Art Advisor Flavio Gianassi
Trying to describe Flavio Gianassi in one paragraph is impossible, especially for someone like me who has worked closely with him for almost fourteen years. I have written draft after draft of this introduction and none of them capture his dynamic personality or his curious nature. So, here is my attempt: Flavio is sure to see every museum or gallery exhibition, every auction house preview, and every art fair because he is dedicated to absorbing as much visual detail as possible. He is tireless in his pursuit of engaging with every detail so that he can recall it from his sweeping memory. And whenever someone asks me, as many have over the years, ‘where does he get his energy from?’, my answer is simple: ‘he is committed to finding beauty in all that he sees and does’.
The Influence Of Cultural Heritage
Do you think that growing up in Tuscany, where art history is gloriously available, influences your interests and taste?
Definitely! Having the opportunity, as a kid, to be able to walk in any church, even a small one, and see frescos or altarpieces has indeed helped my formation and fed my passion for Old Masters.
I was born and raised in Prato, a city that, despite being known for its textile industries, has always been particularly focused on art. The Duomo itself has a fresco by Filippo Lippi, one the most important cycles in all of Italy, along with other works by artists such Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea della Robbia and Donatello. Prato also gave birth to artists like Filippino Lippi and Lorenzo Bartolini and it was the first Italian city to establish an institution, devoted to host a proper collection of contemporary art and temporary exhibitions, the Centro Pecci. So, as I said, I was lucky enough to start familiarising myself with art from different eras from a young age. For example, when I was a teenager, I used to pass by Square Form with Cut by Henry Moore on my way to school in the morning. It is one of the most majestic sculptures ever realized by the artist and has been part of the public collection of the city since 1972.
Next to Prato is, of course, Florence, which added even more opportunity to discover and appreciate art. One of my first memories of visiting a museum was a primary school trip. We went to the Bargello Museum: I remember being overwhelmed by the beauty of its collection and falling in love with Michelangelo’s Bacchus. Nowadays it is still a place dear to me and now I support the Friends of the Bargello, a non-profit organisation that promotes this prestigious museum to a worldwide audience. All of this helped to develop my curiosity and influenced my taste, further opening my interest to a broader kind of art.
Despite having a focus on Old Master Paintings, FG Fine Art is well-known for its breadth of knowledge and inventory ranging over a wide variety of periods and mediums. How are you able to keep up with all of these markets and their changing trends?
I like to present to my clients a taste that reflects me; I always avoid offering or selling something that I don’t believe in or that doesn’t “talk” to me. And the idea of mixing works ranging from different periods and mediums, thereby creating unpredictable juxtapositions always excites me.
The first step in keeping up with the market is following the auction houses. There, you get an initial idea of how the market moves, what is trendy and what is not. Visiting art fairs and browsing galleries, two other sides of the market, add different prospectives and help train your eye and define your taste. I give the same advice to new clients: go and look at everything so that you know what you like and, just as importantly, what you don’t like.
Of course, it is unrealistic to be an “expert” in every field (and beware of those who say they are). What I have found important has been developing relationships with other people; specialists and experts whom I trust and who help me resolve any doubts, fill any knowledge gaps, or confirm my own analyses.
Carving Out A Career In The Art World
You initially began your career working for an international Old Master dealer; how do you think that experience shaped your eye and judging artworks that merit the attention of your clients?
It was very important for my own development to have the opportunity to grow and learn directly on the pitch. I started working for a dealer when I was really young, initially helping out with small and local art fairs in Italy to then move on to international and more renowned ones such as The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht and the Biennale Des Antiquaires in Paris.
Having studied law at university, I didn’t have a background in art history so I feel lucky that I had this sort of “old style” formation, learning while I was working. Whenever I had a chance, especially in those long dead moments that you can have during an art fair, I wandered from stand to stand trying to learn from other dealers and ask them to explain something from their collection.
I was also privileged to hold paintings or sculptures that now have found their home in famous museums. There is something truly exhilarating both in the experience of touching a masterpiece and then seeing it on the wall of an eminent institution.
The opportunity to manage various kinds of art, meet and talk directly with restorers and art historians has definitely formed my taste and educated my eye. The way that I deal with the art that I select and how I guide my clients reflects this experience.
How do you advise your clients to develop their eye and educate themselves if they are unsure of buying an Old Master?
My two pieces of advice are always the same: 1) inform yourself and 2) rely on people you trust.
Visiting museums, attending art fairs, going to see auction viewings or visiting galleries all help to form taste and develop a vision of what you want to buy and why you want to buy an Old Masters. It is absolutely different to buying a piece of contemporary art where the name of the artist, the year and the size can give an idea of the price. Furthermore, the reputation of the gallery offering the piece gives a certain amount of reassurance that what you are buying is worth the money. When purchasing an Old Masters, there are many more variables to consider. Clients who are new to Old Masters need to be guided and escorted in this world. They need someone who can assist them in understanding concepts such as symbolism, technique, condition and provenance. Having said all of this, don’t forget your heart: buy what you love and what brings you emotion. And finally, never be afraid to ask questions. I want my clients to always buy with confidence.
Designed by Woulfe is an interior design studio based in London, one of the centres of the art world. How do you think the art market has changed since you first moved here in 2007?
Many things have changed in the past years, particularly London and the way the market operates. The number of Italian galleries or those offering Italian art has increased. Auction houses are increasingly playing a role similar to that of the galleries themselves, offering thematic exhibitions or selling through private sales channels.
