Ian Rogers - Art Collector

Issue 40, April - June 2007

Ian Rogers’ loyal client base has grown over the last 20 years entirely from the recommendations of satisfied customers but the most significant marker of his success is the number of his clients’ collections that have received loan requests
from public institutions. One of Melbourne’s most highly esteemed art advisers, he recently undertook an email interview with Australian Art Collector. Photography by Kirstin Gollings.

Australian Art Collector: What art do you specialise in?
Ian Rogers: Australian art: colonial to contemporary and including indigenous art.
AAC: How do you go about your art advising?
IR: No client is the same. Ascertaining a new client’s needs begins a process of discovery: are they beginners wanting help choosing pictures for a new house? experienced collectors wanting to either restructure or refresh their existing collection? or have I found an individual eagerlyseeking investment opportunities? Visiting galleries and public exhibitions with my clients, or perhaps arranging a private viewing, all hold the potential to lead me to that happy marriage of client and artwork.

AAC: Do you see your role as educative?
IR: I do have a educative role, especially in assisting young collectors discern the difference between the immediate impact of a picture and the complexities that can emerge and be appreciated with time. With experienced collectors, it is sometimes a matter of enabling them to extend their knowledge to another field such as indigenous art or a period which they had not explored.

AAC: Do you help a collector decide on the direction of his/her collection?
IR: The role I play combines aspects of facilitator and educator. I talk through a budget, find out client priorities in terms of spatial requirements, discuss investment potential, and try to instil a broad cultural interest in art. I am guided by the client’s needs and always try to raise the collection above its decorative value and to select
works which have the capacity to maintain their freshness and appeal over a period of time.

AAC: How do you charge your clients?
IR: This is negotiated with the client. I do not charge for introductory consultations or gallery visits where there is the intention to purchase work on my advice. I usually charge clients a fee based upon the cost of works purchased. Should the gallery give me a trade discount, I deduct it from my fee. I sometimes charge on the basis of time spent as in the case of valuations or research on works offered for sale on the secondary market on issues such as provenance, value and authenticity.

AAC: Why do you think collectors should use art advisers?
IR: Mostly to expose issues and avoid pitfalls. Should you buy an established artist or the latest fad, should you concentrate on a period or a particular artist, should you spend a great deal on one piece or the same amount on a number of pieces? Remember, all clients are unique! That is the value of an adviser; he/she will assist in finding the combination which is an appropriate fit. A common mistake is to collect poor examples of good artists. The names are right but the works are not. One size does not fit all.

AAC: Do you have any clients with an impressive philanthropic component to their collecting?
IR: True lovers of art often have a humanitarian outlook on life; they see the nuances beyond self. I have clients who are generous donors of works to public institutions but anonymity is simply a part of the transaction and I feel that adds to the mystique of those in the art world. And there are even those who buy exclusively on the primary market with the express purpose of supporting
living artists.

AAC: Which artists are currently in hot demand?
IR: Examples of artists in hot demand are: Late Moderns: Jeffrey Smart, John Olsen, Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan, John Brack, Ian Fairweather, William Robinson, and Fred Williams. Aboriginal: Rover Thomas, Emily Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum, Lin Onus, Paddy Bedford, John Mawurndjul. Middle generation contemporary: Ric Amor, Brent Harris, Andrew Browne, Del Kathryn Barton, Tim Maguire, Susan Norrie, Garry Shead, David Larwill, Stephen Bush and Fiona Hall. Excellent works of prominent Colonial and Impressionist artists.

AAC: What are your feelings about collectors selling work?
IR: There are many good reasons for selling work: Appreciation in value of a work; other use for the funds; change of taste and interest; making room for other works, and finding a better example of the artist’s work. Some say death and taxes are the only two givens in this world; I could suggest that death, bankruptcy and divorce are not only the givens of a modern world but are also the grim allies of art’s

AAC: Taking into account the impact upon the artist’s market, how long do you think is a reasonable time for a collector to hold a work before they could countenance selling it?
IR: Five to 10 years would be a reasonable time.

AAC: Do you know of any contemporary artists whose work has done so well at auction that it has become a problem for his or her primary market?
IR: Yes. John Kelly and Tim Maguire were two examples. The prices at auction far exceeded gallery prices and created an inflated demand. The galleries were forced to consider raising the prices beyond the steady rate which they would normally have considered appropriate.

