If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Adrian Sassoon’s stand at an art fair, you will be transported into a celebration of artists and their treatment of materials. Whenever I have seen his displays, I notice that Adrian constantly handles his artist’s pieces. It’s not that he is overly tactile, but rather that he feels responsible for and connected to the mediums that his gallery represents; which, translates to the gallery holding a reputation for their extremely high standard. He is also one of the few dealers who brings his artists to his art fair stands because he believes that the artist should be explaining their craft. This all illustrates that Adrian has what is, in my opinion, a rare yet treasured quality in the art world: he likes to listen.
At the age of nineteen, you moved to Los Angeles to work at the J. Paul Getty Museum, which must have been an extraordinary experience. Do you think that this helped shape how Adrian Sassoon deals in objects and the gallery’s well-known high standards of quality?
Oh yes and in so many ways. Frankly, it taught me that excellence should always be one’s ambition in works of art and that should never be compromised. The collections were outstanding and whilst I was there we bought and bought and bought. So my work was handling (and looking at) works of art and with all sorts of people, which is still the case today. I learnt there that it is so important to describe why someone interested admires an object, not simply to make others fall into the same taste. Nowadays I expect that of others, so when someone says to me, ‘This is a strong piece’ I want to know more about why it is so.
As well as dealing in Antique French Porcelain and Contemporary Works of Art, you are also a collector yourself. What is your own process for buying a piece destined for your collection?
Intellectual and emotional addiction is at the root of it all. I am very committed to aspects of antique French porcelain and that is my taste, although this has changed and expanded over the years. Some styles are just not ‘my thing’, whilst others ring bells for me. Sometimes one is drawn to something that is familiar from a past sighting, when perhaps I return to pieces I saw when I first started out. I also often collect work by our contemporary artists and live with and enjoy key examples by artists such as Kate Malone, Hiroshi Suzuki, Junko Mori, Pippin Drysdale, Elizabeth Fritsch.
What advice would you give to clients who are interested in this accessibly-priced sector, but are unsure of where to start?
Over the centuries there has always been a place for creativity at affordable prices. My late mother used to go to degree shows and collect work by new artists which in the fullness of time yielded a 75% ‘miss’ and 25% ‘hit’ rate. Frankly, at these odds, it is better to buy one small piece by an established artist whose work you really admire rather than spending the same total amount spread across pieces by more modest artists. Buy from a specialist gallery where possible – people who dedicate a large portion of their lives to expertise within their field are usually best placed to advise and introduce you the talents on offer. The first piece of contemporary work I purchased was in the late 1970s, a ceramic sculpture by the very famous artist Gordon Baldwin. He had been my ceramics teacher at school so I had an eye for his work and nowadays I have a large collection of pieces made by him across about forty years.
As a luxury design studio, Designed By Woulfe constantly works with clients who are enthusiastic about associating the old with the new, a concept that you embrace at Adrian Sassoon, on your stands at art fairs, and in your home. How do you approach joining time periods so that pieces converse as opposed to contrast?
It is deeply personal and there are no ‘rights’ but there are many ‘wrongs’. We are all individual and enjoy so many different things in our widely varied taste, but quality always forms a harmony.
Renowned for having a very intimate relationship with your artists, you always invite your artists to come to your stands at art fairs such as Masterpiece London, the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD), and The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht. How important is the artist’s input when a new buyer is considering a work?
When I first showed contemporary works of art in antique fairs over twenty-five years ago it became clear how lucky we are as dealers to have wickedly talented and intelligent artists available to meet our clients. If Rubens were alive today, don’t you think a collector would enjoy talking to him about his work when considering a purchase or commission? What has changed? Also, I am a dealer, not a creator of these works of art, so having collectors and curators talking to the real talent is something I have always encouraged. Friendships are formed through the artists being present and friendships, trust and admiration are key ingredients at many levels of collecting.
Who is your ideal client?
What a question. Someone who is happy when they visit and who has enough time to listen to the end of a sentence.
Designed By Woulfe has invited Tova Ossad of Ossad Art Management to interview a range of art world personalities. Her fifteen years' experience working in that sphere has exposed her to many artists, auction specialists, art advisors, conservators, and gallerists, thereby giving the Design Journal fresh insight in the fundamentals of art. This series will explore buying, selling, appreciating, and everything in between.