Decorative Art and Design

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We're extremely excited to welcome our newest partner, Art Advisor Carolyn Pastel and her firm Pastel Advisory, to the Keenlee network.  Carolyn is a leading expert in 20th and 21st Century Decorative Art and Design and expands Keenlee's capabilities to include these categories.  Contact us if you have an advisory, appraisal or collection management need related to Decorative Art and Design!

Given that many people are unfamiliar with the Decorative Art and Design categories, we interviewed Carolyn to provide some background:

What is 20th and 21st Century Decorative Art & Design?


Pretty much everything that is not on the wall.  Art is not only paintings, sculpture, prints and photographs but the objects, lighting and furniture we live with. The historical distinction between fine and decorative art is whether or not it is functional. However over the past 20 years those lines have become blurred but that's a discussion for another time.  The category includes everything from the modernist pre-war period from the Second World War to contemporary creations. The furniture and objects reflect the culture, history and aesthetic of that time period.  Currently 1950s European and American design is the most sought-after period and the most expensive as well. The 1950s aesthetic matches our actual environment and way of living, showing purity and simplicity of lines, which makes it easy to live with and to mix with art. The 20th and 21st Century offers a wide variety of styles at various price points. What I find particularly exciting is the development of contemporary design and the applications of cutting-edge techniques, such as 3-D printing.

Why buy something old vs. new?

Both are great. There are no definitive rules but rather guidelines. I prefer to own a vintage original when I can but if that's not possible a licensed version is ok. There are interesting designers in various categories and value levels. If you are interested in earlier works look for recognized and established designers with a solid market and exhibition history. If buying contemporary design I recommend getting information about the fundamentals of their work, buying from a reputable gallery/shop and finding out the production run. 

Are Decorative Arts and Design pieces affordable?

Absolutely. You can buy works from under $1K to over $1M. If you are looking to spend $1k go to local charity auctions and online ones such as Paddle 8 and Artsy. For $5K and above go to a dealer you trust and look at regional and international auction houses. Something nice always slips through the cracks at auction so keep looking and you'll find a good deal.

For those of us in the Bay Area, what galleries can I visit in San Francisco to see Decorative Arts and Design pieces?


As you may expect NY and LA have the most galleries offering 20th and 21st Century furniture and objects so if traveling there I am happy to send you a list. However, once a year you can see many of them in San Francisco at the Fog Art + Design Fair. 

In the Bay Area two of my favorites are:

Future Perfect offers fantastic contemporary objects and furniture ranging from a few hundred dollars to $50,000+. The owner David, has a fantastic eye. He is constantly on the hunt to find new designers to represent. The Future Perfect emails an informative quarterly newsletter called The Present Tense.

Lebreton - offers all vintage objects and furniture primarily from France in the 1940s-1970s. Their other gallery is located in the south of France. They receive massive container shipments from Europe a few times a years so plenty of treasures to find. 


What are your favorite Decorative Art and Design resources?


Architectural Digest is an excellent source for what's new and trending. I highly recommend subscribing to ADPro, a weekly newsletter that gives the latest design news, analysis of trends etc. 

Introspective Magazine by 1stdibs is another one on my weekly reading list. I learn about top Interior Designers, furniture makers and all things Design related. 

Modern Magazine is for true design nerds. You'll read in-depth articles from curators, tastemakers and auction house experts. This magazine produces 4 issues a year so an easy one to add to your reading list.

Christie's, Sotheby's, Phillips, Bonhams and Wright are the best auction houses to follow. There are a bunch of European auction houses that have stellar Design auctions as well. I subscribe to email updates based on my preferences and receive all their 20th Century Decorative Art & Design auction catalogues. 

Ready to explore the world of Decorative Arts and Design to add that perfect piece to diversify your art collection?  Looking for a high quality vintage piece to add something special to your design project for your clients?  Contact Keenlee or Launch a Project to get started!

The role of photography

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Yesterday we attended the 2018 Photofairs San Francisco, an art fair devoted entirely to photography.  We were blown away by the quality and creativity of the works!  So we wanted to share our thoughts on why photography should be strongly considered when adding art to your living or work space.