AAC: Do you know of any Australian dealers protecting one of their artist’s works at auction?
IR: You often see dealers at auction bidding for works by their artists and they may do so for various reasons:

1. It may be a significant work the artist wants to retain.
2. It may be a work from a particular series which is wanted by a collector of the artist’s work.
3. It may be required for stock.
4. A gallery owner may want to prevent an artist’s work from being passed in or selling for a low price. Auction sales sometimes undervalue contemporary art as collectors in this field are more accustomed to buying directly from galleries. Recent works offered for resale may
be overlooked in sale catalogues and be bought for amounts well below gallery prices for the artist.

AAC: How do you feel about clients expecting to make money from their collection? What do you say to them?
IR: It is not my role to pronounce upon my client’s motives. It is my job to assess the risks and the potential for capital appreciation of works on offer.

AAC: Have you ever arranged to commission an artist on behalf of a client?
IR: Yes. For example a client couple liked the work of an artist and commissioned works specifically for two spaces in their home.

Commissions are most common in the field of portraiture and in the corporate sector when works are required to suit the design concept for a new interior.

A while ago I commissioned a painting by Rick Amor. I particularly liked a style of urban landscape which he had painted in the past. It’s a tricky business as sometimes an artist does not want to return to an old subject or style but this was not the case here and again I was pleased with the result.

It is also possible that what a client liked about past work is somehow missing from the new, perhaps sometimes an artist works best when he is guided entirely by his own instincts rather than having to bear in mind what the client wants.

The way it works is that a proposal is put forward to the artist through his dealer and fees are discussed. Meetings with the client may be arranged followed by preliminary sketches prepared by the artist for the client to discern the direction the artist will take in carrying out the commission.

Usually a client does not have to accept a work if he is not satisfied with it.

AAC: What do you think makes a great collection?
IR: Great collections rather than being a group of works by famous artists have a focus such as a genre, a period, a region or a unifying theme which may simply be a reflection of the owner’s personality and taste expressed through considered selection. They should be of high quality. They reveal connections between works that are often unexpected so that the whole collection exceeds the sum of the parts. Some remarkable collections have been assembled without employing large sums of money.

AAC: What responsibilities does a collector have to the artist, to the gallerist, to the art world and to the community?
IR: The collector is a custodian rather than the owner of an artwork. He has a responsibility to care for the work and to protect it from damage through mishandling, bad placement in unsuitable light, temperature and humidity conditions. He should allow access to works through loans to public exhibitions and to scholars and students.

AAC: What makes a good and bad client for an art adviser?
IR: I am tempted to say one who accepts my judgement uncritically but I really enjoy a stimulating dialogue and verbalizing my aesthetic responses. I like clients who are enthusiastic and open to new forms and styles. I have learnt how better to apply economic criteria from successful businesspeople. It is rewarding to see a client
absorbing information and developing his eye. Clients may be challenging but not bad. I enjoy helping to resolve indecision or brokering a compromise between partners with different tastes.

AAC: As very few artists of any generation make it in the long term, what qualities make you believe that an artist will make it?
IR: Those artists who are represented by a prestigious gallery, have been purchased by major private collections and public institutions, and are the subject of a substantial literature. (These qualities) increase the odds of success. Long periods of significant production are very important. Winning competitions is also helpful. Originality, courage, ability. Some artists add social comment and or/satire to these qualities to enrich their work. There are collectors who consider technical expertise as essential.

AAC: What do you think of the art world and its people?
IR: I avoid the complex Byzantine politics of the art world which often absorb much time and energy – but can be very seductive.

AAC: How do new clients find you?
IR: With some difficulty! Only by personal recommendation and using my email address ian@ianrogersfineart.com.au often only the squeaky door that gets the oil.

AAC: Do you market your artists internationally?
PG: We have full-page advertising contracts and listings with international magazines. We lobby to have our artists curated into international museum exhibitions and suggest themes and writers for possible articles.

AAC: What do you think makes a great collection?
PG: Some of the best collections I have seen demonstrate clearly an independent eye, less concerned with fashion, taste and the cost of an artwork and more concerned with reflecting the particular qualities that are being sought. A collector in Spain in 1992 bought an Ian Abdulla painting from me, Ian at that point was very little known. When the following year I went to the collector’s home it hung alongside a Jean Dubuffet, and he said in passing “I like the genuine or the genius, but nothing in between.”

