Meredith Harper, private dealer: the next logical step
TRANSPARENCY IN EVERY INDUSTRY AND IN GOVERNMENT IS AT THE FOREFRONT OF OUR POLITICAL AND SOCIAL PRECEDENTS. ACCORDING TO A REPORT FROM REUTERS INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF JOURNALISM, “INCREASINGLY, GOVERNMENTS AROUND THE WORLD ARE EXPERIMENTING WITH INITIATIVES IN TRANSPARENCY OR ‘OPEN GOVERNMENT’ AND HOW IT AFFECTS THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE PRESS.” OPENNESS, ACCOUNTABILITY AND INTEGRITY DEFINE TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESS. IN INDUSTRIES THAT ARE FAIRLY UNREGULATED, SUCH AS THE MORE CREATIVE WORLDS OF ART GALLERIES, DEALERS, ARCHITECT/DESIGNERS OR, FOR THAT MATTER, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY,TRANSPARENCY IS SANCTIONED BUT NOT ENFORCED BY CODES OF ETHICS THAT FILL IN THE GAPS IN LAWS AND REGULATIONS WHEN THEY CAN NOT BE APPLIED.
IN ITS MISSION STATEMENT, THE ART DEALERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, FOR EXAMPLE, NOTES:
In order to qualify for membership, a dealer must have an established reputation for honesty, integrity and professionalism among their peers, and must make a substantial contribution to the cultural life of the community by offering works of high aesthetic quality, presenting worthwhile exhibitions and publishing scholarly catalogues.
THE SUCCESS OF THE CLARION LIST, ESTABLISHED ONLY TWO YEARS AGO, CONFIRMS THE ART COLLECTOR’S INTEREST IN AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE BUT VETTED DATABASE FOR ART RELATED SERVICES INDUSTRIES https://www.clarionlist.com/
LONDON-BASED PAIAM (PROFESSIONAL ADVISORS TO THE INTERNATIONAL ART MARKET), AN INTERNATIONAL NET WORKING PLATFORM FOR PROFESSIONALS ADVISING THE ART MARKET WHOSE MEMBERS “KNOW ABOUT SOMETHING THAT IS USEFUL TO THOSE WHO KNOW ABOUT ART, e.g. INSURANCE, LOGISTICS, LAW, ACCOUNTANCY, TAX, HAS RECENTLY EXPANDED ITS PRESENCE INTERNATIONALLY OPENING ITS MEMBERSHIP TO OVERSEAS PROFESSIONALS. http://www.paiam.org/
WHEN MEREDITH HARPER LAUNCHED HARPER FINE ARTS IN 2008, SHE WAS WELL-VERSED IN THE STANDARDS SET BY THE ART INDUSTRY FROM HER DIVERSE PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE IN THE GALLERY AND AUCTION WORLDS. THE LRFA BLOG IS DELIGHTED TO SHARE MEREDITH’S HISTORY AND PERSPECTIVE ON THIS ASPECT OF THE ART WORLD.
MEREDITH, WELCOME BACK!
YOU DECIDED TO JOIN THE RANKS OF THE SELF-EMPLOYED ALMOST A DECADE AGO. WHAT PROMPTED THE DECISION?
After having worked in every part of the art world — museum, auction house, and gallery— it really felt naturally like the next logical step. I was being asked by collectors for my opinion on works of art that they were interested in that we weren’t selling at the gallery, or if I could help them find certain things that we didn’t have. Being on my own allowed me complete freedom to do this, including from conflicts of interest of working with a gallery inventory.
WHAT IS THE BASIC ROLE OF A PRIVATE DEALER? IN WHAT WAYS DOES A PRIVATE DEALER OFFER A SCOPE OF SERVICES THAT IS UNIQUE AND DIFFERS FROM THE ROLE OF THE GALLERIST AND THE SPECIALIST AT AUCTION?
Being a private dealer really is a culmination of all of the skills and experience that I’ve attained through the years at university, galleries and at auction. The collectors with whom I work range from very knowledgable and experienced, to just starting out. The most important part is helping them buy and sell works of art, which involves discussions around the intersection of many variables such as the significance of a work of art within that artist’s oeuvre, condition and authenticity, and determining value within a particular market. I also handle all of the logistical concerns that go along with that, like shipping, installation, etc. I work with them on everything from defining and expanding their interests, creating and maintaining collection databases, building libraries, framing, preparing insurance appraisals — it really depends on the particular client’s interests and needs. I also realize that for many collectors, the “art world” seems a fascinating but also often an opaque and sometimes trepidatious place … I can understand that and I enjoy being able to walk them through and demystify a lot of it. They have the benefit of almost three decades of my knowledge to draw from, and the fact that I’m constantly immersed in this world.
HOW DO YOU FIND WORKS THAT COLLECTORS GIVE TO YOU TO SELL?
It’s all about trust, communication and knowledge. These are relationships that I’ve had, in many cases, for decades, or with people who were referred to me by my clients or by colleagues in the business. At the end of the day, the collectors with whom I work and who entrust me to sell things for them know that I’m giving them honest and impartial advice, and that I’m working in their best interests. They also know that I’m extraordinarily discrete and ethical. I’m very thoughtful and careful about how I go about selling things, and that can make all the difference.
WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS WAYS YOU SEEK OUT WORKS THAT A COLLECTOR WISHES TO ACQUIRE?
I love doing detective work and tracking down exactly the work that a collector is looking to add to their collection. It’s not about reacting to what becomes available in the market so much as really choosing precisely what fits the client’s interests and the dialogue that may be happening in a collection. And again, this is about relationships and knowing who to talk to and where to look to find great things … It’s not just about “shopping” at an art fair or auction. Sometimes we can get lucky and this happens immediately, but often it takes months and sometimes even years. I once had a wonderful project that I loved doing with a client, which involved putting together a very specific group of works by an artist. It took three years of constant and very involved research to track these down (and then to convince their owners to sell them), in one case from a collector who purchased his work out of the artist’s studio 40 years earlier. It was incredibly rewarding to see these works slowly come together over that time. I love the “detective” aspect of it, and I love being able to put my knowledge to use to help my clients form stronger collections.
MEREDITH’S PROFESSIONAL RANGE EXTENDS INTO THE CURATORIAL WORLD AND IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, WE ARE PLEASED TO SHARE THIS ASPECT OF WORKING IN THE ART BUSINESS WITH YOU.