People often shy away from using photography in their spaces because so much of the work available are shots of beautiful travel destinations, landscapes or animals that, while typically beautiful and high quality shots, are frankly a bit generic in today's world where anyone with a smartphone can suddenly take great pictures.  

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But if you explore galleries and artists who specialize in photography you're going to find a whole world of works that don't fit these stereotypes and are true works of art.  And importantly, diversifying the art in your home by incorporating photography makes for a much more interesting and enjoyable atmosphere than a home or office full of paintings (we'd similarly suggest mixing in drawings/illustrations and sculptures, even if small).

And take a liberal view of what constitutes a photographic work.  Explore mixed media pieces incorporating photography.  Look at very small scale and very large scale pieces.  Photographic collages.  Digitally-adjusted pieces.  Photographs of photographs.  Etc.  All were on display yesterday. 

Finally, spend the money to frame it right.  A beautiful frame will help make the piece, and we'd recommend avoiding mats unless it really adds to the piece.

Want to explore photography for your space?  Keenlee has some really great options in our network and would love to help.  As always, it's free for all clients - interior designers, individuals, collectors, commercial clients!  Contact us or complete an art profile to get started.


What's the deal with prints?

Prints are one of the most confusing aspects of buying art.  There's a lot of nuance as you get into the details of different types of prints, but at a basic level here's what you need to know.

1.  Prints can be a highly affordable way to purchase art by artists you love without spending a fortune.  And, if you purchase them correctly, can maintain high standards of quality.

Alicia McCarthy prints from paulson fontaine press

Alicia McCarthy prints from paulson fontaine press

2.  Not all prints are created equal! (part I) First, you should understand if the prints are Limited Editions or not.  Limited Edition prints mean exactly what they sounds like - a limited number of prints are created, so there is a level of scarcity.  And, not surprisingly, the smaller the number of prints the more valuable they are.  A large run print might have 250 or more available while a typical smaller run size might be 10-30, but sometimes is as low as 2-3.  The smaller the number, the more likely the quality is upheld on each print as well as it's easier to review 10 prints than 250. 

Typically a Limited Edition fine art print is also unique in that there is no "original" piece of art that has been copied as a print - the prints are the originals themselves.  This means that the artists are deeply involved in the process as the printmaking process is part of the art itself rather than simply a way to copy the original piece of art.  Contrast this with mass produced (non-limited) prints which are often, not always, copies of an original piece of work.  

You may also want to understand how many "Artist's Proofs" were created alongside the print.  In theory these are a small number of prints that are virtually identical to the Limited Edition prints but were reviewed by the artist themselves prior to moving to the larger Edition prints.  Sometimes in reality these are simply a smaller number of prints set aside from the regular Edition prints.  While many would consider Artist's Proofs to be more valuable (as they're more rare and/or more "touched" by the artist) the reality in the market is that these will normally carry a similar value to the Limited Edition prints.  But it does help to know how many were created as, for example, if there are 20 Limited Editions and 5 Artist's Proofs, there are 25% more prints available than if you just looked at the Limited Edition numbers.

Also, it's not uncommon to see prices increase as you get further along in an Edition.  These prices are typically set ahead of time and are intended to represent the fact that there is diminishing supply as you get further along, which usually is an indicator of strong demand as well.  Of course all of this might not matter once you get to the secondary market.

Adam katseff photographic print at robert koch gallery

Adam katseff photographic print at robert koch gallery

3.  Not all prints are created equal! (part II) Second, there are many different methods for creating prints:  screenprints, relief, lithography, intaglio, etching, aquatint, digital prints, woodcuts, and more.  There are also many different types of paper that can be used.  Generally speaking and all else equal, the more manual the process the more expensive the print, but there are many other factors that impact price including who the artist is, how many colors are involved, how large the piece is, how large the Edition size is, how many remain, etc.  

So, should you buy prints or unique originals?  That's a personal question, but we'd recommend asking yourself the following questions:

Do I want to have the only one of these works or do I care if others have it?

Do I really want an original piece by this artists, but can't afford a unique original piece?

Am I intrigued by the printmaking process itself, as a form of art, and / or do I especially love the way the print looks (texture, overlaid colors, etc.)?

