Sunday, March 9, 2014

Failure Coach XXXII

Fine Arts 101 in Cleveland

Writing Negative Space unexpectedly turned Alan into something of an art fan. The Nana Valentine collection fueled that interest. Alan was surprised to learn that the collection consisted of sculpture, paintings, drawings, plans and even some artist notebooks. The idea of managing such a collection made his head spin. He was happy the collection was principally in the capable hands of the Cleveland auction house and would be until Nana’s estate was sorted out.

On the plane, Alan found himself reading about Oberlin College. He could not help but be impressed by the school Andrew Valentine chose. The Conservatory of Music, founded in 1865 and situated amid the intellectual vitality of Oberlin College since 1867, is renowned as a professional music school of the highest caliber. The college hosts hundreds of free concerts and recitals each year. The conservatory is one of the cornerstones of Oberlin’s cultural life. Alan noted that the campus is just about a 40 minute drive from Cleveland. He was tempted to visit while in town. Oberlin, he noted was founded in 1833 and is one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges. Another cornerstone is the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM), recognized for its superlative collection and considered one of the finest college or university art museums in the United States.   

Alan was greeted at the auction house by Ivy, of whom he’d only met on the phone; an art specialist, an attractive forty-ish woman wearing mostly black and a banker in a pinstriped suit and starched white shirt and red tie, who specialized in wealth management with respect to art collections. The art specialist had an academic cadence to her speech. Her pale skin was offset by her red lipstick and straight blond hair. Each introduced themselves, but Alan could not recall anyone’s name aside from Ivy.

“We are thrilled to tour some of the highlights of the Valentine private collection. Victoria was a woman of unique and rare taste. The pieces she purchased during her lifetime are important examples of contemporary art,” she stated as she shook her head causing her hair show more of her face. As she began to speak, Ivy quietly left Alan with the banker and the art specialist. Alan and the banker moved into a gallery space to view a handful of painting, two heavy sculptures made of unfinished COR-TEN steel on the floor, and serigraph limited edition prints by Keith Herring and an Andy Warhol. Alan was impressed by the presentation but retained very little of the specialists guided tour remarks.

The specialist suggested Alan peruse the gallery as long as he liked. “When you are ready please  join us in the conference room just around the corner.” Now the private showing seemed a preamble, a gauntlet of which he was uncertain. It was an engagement, he imagined, ideal for art sales. No pressure, relaxed, casual …only not.

When he joined the banker and the specialist in the conference room. The specialist had prepared a PowerPoint slide show which included the pieces he had just seen along with others he hadn’t. Each slide was tastefully labeled. Coffee, tea and ice water were available at a convenient side table. Alan helped himself to black coffee with Sweet N’Low and sat across from the banker who was leafing through an oversized leather portfolio binder which featured the artwork on pages that were similarly labeled.

The banker sipped his coffee. As he placed his cup on the saucer. His hands came together as he pressed the fingertips together as he became to speak softly. “An art collection such as this is a very personal thing. From an estate planning perspective, it is always better to plan for the transfer of assets. Mrs. Valentine, fortunately, has been pretty clear in here wishes.” He paused a moment turned the portfolio catalogue for Alan’s viewing convenience. “You sir are in a unique position to guide the estate toward decisions about this body of work for which Mrs. Valentine has invested considerable time and resources.”

“Wait a minute,” Alan interrupted,”I’m not really likely to influence anyone about this. I’ve never met Nana and have only come to know the Valentine family recently as Andrew was selected as our second Alan Edgewater Failure First Scholarship winner.”

“Precisely, Mr. Edgewater. At the risk of oversimplifying, collectors should be aware that they have three basic options, according to most wealth strategists, with respect to their collection: 1. Sell the collection, 2. give it to a non-charitable beneficiary, such as children or other heirs, or 3. donate it to a charitable beneficiary, such as a museum.” The banker smiled, “It may take some time for the family to sort things out because of valuation and the cost of managing these assets but those are basically the options.”

“So what do you want from me?”

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