The Collective Questionnaire

Lara Cocken

By Megan Deem
December 11, 2017

The Manhattan art advisor offers tips on decorating with, and for, works of art—and explains why some help can come in handy

With more than 20 years of experience in the contemporary art world, the last five running her own art advisory firm, Lara Cocken knows everyone there is to know in the areas of contemporary photography, painting, sculpture, and the like. Which makes her clients, who come from around the globe, very happy.

Q: To start, what is it that an art advisor does?

A: Basically, an art advisor helps a client navigate the art world, which can be murky and hard to understand, and assess the value of various artworks. A lot of people come to me and they have an idea of what they like, but don’t know where to begin looking for that work or how much it should cost. I help them figure it out.

Q: How does one work with your interior designer?

A: My favorite thing is to be brought in on the ground, so that I can work with the decorator to make sure there is a bit of budget left over for art and to ensure we can integrate the art into the design plan as well. And then there’s the practical stuff I’ll help with, like measurements and being sure a piece will fit through the door or that a wall is strong enough to hold it.

A work by Christopher Wool in a space designed by Manhattan interior designer Shelton Mindel. Photograph courtesy of Lara Cocken
A Marilyn Minter work Cocken recently placed in a client’s home. Photograph courtesy of Lara Cocken

Q: Do you need to be a big-time collector to use an art advisor or can you engage one if you’re searching for a single, specific piece?

A: I work with both types of clients. One of the things an advisor offers is access. I may be aware of a piece in a private collection that there’s no other way a person would know about. So absolutely, I get hired on a per piece basis.

Q: What should you know or ask if you’re buying art online, not seeing it in person?

A: First of all, if it’s framed, you want to find out how it was framed. Was it done archivally, to prevent degradation, using preservation-quality mounting paper and glass, and has it been inspected outside the frame? Ask for the condition report and make sure it’s been verified. For example, if it’s a work on paper, it shouldn’t have any dings or bangs. And see what information you can find on the dealer. Do a little research, such as how long they’ve been in business. And you want to make sure there’s something in writing that says the gallery guarantees the work and takes full responsibility for it.

Q: Should you purchase art as an investment?

A: Yes, however, I would say always buy what you love because that way you can enjoy living with the work, regardless of what happens with the artist.

Marilyn Minter works Cocken recently placed in a client’s home. Photograph courtesy of Lara Cocken
A work by Christopher Wool in a space designed by Manhattan interior designer Shelton Mindel. Photograph courtesy of Lara Cocken

Q: Is there anything you think is particularly good to buy online?

A: I feel as though buying editions online is terrific. There’s more than one, so in some cases, if there’s an issue with the condition, the dealer might have another one she can give you. Also, if you’re choosing between a print by an artist who is well-known or a painting from someone you’ve never heard of before, the print is likely to hold its value longer, whereas the unknown artist may not even be making work in a few years. So from a value perspective, editions are a good idea.

Q: What about buying art when you’re traveling?

A: This happens a lot. People get caught up in the experience that they’re having, and they want to bring that home. I get a lot of texts with pictures from clients saying, Should I buy this? I keep measurements of the free wall space they have in their homes in a file I can access from anywhere, so I can answer this question very quickly. And I can also tell them if it integrates into their current collection. My answer is not always popular with them when they are on their trip. But I have talked many a person out of an emotional purchase that just wouldn’t have worked. But if you really love it…just be sure to ask the seller what the shipping and import and export duties are going to be, as those can be high.

Lara Cocken Shops Collective
The consultant’s picks among the pieces for sale

I chose artists that are well-known and have very good reputations. Therefore, the work should hold its value.

Joel Shapiro, Untitled, 1989
Joel Shapiro is a post-minimalist sculptor. This is a nice way to acquire a piece at an affordable price point that represents the spirit of his work without being a sculpture. It’s a small edition, and that’s something to look at as well. Edition size is part of what determines the value.

Alex Katz, Grey Dress, 1992
This is from a larger edition, but it’s really, really beautifully printed. I like his work a lot. Again, he’s one of these artists whose paintings are very expensive, but a print is a way to enjoy his work without breaking the bank.

Robert Rauschenberg, Watermark, 1973
For Robert Rauschenberg, printmaking was very much a part of his original practice. With his show at MoMA right now, his work is more relevant than ever.

John Baldessari, Overlap Series: Double Motorcyclists and Landscape (Icelandic)
Again, a very important artist whose original pieces are not attainable by most. This piece is very representative of his work.