Sheri L. Pasquarella is the owner of SLP, a Manhattan-based consultancy in three parts: art advisory services; creative business consulting; and SLP Collect, a web-based art inventory tool for art and furniture collectors that launched in 2006.
How did you first get interested in contemporary art?
My childhood, in 3 equally important ways.
One: exposure to art in art museums. Our family vacations consisted of the six of us carting off to any place within a 48 hour drive. My parents had a completely non-judgmental approach to culture. We’d see unbelievably “low brow” sites on one day, like ‘South of the Border’ in South Carolina, then be at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. like 17 hours later. By the time I was 12 years old I’d been to major cultural institutions up and down the East Coast– not to mention the Met, Guggenheim and MoMA several times over. From this I developed my interest not only in art, but context, culture and history.
Two: my father was an artist. Not professionally, but personally. He had a profound interest in materials. In addition to painting, he used anything he could get his hands in and saved up for really ambitious supplies. We had small-scale casting machinery, a wheel and kiln, blow-torches and sandblasters going in my house, and materials like Fiberglas, Carbon 14 and Kevlar, etc. The results were typically displayed – for better or worse – on our small patch of front lawn. From this I developed an awareness of materiality and the creative process.
Three: my parents were observantly religious. While I myself am not a religious person, growing up with religion instilled in me to two important faculties: conceptual thinking and the contemplation of faith. I mean this in the MOST un-secular, non-denominational way. It was – and is – about contemplating ideas that are not yours, that you may not be able to see, and deciding whether or not you accept or buy them. And I believe that this contributed to my interest in contemporary art, why I am not a Flemish scholar, for example…why I am more excited to learn about a new work by a familiar or established artist, or discover a younger artist from the beginning: do I accept their terms, even if they are not clear to me? What is the point, what are those terms? Do I believe it? Do I buy it (literally and figuratively, as it turns out)?
Do you remember the first artwork you ever bought or were gifted?
A portrait of me at age 7 by my father. It is the focal point of my “Sheri” wall in my bedroom – a salon-style hanging of works of primarily emotional or personal importance. If you didn’t know that was the “curatorial vision” behind it, it would make no sense to you. It includes works by Justine Kurland, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Alexis Rockman, Scott Marshall, and Katy Plummer.
How does somebody end up becoming an art advisor?
It’s a funny job because there are so many people doing it with so many different skill sets, educational backgrounds, etc. Some have PhDs; others rely on their impressive social connections.
Luckily for me, I started with actual exposure to building a contemporary art collection. This was at Marlborough, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’d been promoted to an Associate Director, and a good portion of this job entailed assisting Tom Cugliani, who was the Curator of the Royal Caribbean/ Celebrity Cruise Art Collection. Marlborough maintained a contract with the company, and the two of us worked on filling a minimum number of spaces per new construction cruise ship with contemporary art from around the world. This was not buying some giclee prints and calling it a day. It was a who’s who of art since 1970, and excellent examples of their work. Tom’s vast knowledge of Post War art led to an outstanding collection for Celebrity – impressive for the diversity of great art that’s in it and for its substantially proven upsides, financially speaking. It was exciting, difficult and special and I remain grateful to both Tom and to Marlborough for that.
It was also eye opening to me about the business of art, and it is how I developed a strong background in recent art and its market. I also made a million acquaintances. This confluence of circumstances led directly to my conception, and ultimately co-founding, of NADA (the New Art Dealers Alliance).
After leaving Marlborough in 2002, I became the Director of the now-defunct Gorney Bravin + Lee. It was shortly thereafter that I started NADA. About a year following that, I met Stanley and Nancy Singer through the gallery; they liked GB+L and loved the first NADA fair. They asked me to be their advisor, so I did that while still being the Director of a gallery. All the while, I was the President of a n-f-p that was growing by the second but had no full time staff other than me.
By 2005 the gallery was closing and I had far too much going on to start over again at another gallery without making major sacrifices. So I didn’t, I started SLP. This started with the conversion of 27th street (between 11th and the Highway) into art spaces with my friend and NADA co-founder John Connelly. I had a ground-level space there from which I ran my consultancy.