In addition to offering unique original art, Keenlee partners with printmaking companies, galleries and artists offering Limited Edition prints and Artist's Proofs as we believe these offer a great opportunity to find and own high quality works at affordable price points.  However, we do not offer mass produced, non-Editioned prints as we believe these don't offer as special of an opportunity to own incredible art.

Argentina: Getting Local with Street Art

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What comes to mind when you hear of street art?  Graffiti-tagged walls and billboards?  Clever Banksy works causing frenzied selfies?  $100m+ Basquiet auction sales?

Dig a level deeper and you'll often find deep expressions from artists reflecting the underlying social and political climate of their country and gorgeous murals that would show as well in a high class museum as on the wall of an alley.  This is the case with the street art of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Argentinian street-art has responded over the years to a series of destabilizing events in the country's history, from the military dictatorships of the 70s and 80 (although banned during that period) to the financial crises of the 1990s.  

Blessed with gorgeous, but crumbling European-style architecture, Buenos Aires is like a giant canvas.  And with a strong history arising from the events described above, street art gained prominence in Argentina earlier than many countries, setting the stage for what is now one of the street art capitals of the world.   These works are world-class works, from highly creative, collaborative stencil works to rich and colorful abstract murals.

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So how do you bring street art home?  Many street artists cross-over and do works on canvas and paper.  They'll also frequently work on commission, including for murals (a great option for both homes and offices).  Keenlee works with the leading street art galleries in Argentina to help our clients obtain work from the leading street artists in Argentina.  We also work with numerous other street art galleries and individual artists worldwide, and can help you find pieces from artists you love.  Interested in a specific country?  Let us know.  Have a specific mural you love?  Send us a photo and we'll track down the artist and help you find pieces to acquire.  There's no better way to make a highly personalized statement in your home than by hanging a piece of street art from an artist based in a city you love.

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Upcoming Fall Art Fairs and How to Visit Gallery Shows

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Summer is over and the Fall art scene is in full gear!  

Artists have been hard at work creating new pieces while you lounged on the beach and with September here, their galleries are now hosting regular openings again.  While each gallery has their own schedule, it's typical for galleries to exhibit an artist's work for 4 to 8 weeks before switching to the next artist.  This means that each month there will be many new shows to see.  A great strategy for viewing the shows is to cluster your visits - figure out when opening nights are as they're often grouped together and then hit multiple galleries at the same time.  For example, in New York you might cluster a number of Chelsea galleries on Saturday evening or in San Francisco you might check out the Minnesota Street Project's gallery openings all under one roof.  A great resource for checking out openings is ArtForum and in particular their app, which allows you to search by city.

Looking to move beyond the galleries, possibly combining a great fall trip?  Here are three premier upcoming international Art Fairs to plan a visit to or around:

October - Frieze London
London is New York's sister city when it comes to the art world, and Frieze London is perhaps London's top art event of the year with more than 160 leading international galleries in attendance.  You're also now past the summer tourist season and ahead of the Holidays, so it's a great time to visit the city more broadly.

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November - SOFA Chicago
The Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design (SOFA) Fair is a premier show unique for its dedication to 3D art (sculpture and the like).  With ~80 dealers, this is a great place to see some of the best sculpture and other 3D design.

December - Art Basel Miami
Art Basel is right at the top of the international Art Fair scene, and their December Miami show is considered by many to be the top U.S. Art Fair annually.  Better yet, over a dozen additional shows are now clustered around Art Basel.

As a warning to all - gallery openings and Art Fairs are incredibly fun, exciting events and it's easy to get caught up in the moment and come home with an impulse buy.  Nothing wrong with this at all!  But we also recommend pausing, breathing, sleeping on it, and coming back the next day or weeks later if you still have to have it.  And if you're having doubts, ask Keenlee for help - our Art Advisors can help with quick questions or lengthy purchase decisions and multiple options.


Art Buyer Profile – Caitlin and Rohit

Have you ever wondered about how art can impact who you are and what you do in life? 

