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What It's Like To Be: An Art Adviser

High stakes money, dueling spouses and mixing your passion with work; helping people buy art isn't nearly as easy as it sounds. Top art adviser Joyce Varvatos explains.

Photo by Weston Wells

Joyce Varvatos knows a lot about art. She's studied it endlessly, and been around artists, galleries and fairs for much of her adult life. Based in New York and married to famed menswear designer John Varvatos, Joyce has been at the epicenter of the art scene for many years. But that doesn't mean being a top art adviser is easy, even for her.

Here's her story.

Journal: How did you get started in the art world?

Joyce: I never actually considered art as a career choice. I have a BS and an MBA degree and assumed finance was in my future until two things happened. I realized I had no interest in any of the jobs that were typical for a business graduate and I answered a phone call from a headhunter that was meant for someone other than me. That call brought me to my first job in the art world with the magazine Art in America, which triggered an unknown passion which has lasted 26 years to date.

What made you get involved in the art documentary Off The Canvas?

A colleague I met early in my career, who was working at a museum in Los Angeles at the time, had moved to New York to become a documentarian. We got together and hatched the idea over coffee.

Off the Canvas

What's the difference between editions and originals?

Editions are works that come in a set amount of multiples. They are usually exact replicas. What you are referring to as originals are unique works.

What do you think of online sites like vs traditional galleries?

Like every other industry, having an online presence as well as brick and mortar are necessary to navigate the business successfully. While websites have made the searching and education so much easier, there is nothing that can replace the visceral feeling of seeing the colors and texture of a work in person.

Do people generally buy art as an investment or to look at it?

They may start out saying they just want something that they love but that always changes when it’s time to write a check. And I subscribe to that school of thinking. There is so much art out there so I advise all my clients to choose works that at least have investment potential.

Any advice for those interested in working in the industry?

Get involved. Art is accessible to all. Galleries are free and museums are everywhere so go all the time because knowledge is everything in this business. If you get the bug employers will recognize it.

Favorite coffee?

Dreamy coffee from Sylvester’s in Sag Harbor. I have it delivered to the city throughout the year.

Is art collecting only for rich people?

Definitely not but I can understand that misconception. It can be intimidating going to galleries and asking questions, especially about the price when it’s never marked. But there are now websites where you can put in your budget and find art to match your lifestyle. And of course you can always use an advisor. The good ones know it all - or most of it anyway.

What's the most difficult part of negotiating?

It’s not necessarily the money part that’s difficult. The negotiating takes on another meaning when one spouse loves the work and the other doesn’t

Weirdest client story?

There are so many to choose from but I don’t want any of my clients to recognize themselves.

Who are some of your personal favorite artists?

I love painting. And I love the masters. Picasso, Rothko, Richter, Bacon… My list is endless.

Interested in art?

Contact Joyce on Artnet.

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