Small Consultancies and the Working Artist: an Interview with Jennifer and James Wallace of nAscent Art New York
Jennifer and James Wallace, co-founders of nAscent Art New York, have made it their mission to champion emerging artists. Not only that, but they have made it their business. In 2007, nAscent Art began as a small auction house to represent emerging artists. Finding it difficult to drum-up buyers let alone a buyer for emerging artists’ works, they decided to employ a different tact in bringing unknown artists to the marketplace and shifted their model to that of an art consultancy. Since 2010, this has been their business. James put it like this: “The challenge wasn’t getting collectors to buy work, it was that artists needed to make a living.” This statement represents an altogether different approach to the marketing and selling of work. Instead of constructing a cult of personality around a few artists that could then sell their works for greater and greater sums, nAscent became a group that focused on transforming young artists’ practices into viable careers.
They didn’t go after large corporate collectors however, knowing that, for the most part, collectors like these were looking for investments and tax deductions, not sponsoring new artists. “We felt the best way to support emerging artists was by positioning these artists in a fine art space with that level of dignity and respect for a client that isn’t necessarily JP Morgan but wants to be like JP Morgan.” nAscent’s clientele has become small to mid-sized accounting and investment firms, hedge funds and developers with average price points ranging from hundreds of dollars to $10,000, and most work selling for around $1000-$5000. These organizations are ones that find the current gallery system cost-prohibitive but at the same time, want to invest in and support artists while improving their work environment. “Really, what many of these firms are looking for is guidance,” they affirmed.
Jennifer and James Wallace of nAscent Art NY; photo: Noan Major.
Many art consultancies tend to specialize in certain artists or aesthetics. nAscent on the other hand, has cultivated a stable of emerging artists that represent different mediums, practices and aesthetic styles. “We have many different kinds of clients: hotels to hedge funds. We usually work with a core group of around fifty artists at any one time. This allows us to have many different varieties and styles available. The one thing that really ties our community of artists together is quality and that they are all in New York City. We believe in supporting our local artists.”
They do hope to expand nAscent to other art centers and will focus on local artists in those communities at that point. By representing artists locally and thereby working intimately with both artist and client, Jennifer, the Director of Art at nAscent, sees an invaluable collaboration as a result. “I visit the client’s space, ask what their priorities are, what their brand is, what their identity and style is and how the artwork can help reflect that. What we really do is put together comprehensive art programs. Yes, we sell art, but it’s really very consultative. One client introduced me as their 'art solutionist'. I liked that.“ Commissions are a common result of these consultations.
nAscent’s website allows submissions from any and all artists and they often look to ArtSlant for talent when needed, something we were very happy to hear. But how did they develop this core group of artists? “Over time,” Jennifer responded, “We get a lot of submissions through our website. I personally look at everything that comes through. We’ve looked at well over 30,000 submissions over the years. I spend a lot of time going to fairs, the BFA and MFA shows from the major art schools, open studio visits, and galleries to really keep my finger on the pulse of the art world. One thing I look for in new artists is filling a gap in our collection. We focus on quality and location. Even if I find an artist that I really like but don’t think will fit in our organization, I keep tabs on them and follow them.” Jennifer takes a look at CVs, of course, but usually the first qualification in picking an artist is whether or not the artist takes him or herself seriously. “I look to see if the artist wants to be a full-time artist even if they are not yet there. I want the artists I work with to really make it big. There are a number of artists in our emerging artists roster now who are really on the cusp of taking off such as Miya Ando and might end up leaving our emerging artist roster, but that was all part of the vision.”
Miya Ando, Ghost, 2012, dyed aluminum, 48 x 48 in.; Courtesy the artist and nAscent Art NY.
So what is taking off right now? “It varies by client. But it’s safe to say what’s not being bought. Contemporary realists have a really hard time right now. They are really struggling to find a place in the market as it usually centers on portraiture. Figural work still does well but portraiture needs to be commissioned to be purchased. Tastes vary greatly by organization and the decision-maker at that organization. If the buyer is a CEO and they are collectors in their own right or if they’ve hired a curator to build their collection, their choices tend to be more audacious whereas if it’s an office manager making the decisions and they are looking to please the most people, then their choices are more restrained.”
nAscent represents an opportunity for many artists who have little choice but to promote and sell their own work in a prohibitive arts economy. Organizations like these are a major boon to the emerging artist, serving as gateways into making a living off your work and thereby being able to spend more time making work.
(Image on top: Jim Gentry, Missing, thread, canvas, typewriter, 48 x 53"; Courtesy the artist and nAscent Art NY)