Our featured art buyers, Caitlin and Rohit, offer two very different stories about how art can enrich life and build upon beliefs, values and interests.  And, we meet Caitlin and Rohit just 4 months after their marriage just as they’ve begun to discuss how to meld their art interests together in a way that both reflects their new life together but also retains their individual interests.

A work by Caitlin's great-grandmother

A work by Caitlin's great-grandmother

Caitlin was raised in surrounded by art in New York City.  She lived close to “Museum Mile” and her family always had annual passes to the museums, so she would often accompany her Mom on quick stops to see art exhibits.  When she was younger her parents didn’t have the income to buy a lot of art, but in addition to the museums her Mom did a lot of drawing and painting and they had art that her great-grandmother had done.  So a strong artistic base was established.  As she reached high school, her parents had started to buy more art and Caitlin started taking photography classes in school and served as a volunteer tour guide at the Met, and her love of art flourished.  It carried over to college where she (and her older sister) majored in art at Wesleyan, continued to take photography classes, and started teaching art to both seniors and children.  Although she didn’t pursue art professionally, Caitlin kept art in her life as a young adult by making small purchases, often from friends who were artists.  And her parents would gift her a piece of art every time she graduated (high school, college, med school, business school) so she had treasured pieces in her life.  She doesn’t consider herself a “collector” but very much appreciates the joy and richness art has brought to her life at all stages.

Rohit's first purchase, from congo

Rohit's first purchase, from congo

Rohit’s art story is different.  He was raised in Houston and while he always liked art, it wasn’t until college at Stanford that he began exploring it further, such as learning about the Rodin sculpture garden on campus.  Post college as he moved from San Francisco to Boston to New York, he increasingly spent time in art museums and started to “care about art more”.  With a career in business and finance, he recognized that art could cultivate parts of his brain that he didn’t use as often.  He also started to integrate his social life with art, joining art-focused social groups that would hold events at museums or private homes or even travel to art fairs together.  As his love for art developed and he began to buy art himself, he also discovered that he could meld his academic passion for emerging markets with his art collecting.  With Indian heritage and having lived in Africa twice, he became drawn to “art from places in transition, that were figuring out who they were.”  While in business school he worked at an investment promotions agency in the Democratic Republic of Congo and acquired his first piece of art from a local art school.  His next piece was purchased from a gallery in Croatia that had been created by an artist who had escaped the fighting during the Balkans war and was taken in by an art gallery owner.  More recently, he’s taken a deep interest in collecting contemporary Indian art such as Avinash Chandra and Ganesh Pyne.

One of Caitlin's graduation presents

One of Caitlin's graduation presents

Rohit and Caitlin are building their new life together in the heart of the art gallery scene in Chelsea, NYC.  They visit galleries and the Whitney Museum of American Art regularly.  Although they’re not buying a lot of art together yet, they’re enjoying the migration to the next phase of art in their lives as they discuss how to blend their art together into a unified home that also continues to reflect their individual personalities while also identifying areas of overlap where they both engage with the art.  A frequent topic is whether to curate art that works well with the other pieces or to just buy the art that excites them both.  There’s no right answer to this question, and a lot of the fun is in figuring it out, probably with mistakes along the way!  And they’ve already acquired a couple of small pieces together – a fun "Blamo" carved figure by Steven Hansen and a ceramic in Sweden.

The couple is expecting their first child shortly.  Reflecting both how they were raised and how they’ve brought art into their lives, they expect they’ll expose him to art but let him make his own decisions about art in his life.  And Caitlin recognizes that her art preferences have started to bend towards the whimsical as she plans for having a baby in her life!

For those of you who are just exploring art for the first time, either individually, as a couple, or as a family with kids, Keenlee encourages you to explore art that is personalized, to discuss art and make art decisions as a family, and to expose yourselves and your children to art in ways that enrich your family’s life and offer your children future opportunities to engage with art in the way that they choose.

A Ganpati (Gagnesh

A Ganpati (Gagnesh

mughal tapestry

mughal tapestry

alfred stieglitz print

alfred stieglitz print

What Role Should Art Play at Your Age?

