Confessions Of A Gallery Girl: The Evil Collector

In every career there are always specific people you want to stay away from: if you’re in law, you stay away from dirty cops; if you're in the movies, you stay away form casting directors with a healthy sexual appetite; and if you're in the art business, however, you'll want to avoid run-ins with the dreaded evil collector. How could someone who spends money on art be wicked? How could anyone who pays €300,000 for a painting by a 25-year-old be a bad guy? They're contributing to the market, after all, and without them the art world would go under like Atlantis. News flash: there are two types of collectors that can ruin your life—those that sell on secondary markets and those that call you for more than just art.

An Insidious Inquiry For Art

Every gallery I've ever worked for has always been careful with whom they make business with. Whenever some anonymous or obscure rich person e-mails us regarding the fresh young talent we've picked up, we always ask them for references: a letter from another gallerist whom the collector purchased work from or from artist who may be lucky enough to be hanging within his or her mansion. What we ideally want to hear is that they are a pleasure to work with, that they have a great personal interest in the artwork in question, and that they aren't frivolously purchasing art to put it in storage only to sell it later like stock.


The evil collector sees art as a pile of money. Sculpture by L.N. Tallur at Nature Morte Gallery. Photo: Chris Phillips

One prominent collector—let's call him Moe—has developed a particularly bad reputation. After making millions with questionable colleagues in Dubai, he settled in Zurich and started collecting art. He has horrible style and a dragon breath that smells like burnt hair and cheese. I've met him once and he treated me like most wealthy collectors treat gallery girls: with the utmost disregard, as if I wasn't even there. He came in with his entourage one day—all wearing sunglasses, despite the overcast weather—hoping to buy some art. He gave us his business card (albeit begrudgingly) and some references for us to check him out.

Long story short: the guy was bad news. Apparently, at some art fair in Hong Kong a few years ago, he purchased work from a gallery only to resell it at a higher price the next day. (This is bad for artists whose art price can balloon then quickly burst if the value is higher than the demand.) The end result was a fist fight right inside the gallery's booth that same weekend. We messaged Moe back and told him that we didn't feel comfortable with this past fiasco and he responded with a kind "FUCK YOU" in the body of his e-mail reply. Cheeky.

Looking For Love In The Wrong Places

Alas, he's not even the worst. Even though the art fair ends, that doesn't mean the collectors are done bothering you. Sure they're e-mailing you everyday asking to get 10% off a painting or hoping to get a sculpture that a rival has already purchased—but some want just a little more. Unfortunately, some of these guys with wallets bigger than their brain also like to have a woman in every city. Don't get me wrong, who doesn't want a sugar daddy that only calls you when he's' in the country? Too bad for them I have principles and definitely won't sleep with them to sell a painting. One guy—let's call him Larry—even went as far as to call the gallery last Saturday. It was a slow day with few walk-ins so I entertained the call.

"Oh hi Larry, how was China?" I asked him wryly.

"You know I'm more interested in other things. And if things could work out, perhaps I'd pay double for that photograph you were showing in New York," he breathed in the phone. 

The evil art collector sees art as a sexual fantasy. Sculpture by Peter Mühlhaußer at Janine Bean Gallery. Photo: Chris Phillips

I could only roll my eyes at his desperation and feel sorry for his inflated and undeserved ego that I am happy to spit on. Although I do need a new dress for Basel this week, I like my wardrobe to not be dirty before I buy it. While I may be smart and stay away from the horny Larrys of the art world, some unlucky gallery girls have fallen for this charade and slept with collectors who have wives back home. Sometimes love and art just don't mix.

We are raised thinking that art is something to be appreciated and is held in high regard by all of us who call ourselves art enthusiasts. Logic would tell us that everyone wanting to spend the equivalent of a college tuition on an artwork would give a damn—in reality, they're storing it away in their basement until it can push a profit. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the type of person to do this isn't winning any awards for being a nice person as they can crush the career of an artist with just one check. So next time you're at Bar Drei in Mitte, and a tall, handsome man in a €6,000 suit tells you he collects art and wants to see your work: be careful, most collectors aren't knights in shining armor—they're wolves in expensive sheep’s clothing.

Article by Anonymous Gallery Girl