A day in the life of…

Crispian Riley-Smith chronicles a day in the life of a dealer.

A Day In The Life Of ..
This Article First Appeared In ‘Art Of England’ January 2009

My day in the life as a dealer is one that changes depending on whether I am exhibiting, working from home in the Yorkshire Dales (yes it is possible to work outside London!), on the road or in the air looking for stock to buy or artists to exhibit. As all dealers will no doubt tell you it is certainly not the glamour that is the attraction or indeed the reality of working in the art market, but the amazing objects that I see and the interesting clients that I meet, and the challenges that I face in making this chosen career a commercial success. Making the connection with objects is something that I, and I know my colleagues, find easy, but it is often difficult to pass on this passion, however I do believe that if I buy or sell what I believe in then I can sell an object more easily than something I am not excited out. I would also say that a constantly changing commercial environment is a factor I am becoming more aware of, and it is necessary to re-invent oneself as required.

Flexibility is the key, however often this is not so easy, especially when it takes at least 3-4 months to prepare for an exhibition, and at the moment I am working on two shows, one in Harrogate and one in New York. I especially like exhibiting in Harrogate since I get to come home after working all day, whilst the shows I do in New York and London take me away from home and all the comforts for usually 2 weeks on end. Not only do I work on the exhibitions which involves finding the stock, researching the object, framing and conservation I also assist with the running of ‘Master Drawings New York’ and ‘Master Drawings London’, which means that I am usually in contact with my colleagues most days. Though we are competitors we do work together, and have done do since 2000, on joint publicity of our exhibitions in July in London each year, and in New York in January. I am convinced that this helps our clients find the pictures they are trying to buy, develop new collectors and helps maintain and grow our respective businesses.

When I started dealing in 1998 I only bought Old Master Drawings, and it was possible to concentrate in this narrow way, also coming from an auction house background I felt this should be my only focus. In the last 11 years the market has changed, and I am sure will continue to change and develop. Now I work on valuations of paintings and drawings for private clients, as well as for auction houses in the UK and abroad, and am consultant to Bonhams in Old Master Drawings, I sell contemporary pictures, write articles and am about to launch a new internet business in the next 6-8 months. I am great believer in the power of the internet and this is one of the areas of the market that continues to grow and expand over all others.

How the business changes and develops is to me very exciting, and now is a challenging time. Today is similar in many ways to the last recession, namely that confidence has gone. However, like last time, it will come back and how it came back in the mid 1990s was a surprise to everyone. Watch out 2010!