that week a vacationing collector visited my shop for the first time, happened to see the painting resting on the floor behind my desk, and asked me about it. I told him it was sold, he asked how much I sold it for, I told him, and he promptly offered me $1500 more for it. What should I do? I can really use the money.

A. Let me ask you several questions first. If you could put a price tag on your reputation as a dealer, what would it be? If someone offered you $1500 to permanently stop doing business with one of your better customers, would you take it? How would you feel if someone sold something out from under you after you told them you would buy it and he agreed that you could have it? Would you rather do business with people who respect that what’s sold is sold or those who don’t?

Hopefully you can see that this incident is bigger than $1500. It involves the trust and belief among your customers and your peers that you stand by your word to fulfill your obligations. Sell yourself out at any point in your career and your reputation as a fair and honest business person goes right down the drain. Offer your goods or services to the highest bidder regardless of the consequences and you lose all credibility.

If you decided to sell the painting out from under your good customer, he would be perfectly within his rights never to do business with you again. $1500 is a lot of money for someone to lay in the palm of your hand, especially when you can really use it. If, however, you compare that to the potential financial fallout over the years to come, not only from the one damaged relationship, but also from other dealers and collectors who will find out through the grapevine, you can easily end up losing far more than that.

The only possible way that you might consider selling the picture to the second buyer for the additional $1500 would be to first tell the original buyer what happened, ask whether he’s interested in selling, and offer to split the extra money 50-50. Perhaps a free and clear $750 would be more enticing to him than owning the art. If he says no, live with it and from now on, make sure the sold stuff is either placed out of sight or clearly marked as sold. Keep in mind that the second collector did not exhibit much in the way of ethics by tempting you with the higher offer. He apparently believes that he can buy his way through life and ignore any negative consequences that might result from his actions. Think long and hard before doing any business with him because the next person he tries to take advantage of could be you.

Alan Bamberger’s book “Art For All” published by Wallace Homestead Book Co. is available. For autographed copy send $14.95 plus $2.00 S&H to: Alan Bamberger, 2510 Bush St., San Francisco, CA. 94115

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