Art consultant advocates multimedia collections

Art consulting for businesses is a relatively new field, and Judith Selkowitz has been one of the pioneers during the 10 years she has worked in New York City.

An art history major at Skidmore College, she spent a year of art study in Italy as a Fulbright scholar and began a decade of honing her knowledge and critical expertise in the pulsating and competitive art world of Manhattan.

To stay on top of trends and to find new sources, she travels the United States and Europe and has developed agents in the Far East. She deals with galleries, estates, auction houses, private dealers, and individual artists to locate the eclectic assortment of art forms that are vital to corporate collections.

Ms. Selkowitz declares that any major collection should be a multimedia one, including paintings, graphics, watercolors, sculpture, woven wall hangings, and unusual craft items.

In one building lobby, she placed a large Calder tapestry on one wall, put an 11-foot-long Navajo rug on the opposite wall, displayed a collection of old weather vanes, and commissioned two 6-feet-high pieces of sculpture. The art combination worked effectively.

One of her first corporate clients was the Xerox Corporation. Others on her roster include IBM, Standard Oil of Indiana, Chesebrough Pond's Inc., and many other large and small companies and banking establishments. She has worked for six or seven years with some of her companies, launching them into long-range art programs.

When she helps a company plan art for a new building, Ms. Selkowitz works with the architect, space planner, and others to fit the art into the structure's total design scheme. Whatever the period of the building, she studies its architecture and interior design and works with floor plans and color charts.

She then interviews corporate officers, reads annual company reports, and analyzes the overall feeling and structure of the company. This enables her to determine the type of art that both officers and employees will feel most comfortable with and that will best project the image and spirit of the organization.

Her job, she contends, is not only to define the need and give expert guidance, but to protect her clients' art investment, to spend wisely, and to buy art of enduring quality. This takes a thorough knowledge of the market, and time. No good collection comes together in a hurry, she says. It takes searching and patience to find just the right pieces. Some of it has to be especially commissioned.

Once she has supervised the proper placement and hanging of the art, this consultant helps her companies to identify it properly so that employees can relate to it and better understand it. She sometimes develops brochures about the art and the artists for both workers and visitors. Sometimes she even has short films made on a specific artist and helps arrange art tours to other company facilities, as well as art seminars and classes.

She offers these guidelines to a company beginning an art collection: Catalog every piece as to medium, artist, date purchased, price, etc., and keep an up-to-date inventory. Have slides or photographs made of every object. Record the location of every piece and check once a year to see that it is still there.

If pieces are rotated, list the new location on the inventory card, she advises. Make sure that a person or a department is given the responsibility of keeping such careful records, having the collection reappraised every year or two, and adjusting insurance coverage.

"At today's art prices, from $300,000 to $500,000 and up is required to assemble a serious collection of major works for display on several floors," the consultant says. She has built small, modest collections for much less, purchasing one or two major pieces and supplementing them with framed posters and prints.

Ms. Selkowitz charges an hourly consulting fee for her services and also occasionally acts as dealer. "I find an increasing number of executives who have an intense awareness and appreciation of art, and who recognize that it sets tone and adds a distinctly human element to the work environment," she says.

She never promises that any work will appreciate in value. But a majority of the items she has selected, with the full approval of the company, have done so.

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