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Art-Buying Advice From Silicon Valley Collectors, Curators, Interior Designers and Architects

Lynn Bruno | June 8, 2019 | Feature Culture

Silicon Valley’s boom may not yet equal the rebirth of Florence during the Renaissance, but throughout history, art collecting usually follows growth in capital—and here, as in the Italian city of the 15th century, there are signs that arts patronage is on the rise.

That was one of the key takeaways from a recent forum, The Arts & Silicon Valley: Art Procurement for Profit and Pleasure, co-hosted by Modern Luxury Silicon Valley magazine and Bank of America Private Bank.


Elizabeth Sullivan, president of Pace Palo Alto, architect Takashi Yanai and Bank of America's Evan Beard

Panelists included Komal Shah, a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art trustee from Atherton ranked among the Top 200 global collectors by ArtNews magazine; Evan Beard, national art services executive with Bank of America Private Bank; San Francisco interior designer Eche Martinez; Elizabeth Sullivan, president of Pace Palo Alto; and Takashi Yanai of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects. Led by editor-in-chief Carolyne Zinko, the chat was held at the Palo Alto home of entrepreneur Asher Waldfogel and his wife, Helyn MacLean, for 50 invited guests (Yanai’s firm designed the two-story California Modernist home).


Architect Takashi Yanai, Bank of America's Evan Beard and interior designer Eche Martinez

The panelists’ advice, in short? Start small, seek out mentors, and find your own path. “There are so many ways of entering the art market,” Shah notes. “You don’t need to buy a Picasso.” Her own collecting journey began when a friend took her on a gallery tour in New York. She advises looking at art for several years before making any significant investments, rather than buying on impulse. Education is another key. “Art collecting takes a lot of time,” Sullivan says. “Go to galleries in New York and London. Talk to gallerists. Find a consultant. Get someone to condense it for you.”


Guests enjoyed a mini-tour of the modern Palo Alto home Yanai's firm, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney, designed for clients Asher Waldfogel and Helyn MacLean.

That someone, it turns out, could be your designer or architect. Who better, after all, to understand your sensibilities? “It has to start in a place of trust,” says Martinez, who tutors clients new to collecting. “Start with a limited edition print that you fall in love with as an icebreaker. Then go to Art Basel or [Art Basel] Miami [Beach]and step it up.” Yanai says that he looks for opportunities to incorporate artwork into clients’ homes, both by designing with specific works they own in mind and introducing clients to new artists he thinks will resonate with their tastes.


Guests gathered to hear the panelists

Bottom line? “Always buy what moves you,”says Shah, whose early outlays were limited to $10,000 or less. She now collects far pricier works by mid-career female artists and artists of color. “Keep your budget low while you are training yourself,” Shah says. “There are no rules. Every collection has its own voice, and that should be yours.”


Photography by: Photos by Arthur Kobin for Drew Altizer Photography