Three’s a Crowd in the Gallerist-Collector-Advisor Triangle


The Financial Times ran a story wondering whether the relationship between art galleries and their client base is “outdated.” Reading the headline, “Is Loyalty to an Art Gallery Outdated?,” one would expect the story to eventually say ‘no’ after giving reasons for the necessary social interaction between interested buyer and knowledgeable seller.

Playing somewhat against type, the FT gives a different sort of story. It begins with the glory days for Bernard Jacobson who deals in Modern British and American art. David Bowie was a client and eventually convinced the dealer to part with a William Tillyer watercolour from his own office. 

While he was annoyed to part with the painting, he was also proud: Jacobson had long championed Tillyer as one of the most under-appreciated painters of the 21st century and was happy to have brought Bowie round to his way of thinking.

“He was very much a real collector,” Jacobson says approvingly. “He’d hang on every word I said, then he’d go to a library or a book shop and you’d see him the following day and he’d really know all about [the artist in question].”

Bowie may have been gratifying to work with but Jacobson has gone off dealing with clients it would seem because they want to bring in their own advisors and, well, three’s a crowd:
Now, the dealer has retreated from building relationships with new clients. “After the first meeting they’ll bring in their ‘adviser’,” he says disparagingly. While he is still Tillyer’s cheerleader, his methods have changed: he is currently writing the artist’s biography.