Art and Finance: Lessons from architect Frank Gehry

Posted on May 31, 2016 · Posted in Blog

image-frank gehry museumAt a recent luncheon in Washington DC jointly hosted by the National Gallery of Art and the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, panelists included the world renowned architect Frank Gehry, Architecture Critic and Biographer Paul Goldberger and the Curator and Head of Modern Art at The National Gallery of Art, Harry Cooper. The program was excellent, but the comments from Frank Gehry particularly resonated with me.

Gehry said that he was practically barred from designing any more art museums after he had the audacity to design a museum that didn’t just have the conventional flat walls and dull colors found in other museums. He built the museum with several curved walls and invited patrons to see the building itself as part of the art. Why was this so amazing? I think it illustrates how in art, as in life, most people like the status quo. We prefer to do what was done before; what other people are doing; what’s familiar and comfortable. But Gehry sees things differently and we should too.

Lesson # 1. Choices don’t have to be either/or. A museum can be both a vehicle to display fine art and be seen as art itself. In life, every choice for something doesn’t have to mean a choice against everything else. In my own work with artists, gallerists and collectors, I see the struggles with balancing the love of art with the financial and business issues. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, the art world is becoming increasingly a business. But relying on income from art sales has always been difficult. The key is to look for ways to satisfy your passion for art, but protect and plan for your future. You can look at your art as a business without sacrificing your artistic vision, but it may mean making changes in order to create more balance between the two.

Lesson # 2. Combine form and function. This is a continuation of the first lesson. Having worked with people throughout the art world I have been fortunate to meet people who seek to break down barriers and strive to bring something different to the community. However, they don’t take that path outside the art world. They separate their personal and professional lives; their art and their business. And they are wary of making changes in how they live even as they face new challenges. But you need to consider all aspects of your life. What income do you need now and how can you plan for the future? How profitable is your business? Can you reduce expenses or increase income? Do you have a contingency plan if there is a downturn? What legacy do you want to leave? There are strategies and tactics you can employ to help you achieve your goals, but they need to incorporate your personal and business situation.

Lesson # 3. One size does not fit all. The first step in building and preserving your finances is to have a solid foundation that meets your needs. It’s okay to look at what others are doing, but you also need a plan that fits you. What are your unique interests, concerns and goals? What is your existing financial situation and where do you expect or want to be? What works for one person may not be appropriate for you. It helps to talk with a professional to walk you through this process, but it means looking at your life in detail with a new perspective.

As Financial Architects, we help clients consider the whole picture and look at it with a fresh eye on what they want to accomplish and how to build a foundation to get there.

How are the trends in the art world affecting your finances? Read our posts on the Top concerns affecting gallery owners today.