We thought this recent Vogue article, "Decorating Rules to Live By in Your 20s, 30s, and Beyond," offered some interesting thoughts about how to incorporate art into your lives in your 20s, 30s and 40s and Beyond but missed the mark on how soon art can play an incredible role in your life.

A fun, intimate work from kim smith - a great type of work to start your collection with

A fun, intimate work from kim smith - a great type of work to start your collection with

Your 20s

Vogue perspective:  Vogue doesn't mention acquiring art in your 20s.  Instead they generally discuss design themes like "be adventurous", "keep it fun, colorful and inexpensive" and "pay attention to how your home makes you feel...emotionally, spiritually and from a healthy standpoint."

Keenlee perspective:  They're dead on with the themes, but later suggest that it's in your 30s that you should start to buy art.  We disagree.  Nothing better aligns with an adventurous spirit, fun and color, and something that can enhance your emotional and spiritual well-being than art!  In your 20s you are likely to have friends who are making a go of it as artists (and if you don't, you should broaden your circles to meet the creative types who are pursuing these professions).  There's no better way to support these friends than by acquiring a piece of their art, which will typically be very inexpensive and, more importantly, will be art that you can own for a lifetime with happy memories of that friendship and that time of your life.  These might be small sit-on-the-shelf pieces that offer intimacy (and fit better in your starter apartment!).  You're less constrained by feeling the need to fit something to the living room of your "forever house" and less biased by a refined decorating style.  Further, this is a great time of life to explore the intersection of your social life and the art world - search out art events at galleries and studios where you'll meet incredibly interesting people in exciting settings.  So what better time than your 20s to start your exploration of art?  And Keenlee's free service can help with this exploration at any budget level - it's a great way to have the art world bring ideas to you based on your personal interests.


Alexander kori girard - a fun way to make a splash with one of your first artworks as you refine your style

Alexander kori girard - a fun way to make a splash with one of your first artworks as you refine your style

Your 30s

Vogue perspective:  Now is the time to buy art.  They recommend that "every 30-something add one key piece to his or her space"

Keenlee perspective:  We agree that your 30s are a great time to buy art (but we think this should start in your 20s)!  Your 30s are when you might start to solidify and develop confidence in your personal preferences and styles and develop confidence.  You might also be buying your first home, which can lead to the anxiety of filling new rooms and the pressure to do so rapidly.  This is where we see people get tripped-up the most with art.  They treat art like a furniture purchase, to be done quickly and functionally, and end up with mass produced big-brand retailer "art".  Or, more often than not, new homeowners end up with blank walls because they don't know how to find art that fits their new environment, don't have the time to find the right art for their space, or believe that they don't have the budget for the art.  This is a very unfortunate missed opportunity, but makes perfect sense!  Filling your living space with personalized art that speaks to you takes time and effort, and this might also be the time of life when you're starting a family and accelerating your career and time is highly limited.  This is Keenlee's sweet spot - we're able to do the work for you, finding great, unique, high quality art that fits your new living space, is personalized to your story, and fits your budget.  We can find you a statement piece that you'll always cherish!


Your 40s and beyond

Vogue perspective:  This is the time to build your collection.  Your style is refined and sophisticated, and you should invest in statement art.

Marie Mondo works in a kid's playroom

Marie Mondo works in a kid's playroom

Keenlee perspective:  While this is a fantastic arc to be on, it's also a very intimidating picture to paint (no pun intended).  Even in their 40s, most people haven't explored art enough to be making collection and investment decisions.  In fact, this is a great time to really broaden your exploration and refine your style, which you may not have actually done in your 30s (remember how busy you were in the last decade of your life?).  And guess what, you're as busy as ever now.  But, your broader personal style is more likely to be refined at this point and you've very likely settled into your stride as a confident adult who knows what you want.  So this is a great time to start to make confident decisions about art.  And, if you have made some art purchases already, this is definitely a great time to focus your collection goals and expand your collection. Or if you're buying art more for decor than collecting, this is a great time to upgrade those remaining walls that are displaying art (or "art") that doesn't speak to you personally or doesn't enrich your environment (or are still blank!).  Finally, this is a great time to start making art part of your children's lives to balance their environment and expand their creativity.  Find room for some unique art (prints are often a great idea) for their rooms or playrooms, and let them participate in your art selection process.  Keenlee is a great resource for all of this, whether you have a specific style or collection preference you'd like us to help you expand, are still filling up blank walls, or are looking for playful, whimsical pieces for your children's spaces, we have experts who can help.