AAC: Why do you think people should collect art?
PG: I don’t necessarily believe every person in the world should collect art, but I do believe we all need something to feed our mind and soul. For some it may be music, for others literature, and for many of us art.

AAC: What responsibilities does a collector have to the artist, to the gallerist, to the art world, to the community?
PG: “We do but pass though this life but once…” (I can’t remember the full quote or who it is by), implies that we are only custodians of objects for such a relatively short amount of time, and at the risk of sounding naïve, most of us will want to leave the world in a better state than we found it and help others along the way. Lending works to museums, maintaining artworks in perfect condition, and the ultimate act of generosity – bequeathing the work to a public gallery - are all worthy goals to aspire to.

AAC: What responsibilities does a gallerist have to the artist, the collector, to the wider community? Do you ever offer artists retainers to live on while they are producing exhibitions?
PG: A gallerist has a responsibility to communicate the artist’s intent without embellishment. The gallerist acts as an educator to collectors and the wider community and at times to younger artists by instilling a higher level of professionalism. As a long time member of
National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) and ArtsLaw the responsibilities of a gallery towards its artists have been discussed at length. Greenaway Art Gallery aims at best possible practice. The relationship between one artist and the gallery and another is always different. Some ask and need advice and feedback more often than others, some on occasion will need
financial assistance or advice with grant applications, commissions, or strategic career moves. When deciding to form a relationship with an artist you not only have to be passionate about their work but know that the two of you can communicate easily and clearly.

AAC: If a new collector walked into your gallery, what are the chances of him or her walking out with a high quality work by one of your artists? Do you save the best works for people who have been loyal to the gallery?
PG: If there is a work for sale or in our stockroom that is for sale then anyone should have the right to purchase. As long time collectors are generally offered the works before an exhibition, they have had the opportunity already to purchase. I think new collectors would find it ultimately more rewarding if they do their homework; inform yourself; read widely; visit exhibitions; ask other collectors; talk to artists, then don’t be burnt by that initial flurry of enthusiasm where in the end you look back and realise you have bought somewhat indiscriminately.

AAC: What makes a bad client?
PG: I think certain galleries appeal to particular people, fortunately Greenaway Art Gallery seems to attract genuine and enthusiastic collectors, evidenced by the fact that very few works come onto the secondary market that have been purchased through Greenaway Art Gallery.

AAC: What qualities do an artist and his/her work have to have for you to believe that they will make it in the long term?
PG: While technique, research, promotion, and chance are all important, nothing beats hard work, experimentation, fun, and the ability to challenge themselves in the studio. Being themselves and being truthful to that must come before the aforementioned list that implies

AAC: What do you think of art advisers?
PG: It’s a big world, and there are times and places for all people.

AAC: What sorts of reasons might convince you to let an artist go from your stable?
PG: A prolonged period of miscommunications, and a long-term disenchantment with their work are the two principle issues.

AAC: Do you have any plan to take on new artists?
PG: The gallery has recently re-structured and the next six artists who will come on board will all be international.

AAC: How do you feel about your clients meeting your artists? Do you think it is a valuable experience for the client? Do you ever arrange it?
PG: As all our artists attend their openings it is a great opportunity to then introduce them to clients who have either purchased their work in the past or expressed an interest in the artists work. Apart from this occasion, most artists would prefer that the gallery deal directly with the client so that they can concentrate on their studio practice.

AAC: What makes your gallery so successful?
PG: It is for artists and collectors to decide the success or otherwise of the gallery, and the reality is, is that the memory of most galleries rarely lives beyond a single generation. If we have been successful in any way, then that success is due more to the quality of the artists that we exhibit than to anything the gallery may do.

AAC: What have you learned about artists and clients in the last 15 years of dealing?
PG: Never judge a book by its cover and treat everyone equally.

AAC: What do you think of the art world, its properties and its people?
PG: The microcosm that is the art world is merely a reflection of the society in which we live in which there are things to celebrate and things to lament.

AAC: Would you ever approach an artist currently exhibiting with another gallery?

Our situation is slightly unique in the Australian art scene as Adelaide is regarded by some as a regional centre and the normal vying for artists that might occur in Sydney and Melbourne doesn’t exist in Adelaide. I have approached artists showing with other galleries, but those galleries are interstate and generally supportive of their artists having representation in other states.