How to Start Art Collecting with Benjamin Godsill

Benjamin Godsill of Curatorial Services, LLC discusses his ideal client and collecting art to gain a better understanding of the world.


Art Advisor: Benjamin Godsill (@mrgodsill also has a podcast Nota Bene)

 Firm: Curatorial Services, LLC (www.curatorial-services.com)

Can you tell us some of your clients or types of clients?

My clients are a diverse lot of successful individuals that would make a really fun and interesting dinner party if you could wrangle them all to the table. Some of the places they have primary residences are in Manhattan, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas and London. They include people who oversee their family offices, private investors, and public figures. They are all involved with at least one museum, often on the board level and are committed to living with art and new ideas. 

Why do your clients want to collect art?

My clients have all reached a high level of success and fulfillment on a professional level and are looking for something that will provide a deeper connection to and understanding of the world around them. And they want to have fun while doing it.

What are the three things you would like a prospective client to know before they come talk to you?

1. No pain, no gain: Collecting art can be deeply fulfilling and joyful but it is going to take some effort on your part; I'm going to push your intellectual and aesthetic (and sometimes financial) comfort levels. It's gonna be worth it, I promise. 

2. No Secrets: The more honest you are with meabout your cash position, taste, timeline, space constraints and estate planning visionthe better I am going to be able to help you realize your collection goals. 

3. Think Long Term: The collections we read about as having significantly grown in value are those which have been built with an almost obsessive focus on buying the absolute best (and often most idiosyncratic) objects made in a given generation. If you commit to being rigorous in your thinking while taking risks with a true sense of adventure you will build a collection that accrues both art historical and financial value for the long term.

Why would a collector not be a good fit for you?

I don't have many "rules" in life but one is: no assholes. If you are rude to people who work for (or with) you we won't be working together.  

What should a beginning collector focus on for the first purchase?

Buy something you are a little confused by but can't stop thinking about and it will pay dividends in helping to refine your aesthetic vision. 

Do collectors ever make mistakes? What happens then?

Mistakes are wonderful as they allow us to learn and grow as collectors and human beings both. Only by making mistakes are we able to define what the right path is for a collection. Of course, there are practical effects and steps that then need to be taken but those are fairly simple and straightforward to affect and any downside is more than offset by the value of lessons learned. 

Should the collector just get it over with or hold out for the right first object?

There are a multitude of entry points to begin a collection and I think it's important to start where you start and understand that each object in a collection becomes more and more relevant only in relation to other objects that are added. So yea study, think, learn, question then pull the damn trigger. 

When does someone become a collector? As soon as they decide to buy art? Once they’ve bought the first work? Only after they have three works?

When all practical considerations fall to the wayside. An easy tell: When the walls are all filled but you see an artwork that you MUST have to continue to tell your story but can't bear to permanently part with anything and thus open a storage account, for me that is when someone has become a collector.   

What do you collect?

My wife and I collect objects that tell a story of the word going through a tremendous amount of social and technological change. Some of these objects are very beautiful and some are very hard to look at but they all change my subject position daily. 

How did you get started collecting?

I am blessed to have a ton of friends who are talented artists and well before I could afford to buy much art they were very generous toward me.  

When is a collection finished?

A collection is a living breathing thing and in some senses it will always live on and evolve so long as a collector lives. Of course the practical events of life might mean it becomes drastically changed either through bequests or otherwise but even a single picture passed down from one generation to the next allows the story to evolve with no beginning and no end. 

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