We find that for the vast majority of our clients, working with Keenlee initiates a highly rich exploration and discussion for them about the role they want art to play in their lives and how it should be best personalized for them, often in a way they've never put thought to before.  And it's free!  Whether your a 40-something exploring art for the first time, a 20-something with an emerging collection looking to expand, or on the "Vogue-art-arc" we look forward to helping you with your art.  To get started, simply fill out an art profile here.

Michelle mansour's work offers a sophisticated, large scale way to solidify your style

Michelle mansour's work offers a sophisticated, large scale way to solidify your style

Art Leaving the Nest

Unlike a sofa, art strikes an emotional chord not only with the person acquiring the art, but also with the artist who created the artwork. For artists, their works are like their children, whom they’ve emotionally invested in and now have to let go and hope that someone else will care for them as they have.  Galleries also care about where their art lands as it can impact their artists' brands that they've worked hard to cultivate.

But all too often incredible art disappears into private settings after being purchased. This often leaves the artist wondering about the new home of their cherished work, much like sending a child off to college and then never hearing from them again.

Wouldn't it be great as an artist to know that your work has been happily placed in a great setting and that it's not sitting in a dusty attic or still rolled up unframed for years.   As the new owner of a piece of art, there's no better way to build a lasting relationship with an artist whose work you've purchased and now care deeply about than to share how you've placed that work in your living or work space.  

The artist may even have suggestions for you on how best to frame the piece given the setting you're placing it in, how high to hang the piece, whether it can handle more light or should be kept away from light-filled rooms, etc.  


Claire desjardins work wth interior design by Victoria Leach with Timothy Johnson design

Claire desjardins work wth interior design by Victoria Leach with Timothy Johnson design

art by sahba shere place in a home

art by sahba shere place in a home

And if you're open to sharing it publicly, it's even more fun for broader fans of an artist's work to see where it ended up.

What Keenlee recommends is to share a picture of the work once it's placed.  This can be a public posting of the art in your home on Instagram or Facebook acknowledging the artist or can be a private email to the artist or the gallery sharing the work.  And, should you ever decide to sell the piece many years down the road, it can always help for the artist and gallery to have a visual record of where the art exists to jog their memory or to help showcase the work to potential buyers.  If you've worked with an interior designer to place the art, they will often take professional images of the art in your space that they'll typically allow you to share.

Of course enjoy your art privately every day you live with it, but the more you're willing to share your art with others, including the original artist, the more rewarding the experience of your art can become!

Art by bibby gignilliat placed in a home

Art by bibby gignilliat placed in a home

Art Buyer Profile - Jan and Ema

Margaret NEILL

Margaret NEILL

Why does art have such an ability to transform living spaces?   

It's because art has the power to capture life stories that tell who you are, often expressing memories and feelings known only to you.  At times it may remind you of moments in time, adventures, family, or simply the experience of finding and purchasing the art.  At other times it may be more subtle, evoking the look and feel you want in your space.  Either way, it makes your space into a more personal refection of who you are and how you want to feel. That is certainly the case for Jan and Ema, our featured art buyers.

Jan and Ema are the perfect pairing of two creative types who grew up in different backgrounds.  Jan grew up in Czechoslavakia surrounded by an extended family of artists, photographers and art enthusiasts before emigrating to Canada.  Ema grew up in a very different culture in Japan before leaving for creative pursuits in the United States. Their art story began when they first purchased art as a young professional couple living in Brooklyn.  Since then they have moved to Oakland, are parents to twin boys, and have found a way to combine their many art purchases with art work given to them by family and friends.  Their combined collection serves as a reflection of their family - a coming together of vastly diverse cultures, upbringings and the pursuit of harmony and creativity through art.


