Art Forms: An Interview with Art Consultant Alan Bamberger

We are pleased to introduce our newest series of Art Forms. In this series, we interview influential people from all realms of the arts, from writers, to dancers, to art historians. In these interviews, we discuss various art forms and their place in today’s culture.

We are thrilled to begin this series with an interview with art consultant, advisor, and founder of Alan Bamberger. With years of experience writing about, selling, consulting, and collecting art, Alan has become an expert in the art world and an influential voice in the San Fransisco art scene. On his website, Alan has published hundreds of articles about art for both artists and collectors.

In this interview, Alan shares the story of his beginnings in the art world, advice on collecting art, and his viewpoint on the rise of technology and its relationship to art.

Photo of Alan Bamberger

Photo of Alan Bamberger

Tell us a bit about yourself and How did you get started in the art business?

To make a long story really short, I found an old painting many years ago and paid very little for it. It had quite a bit of damage but it was still a nice painting. Even in the condition it was in, it turned out to be worth a lot more than I had paid. I had about six months of back income coming in from another job, so I decided to see whether I could learn the art business to the point where I could afford to make a living at it.

I did and sold old art for a while, then got into buying and selling rare and out-of-print art books, started writing articles about art and the art business, heard about the Internet around 1995, bought my website shortly after, initially used to pitch article ideas to newspapers and magazines, but soon realized that all kinds of people were reading my writing. By that time, I had acquired so much experience in so many art-related fields and had so much to share that I went into consulting, advising and appraising for artists, art buyers and sellers, and anyone else who needed help with art-related issues. And here I am today. 

What is the biggest mistake you see people making in the early stages of collecting? What is one piece advice you’d can give to a new buyer?

They buy too fast. If you are just starting out collecting, one of the most important things to do before making even a single purchase is to get a real feel for the incredible variety art that is available on the market today. Most people have a very limited idea of how much quality art is for sale, how many different kinds there are, and how many talented artists are hard at work today.

So, the most important piece of advice is to take it slow, take it easy, look at art wherever and whenever you get the opportunity, both online and at physical venues, and get a good feel for where your tastes and preferences lie before you start buying. No matter how much someone tries to pressure you to buy early on, take your time. That's how you end up with art you really love.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the art world from when you began selling art in the 1980s up through today? Particularly with an eye on the rise of the online gallery.

There have been two major changes in the art world in recent years.  The first has to do with the shift in focus by collectors from antique, period, and older art to contemporary art. The contemporary art market has exploded over the past 15-20 years while the interest and market for older art market has basically languished. Hopefully art buyers will remember at some point in the future that we can't have newer art without having older art first... and more importantly, that the brand-new art they're buying today will join the ranks of older art soon enough. A knowledge, reverence and respect for what came before can come in mighty handy along the way to assembling a quality collection.  

The second change is far more significant — and that's the rise of the Internet.  The Internet has impacted every sector of the art business in so many ways, but to sum it up briefly, more artists than ever before have an opportunity for their art to be seen, appreciated and recognized the world over... and more buyers and collectors than ever before not only have access to that wealth of art, but can buy with ease from artists the world over.  The bottom line? It's all good. I love the Internet.

You’re very involved in the local arts community and this has been a big year for the San Francisco art scene. What are you noticing about how things are evolving here, both for artists and collectors?

What's happening in San Francisco recently is that the quality of art galleries as well as art available at galleries has continually improved.  At the same time, plenty of new young innovative art spaces are opening on a regular basis, not only in San Francisco, but around the Bay, especially in Oakland.  Many of these newcomers may not last for all that long, but quite a few do. And regardless of how long they last, they introduce talented young artists to the art-buying public on a regular basis. So for me, the San Francisco Art scene just keeps getting better.  And thanks to so much technology being so readily accessible to everyone in area, I think local artists and galleries have a bit of an edge over those located in less tech-savvy places.

How would you describe your own taste in art? And, if you collect, what do you gravitate towards?  

My own taste in art is pretty universal. I've seen so much art at this point in my life that I'm constantly on the lookout for fresh new perspectives, portrayals and interpretations.  The more art I see, the more I realize that I can like pretty much anything at any time by any artist. If I were to single out several ingredients I like to see in my art, I would say first and foremost that it has to be well made, that it is technically sound.  But that's not enough in and of itself.  In combination with that has to be an original vision, a unique or unusual or thought-provoking perspective on matters.  I'm a big fan of artists who have the skills and abilities to present things in new and different ways, who make me think or see or experience things in ways I've never seen or experienced them before. A good solid understanding of what it is they believe in or are trying to communicate with their art is pretty important too.  An artist can have the most brilliant vision in the world, but without the capabilities and insight necessary to materialize and actualize that vision, there can be no art. 

Special thanks to Alan Bamberger!