From day one, SLP had three types of service. Hence the original name: SLP Art Culture Commerce. However, it is the art advising service that I have been typically most known for – as the nature of the work is itself requires that I engage with the community (dealers, artists, museum professionals, etc) on a daily basis.
For people who don’t know what that entails, can you shed some light on what you do?
Again, there is great diversity out there for how this is done. Here is how we do it:
It starts as all of my work does here, including the creative business consulting. Someone has gotten my phone number from someone else. They call me. I say “Thank you for calling; how can I help you?”
As we speak and then meet up in their home or office. I’m genuinely trying to asses how it is that I can help them: what are their goals and values, and how can I help them define or reach them in a way that is different, better, more productive or more satisfying? It’s a lot of listening, as people are often not able to define these things concretely in the beginning.
With art collectors, there are historically 5 ‘assessed’ motivators. These are: aesthetic preferences, investment, speculation, scholarly study [or intellectual curiosity], and as a social activity. As the person speaks, I listen for how they prioritize these 5 things in the way that they speak. For example, someone may specifically tell you that they are doing it for love of art, but generally if they mention money a lot as they are talking, it often means that they prioritize investment over, let’s say, intellectual curiosity.
After we’ve gotten a good sense of one another, I share my thoughts of how I think I can help. If they like what they hear, we sign an agreement. This states our mutual obligations — clearly defines what we’re both going to be doing in order for them to get to where they’d like to be.
There are so many sides of what happens next, we can break it down vaguely to two: the art and the art object; and the business. Again, how these come into play are individualized according to the client’s current and future priorities. There is a single commonality, something I stress as the #1: the collector finds artists or work in which they are sincerely, if not passionately, engaged.
The emphases in the process are on commitment, knowledge, and realism. I begin writing for them, or sending them links, articles, books, or making OCD lists of artists in Excel. Whatever format will be most efficient for the individual on the other end to digest the volume of info I’m giving them. Then they begin to think and look. We go look at art together, everywhere: museums, galleries, art fairs, online, artists’ studios, art schools, etc. Each acquisition opportunity is unique: some sales happen in a matter of moments, others may take over a year or two to find the right work.
Over time, there is a shared interested in how a collector functions in and participates with the cultural sector. At present, I am working on 4 collections, each of whom have been with me for at least 5 years. They are all quite different and wonderful. And they are all majorly active in museums and philanthropy, which is something I help them with too.
The way they deal with money also affects the relationship. With those that preference ‘aesthetics,’ for example, the negotiations and budget are fairly easy and straightforward. For other clients, however, I may become a part of their asset management team, and have to guide more complex financial activities – like art 401ks, 1031 exchanges, the establishment of a foundation or family office, estate planning, the resale of works, etc.
It’s really gratifying to work with people for an extended duration of time. The rewards include watching their collections become bigger or more refined, forming deep relationships with them, their families, and their personal or professional orbits, and watching artists within the collection grow, and see how the works change as the environment and context of the home or property evolve.
Any upcoming shows you can’t wait to check out?
In museums, definitely the Whitney Biennial. I always look forward to it, but this year is particularly special because of Jay Sanders. He is so fantastically agile and idiosyncratic. It is great that the Whitney gave him this opportunity, and I look forward to seeing how his unique point of view translates to a museum environment.
In galleries, I’m looking forward to the Pier Paolo Calzolari show that will be at both Boesky and Pace Galleries, opening April 27th. Calzolari has been under the radar in this country for a while. He’s been active since the late 1950s, but has not had a gallery show since he stopped working with Gladstone like twenty years ago. There is a marvelous lineage of Italian 20th Century art – from the Futurists to Arte Povera and beyond, great artists like Manzoni, Fontana, AIighiero e Boetti, Mario Merz, Alberto Burri, Guiseppe Penone, and Calzolari, who is a peer of the latter. I think when you see Calzolari’s work, you’ll note its relationship to new art. His use of salt as well as complicated freezing apparatus relate very beautifully to an another artist whose work I admire: Banks Violette. Calzolari began working with these materials around the year Banks was born, oddly enough.
Boesky and Pace are literally knocking down the wall that separates their galleries on 24th and 25th street, respectively. The level of commitment, particularly on Boesky’s part, is exciting. I cannot wait to see the results.
Artist quote or words to live by?
cf: Talkin’ World War III Blues by Bob Dylan