Jan and Ema bought their first piece of art using a portion of their first paychecks.  "We told her we were interested in a piece of her work, but didn't know what we were supposed to do next to buy it.  She gave us a range and told us we should offer a price in that range.  Since we didn't know anything about negotiating we offered her more than her high end and the piece was ours."  With that, Jan and Ema purchased a 6' x 5' piece from Margaret Neill at an Open Studios event in Brooklyn.  They then had to carry the large piece home by hand through the pre-clean-up Gowanus canal area of Brooklyn.  It now sits prominently in their bedroom as a fantastic reminder of their art collecting start.

The two have collected a wide variety of art over the years - from outsider artists to open studio oils to Chelsea gallery prints to Chinese woodblocks to professional quality photos from friends and family.  They generally focus on "working artists" as opposed to established, older or museum-quality pieces or artists.  After that first open studio purchase in Brooklyn they kept returning to artist studios, first in NYC and then in the California Bay Area.  While it's unusual for them to buy at galleries, they'll occasionally do so and will make a point of lining up gallery visits when they're travelling to visit family in Toronto, Tokyo or Connecticut, or on other trips.  They've never had to spend a fortune on art and will continue to buy art as long as it fits within their budget.

The result:  An art-filled home with a wonderful, varied selection of art, most of which has a story behind it, either of the experience of buying the art, the personal connection to the art, or the people behind the art.  Alongside pieces carrying memories of purchases at studios and galleries are an oil painting of the French countryside by a Japanese artist that was passed down to Ema from her Grandmother, a Cuban countryside photo from the inside of a vintage car given as a housewarming gift from a photographer friend, an intricately designed ceramic urn from an artist friend in Detroit, and professional-quality photos of Jan's family in Czechoslovakia.  Each of these works is woven into the rooms of their home in an unassuming way that masks the history they contain, but the layers of warmth are with them on a daily basis.


Jan and Ema's house is a great example of the power of art to transform an environment into one filled with joy, meaning and beauty.  Art served as a way to combine their lives and create a cohesive story to share with their children who, like their artwork, will be a reflection of Jan and Ema both as individuals and a couple.  Follow their example and bring great art into your lives!  

Examples of Jan and Ema's art:

lawrence quigley - "the toll of possession"

lawrence quigley - "the toll of possession"

The work to the right is by a Cuban artist they only know as "R. Ramirez".  They purchased it in a Toronto art gallery that specializes in the works of Cuban artists.  They were fascinated to learn that Cuba, like other communist countries for other endeavors, identifies artistic talent early and sends them off for training where they become technical masters, potentially at the expense of original creativity.

alexander befelein - "paris"

alexander befelein - "paris"

This piece by Alexander Befelein is one of the rare pieces they purchased at a gallery.  They chose a small print partially for the price point, but also because it felt appropriate given the "delicate" nature of the work.  They loved the dream-like quality of it, with the work fading in and out and touches of colors and lines.

Wedding day photo of jan's parents taken  by his uncle

Wedding day photo of jan's parents taken  by his uncle

They found this Lawrence Quigley piece at his studio and, while they liked all of his work, they partially chose this one of a devil pulling a baby because it was "one of his milder ones".  A first they laughed at it, but then "the complexity set in" and they found it incredibly interesting and nuanced.  They also loved the visual and color schematic.

R. Ramirez

R. Ramirez


Being "Uncool" about art

Questroyal art be uncool
Angel Zapata - bull fighting watercolors - 1960

Angel Zapata - bull fighting watercolors - 1960

Zapata bull fighting watercolor 1960

I love this ad from Questroyal Fine Art.  First of all, the artwork is fantastic (disclaimer:  I'm a huge fan of traditional American art).  But what I love more is the "Be Uncool" slogan.  I imagine that , like many Old Masters / non-contemporary art dealers and auction houses, Questroyal is struggling to stay relevant with their traditional art focus.  This ad is clearly an appeal to those caught up in the contemporary art craze to look more objectively at all art regardless of subject matter, style, time period, etc.  And I couldn't agree more.

