Sima Familant began her career in the art world at Baumgartner Gallery in Washington, DC. She later moved to New York and worked as director and curator at Greene Naftali Gallery – one of the first galleries to settle in Chelsea. Familant next found herself at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, which she ultimately left to pursue her passion for contemporary art as an art advisor and independent curator. She now has an international client-base of collectors that she assists on the expansion of their collection, development of taste, access, and curatorial vision.
WHITEWALL: How did you become the successful art advisor that you are today?
SIMA FAMILANT: I started when I went to graduate school in London. I went to Sotheby’s Institute and did my Masters in Post-Modern and Contemporary Art, Art History, and Critical Theory, and this was around 1995, 1996. I had a really dynamic class, and we had great teachers. We also traveled to England, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Holland. That was groundbreaking, in terms of what it meant to work in the contemporary art world. You have to travel, be curious, get out there, and figure out where the next gallery is opening. I went to some crazy places, but I saw great things. If you don’t seek it out, you’re not going to see it.
I moved to New York, and my daily life was in the art world: making friends, learning where the openings were, learning who the artists are and the players and the system. It was a good moment to be in New York.
But in the past seven years, it has been crazy. I started my own company in the middle of the chaos, and people were interested. Everybody wanted to be in, wanted an opportunity.
WW: What made you want to shift from working at a gallery to becoming an art advisor?
SF: When I worked at the gallery, I was always recommending artists, and I enjoyed it. I would always admire the art advisors, and I think in the back of my mind, I knew I was going to do that. I was interested in having my own business, and I didn’t want to compete.
Being in the art world for almost 10 years, I knew people, and when you are in a gallery, you have to mend your shop. It’s hard to manage artists and collectors, and I was exhausted because you kind of have to hold everybody’s hands. I was much more interested in talking to an artist about completing something instead of helping them complete something.
WW: What would you say is the primary age group of your clientele?
SF: It kind of varies, but it’s predominantly fifty and under, so super-young and super-engaged. And everyone is interested in collecting their generation. They like to meet the artists, go to studio visits, do lectures at their houses and parties.
WW: At what point do you think a young collector should turn to an art advisor?
SF: I think as soon as you’re ready to get serious and spend some money. If you’re spending $50 thousand and over, look for advice. Some of my budgets are from $500,000 to $1 million. At that level you don’t want to make mistakes, you want to be smart.
WW: Do you think it’s important for clients to diversify? Do you often recommend adding a little bit of different art to a client’s collection?
SF: I have clients who only want to collect from young artists, and sometimes it’s very high risk. There are others who like A, B, and C, some like to see everything, some are more eclectic, some like photography, and the fun and challenging thing is to figure out their taste. So I have to figure out what they like, and the education is the big thing that they’re coming for.
WW: Do you think you attract a specific type of collector?
SF: My age puts me in a different bracket, as does not being from New York. But for some reason, most of my clients are from New York, and that’s definitely helped.
I attract Upper East Side clients, and I make sure they are into collecting and not so fancy-pantsy. I’m not shopping, I want to do a serious job. It’s important to present a client in a way that you feel comfortable with. We can’t be the Pinaults and Saatchis of the world, but we try to make it good while doing it your own way.