A Top NYC Art Advisor On Starting a Killer Collection


Choosing art for your home is such a personal thing, and for a serious buyer looking to build and grow an art collection, it’s also quite a time consuming and costly endeavor. Eleanor Cayre, a prominent New York art advisor specializing in helping individuals acquire new art works and manage all aspects of their collections, sat down with us to share her knowledge, her experience and her eye for collecting interesting things big and small.

The Inside Source: Art collecting is so subjective. How do you begin the client relationship?

Eleanor Cayre: If I’m working with an experienced art collector, I try to understand their relationship with the works they already own and go from there. If they’re new to it, I help them develop their taste by looking at shows and museums as much as possible before they choose their first work. Almost anything I get for my clients is something I would love to own also.

Do you need to know about art and have clear ideas about what you like and don’t like before working with an art advisor?

No, not at all. Most people start off saying they like one type of art then end up going in a totally different direction as they learn and gain access to what’s out there.

Do you match art to your client’s existing decor?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your art to fit into your surroundings, but I don’t like to work like that. Also, I am more artist-driven, meaning first I find an artist my clients like and then I look at their body of work to find specific pieces that fit into their space. I often work with art collectors who are starting to build a home and decorate from scratch, which I think is the best scenario-I tell them to buy art first then worry about the rest. The art could-and should-be the inspiration for everything else. Finding that one magnificent piece can set the tone for the entire home-and the rest of the collection. I would much rather match pillows to my art than art to my pillows!

Once you help a first time collector client acquire their first art piece, how do you build from there?

I like to put together collections that make sense in terms of a theme. The theme could be emerging artists, photography, work on paper, or California minimalism… I work to creatively find a common thread that would bind the different pieces together. For example, art from the ’60s doesn’t all look the same, but everything being from that period in time makes the collection cohesive.

Once you build the art collection, is your relationship over?

An art collection can always grow and evolve. I have clients I’ve been working with for a number of years and I always keep them in mind whenever I see something that would work for them. I’m always sending jpegs to keep clients in the loop about what’s out there. Also, I’m in favor of collecting from artists your own generation, so you can grow with them as you see their careers unfold.

Why work with an art advisor? Why not just go to the galleries and acquire the pieces yourself?

There is so much out there and no one has time for the intense, full-time hunt. I’m their eyes and ears to offer crucial access to what’s out there. Art collecting is not just about Chelsea-it’s very global, and what I do is very time consuming. I travel to the big art fairs in Europe and spend a lot of time in the galleries. My name is on waiting lists for pieces around world. I’m in contact with dealers everywhere who keep me posted about new work, new shows… The relationships I have with the artists and dealers are very important to the process.

A home is not a museum. How do families and art coexist? Any tips?

They can coexist very easily-my kids are very aware of art and opinionated about the art in our home. They’ve always been very respectful of it-they see I treat it with respect, so they do, too. They often have cute comments when something new goes up on the wall. Sometimes I even hear them discussing art among themselves! Once it’s in the house for more than two days, it becomes part of the background. I think it helps them be more aware of their surroundings. They notice art when they’re outside and they always ask questions about what they see. And they see art in things most kids wouldn’t notice. My mother, Irene Mamiye, is a Brooklyn-based artist, so they’ve really grown up surrounded by art and artists.

Wondering if you collect anything else, specifically on eBay?

Yes! I love to shop on eBay for vintage glass and random stuff like lucite grapes!

Do you ever shop for art on eBay?

I buy artist’s skateboards and random old catalogues from museum exhibitions… Things that you can’t get anywhere else… Out of print things.

Have you ever had any big scores on eBay?

A catalog from an old show, Helter Skelter, in California 15-16 years ago. I use these things for reference all the time! All of my antique glass, Blenko stuff… A loveseat that I have in my bedroom and I got it for nothing! I have a huge collection of lucite grapes I got on eBay-colored balls attached to driftwood. It’s a very mid-century decorative accent. You can get them for $10 or $100 and I just love them!

Meredith Barnett is the Editorial Director for The Inside Source, a digital style magazine presented by eBay. The Inside Source writer Dana Silber authored this article in its original form. Click here to read it in full and to check out eBay picks inspired by Eleanor Cayre’s personal collections. (Image courtesy of Eleanor Cayre.)