I have nothing against contemporary art, and in fact like most people I enjoy it more than most non-contemporary works.  But it's insane to blindly purchase only contemporary work, simply because it's the new new.  Keenlee's advice to clients is always to start with what you enjoy - not what others enjoy, not what will simply match the couch, and definitely not what you think will be a good investment.  Spend time expanding your horizons looking at art in traditional art museums and galleries.  Sometimes, at least for me, you have to look beyond the clunky, gilded classical frames that often aren't appealing and can detract from the art itself (again, my opinion).  But what's left are some incredible works that stand the test of time the same way that classic rock is still fantastic today, even if it's not from the hot new band.

Here's a personal example of a set of 6 bullfighting watercolors we own that were created in the 1960s by an artist named Angel Zapata.  We found these a few years ago while searching on RubyLane, which is kind of like searching the internet's version of an antique shop.  They were a bit dingy looking at first blush and in some crumbling old frames, but we loved the motion of the works and the series of 6 together and they were a fantastic price.  We reframed them (in hindsight, not the best job, but we did it with off-the-shelf frames from a local framing chain) and we love these works and get many comments from visitors as well.

The point is to spend time finding what speaks to you personally and then going for it!  You'll create a  much richer, more enjoyable home environment for you and your family and feel more confident about your purchases.  And if that still means you're only buying contemporary art, that's fantastic too!



Evaluating art at a gallery show opening

I was at a fantastic show opening in San Francisco last week, "Lil SWIM" at the Luggage Store Gallery, curated by Yarrow Slaps and Auguste Somers.  The show featured work from 68 artists including well-established artists like Os Gemeos (sold immediately), Retna, Swoon (pictured is a 2015 work called "Rosemary") and Lydia Fong (Barry McGee) but also many emerging artists.  In particular, I loved works by Kezia Harrell (pictured), Jenny Sharaf, Rafael Arana, Pat Falco, Justin Hager and Muzae Sesay.  It's hard to describe the energy at a show like this.  The Luggage Store has a rich heritage of supporting young artists in the San Francisco area, and at shows like this the community comes out to support.  I strongly recommend getting on their mailing list at

When I approach an event like this as a buyer, I typically do the following

1) Walk the show once or twice and look at every piece on my own before looking at price books or talking to anyone.  Find the two or three pieces that you naturally gravitate to.  Do any of these really grab you?  (You'll know if they do!  You'll keep thinking about them)

2) Grab a few minutes with one of the gallery owners or staff or the show curators if they're not with the gallery.  Ask them to give you their thoughts on the show.  If it's a single artist, ask them which are their favorite pieces and why and have them tell you about the artist.  If it's multiple artist, ask them to point out who they think the stand-outs are and why.  Then ask them about the ones you gravitated to, to get their thoughts.

3) Now look at the price guide (the booklet laying around somewhere with the information on the works).  Snap photos of the ones you like for reference later.  

4) Go home and do your homework.  This is always a risk at a hot opening, since someone could buy the piece in the meantime.  But unless you're very comfortable with the piece and ready to buy, it's usually worth waiting.  Let the gallery owners know which pieces you're interested in and tell them you want some time to think about them.  They'll give you a sense of other interest (of course they're ultimately in the business of selling, so will probably inflate the amount of other interest, but you can usually get a feel for how serious they are).  Now go do your research on the artists you like and the particular works.  This also allows you to "cool off" after the excitement of the show.

Then, if you're still interested in buying any of the works, you can move on to the negotiation...

Kezia Harrell - "Is You Hungry?"

Kezia Harrell - "Is You Hungry?"

Swoon - "Rosemary"

Swoon - "Rosemary"

Os Gemeos

Os Gemeos

Rafael Arana - "Twist"

Rafael Arana - "Twist"

2017-05-05 19.57.23.jpg

Hi, and welcome to the Keenlee Art Journal!  We believe a big part of making buying art fun and non-intimidating is education about art and the process of buying art.  This won't be information about obscure art history, but rather practical information about buying art and down-to-earth stories about art, artists, collectors, homeowners - folks just like you.  Through this journal, we hope to tell day stories about experiences buying art, educate you about art and provide you with new insights into the world of art.  This will also give people in the Keenlee network the opportunity to tell you about their experiences with art.  We hope you'll join us for the journey and make art an everyday part of your life as a way to open up the creative side of your mind, reflect who you are personally, or just have fun!

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