In recent years, a positive phenomenon that we have been witnessing, guided by a spirit of strengthening unity, are collaborations. Joint exhibitions between different galleries or collaborations for fair stands, where one manages to propose new and fresh solutions, working to attract new customers. Events such as London Art Week, which in recent years has grown and become more structured, has become an unmissable art event in the London summer because it presents so many chances for galleries and artworks to interact. But also the active presence of operators who were previously more marginal to the art market, such as property developers, architects and design studios such as Designed by Woulfe, have increasingly created a close collaboration with art dealers or advisors, becoming a source of new clients.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Traditional Art Fairs
Do you think that clients, and therefore the methods that they use when they consider buying an artwork, have changed over the last ten years?
Clients always want pieces of quality and that has never changed, even if perhaps there are fewer classic and methodical collectors.
The attention has shifted more to the subject: peculiar and different things, talking points. New generation clients are less influenced by the artist's name - which is not necessarily negative considering that Old Master attributions can change and are subject to many different opinions - and more engaged with the story that an object can tell. The whole experience of buying art, being part of something, can sometimes be even more important than the painting or sculpture itself.
FG Fine Art is currently exhibiting at the Flashback Torino art fair, which is now online through 7 March 2021. Do you see the future of art fairs, such as The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Frieze London and Frieze Masters, etc. as being affected by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and how do you think that they will adapt?
Every market has been affected by the pandemic and ours was no different. We will need some time in order to go back to normality and settle down. I am afraid that larger and more international realities such as TEFAF in Maastricht will have the most struggles because, until a large portion of the population is vaccinated, it will be difficult to fly and move again so I don't know how many galleries and clients will be able to participate. Perhaps it will be easier for smaller and more local realities.
The thing that united all the fairs was the choice to go online with platforms dedicated to exhibitors. It was obviously the fastest and most functional solution in this delicate situation and technology has given great support, even if there is always room for improvement. However, these are not an alternative to fairs. The thrill of seeing a work of art live can never be replaced by a digital experience. Surely the various viewing rooms will also be used in the future as a support tool, but I hope that there will soon be the possibility of being able to walk in the flesh among the stands of a fair, albeit with some limitations.
It is my nature to be optimistic and try to think forward, so even during the height of the first lockdown I decided to join Flashback Torino for their edition in November 2020. It is a fair in which I strongly believe and which is becoming an innovative presence in Italy. I also appreciated that, unlike other fairs, they decided to keep the digital showcase for several months, giving exhibitors the opportunity to change the works on display and creating weekly newsletters for their promotion.
Having said this, of course we must all be ready to adapt to new systems and renew ourselves, learning from the past and understanding how to coexist with the sudden changes. The art market cannot, and should not, escape that introspection.
As a luxury design studio, Designed By Woulfe is always incorporating art into their designs. Do you have your own formula for how art can be incorporated into a space?
I don’t own a magic formula. Things change from client to client and it depends on the space that you have, the environment you want to build, and the atmosphere you want to create. As a general rule, I like to start simple and keep it clean and minimal. You need to give space and importance to the art you are showing - especially with those clients who are starting to collect.
It is for me always important to find a balance in the room because, in the end, you have to live with your art. Then again, I try to challenge my clients to be daring and "play" with the works. Sometimes the most unexpected harmonies arise from random combinations.
In my home, but this is a truly personal aspect, I choose to focus attention on a few works and leave ample space to be able to fully enjoy them.
Combining Contemporary Artworks With Old Masters
There is a continuous trend of combining contemporary artworks with Old Masters with the theme that artists interact with each other with their art throughout the centuries. How do you approach marrying artworks from different period?
Time is just one of the elements that characterizes a work of art. There are other elements that we must take into consideration, from something as complex as subject or shape, to something as simple as colour. It all creates harmony between worlds that can initially seem different and distant from each other.
My favourite combinations arise from unexpected dialogues. I find that the Italian Primitive Painters marry very well in their elegant simplicity with modern Italian works by artists such as Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana. I would then even combine those pieces with archaeological objects. Or, for example, a Roman bust, in its physicality, can act as a union between two contemporary sculptures.
Twenty years of experience has taught me to dare and never stop at the first obvious choice.
The Ethics Of Purchasing Art
FG Fine Art has an entire section on your website dedicated to Ethics and Compliance. Why do you think that this is so important to include?
It is part of this business to be clear and open about the way the company operates. Especially nowadays, with many people dealing in this field and offering their services, I believe it is important for me to ensure that I share a set of common rules, practices and principles with respect to ethics and values. I believe that acting fairly and openly is the base of my business and the foundation of relationships with my clients.
Reputation and integrity are fundamental to me, combined with a high level of transparency and confidentiality. In addition, passion and professionalism are at the core of everything that I do and I bring that to any client’s experience. Buying art can be an emotional journey and I am always thrilled when my clients enjoy such a unique and authentic experience.
Who is your ideal client?
I always like to joke that I would be the perfect client, but unfortunately the ideal client doesn’t exist. For me, it would be a person who is open to challenge themself, willing to learn, and determine the purpose or vision of their collection. Someone who is excited and hungry to buy art and share his or her taste with others.
I am lucky, though, because I can say that I have some few “almost” ideal clients.
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 this sphere has exposed her to many artists, auction specialists, art advisors, conservators, and gallerists, thereby giving the Design Journal fresh insight into the fundamentals of art. This series will explore buying, selling, appreciating, and everything in between.