When I am interviewing Susan Almrud, she is in New York’s JFK airport, soon to fly off to London, Geneva and Paris. Such is the life of an international art advisor. Such is the life that Almrud used to dream about when she lived in Vancouver. And, bold step by bold step, she built the life she wanted.
“I always knew that I wanted art to be part of my life,” says Almrud. After years of helping companies build and hang their art collections, she decided to open her own State Gallery, eventually landing in the South Granville area.
Almrud figured that owning a gallery was the best way to develop an art-rich career in Vancouver. She quickly developed a roster of key artists and she started selling to a broad range of clients. But, she did not love being a gallerist. “There is an enormous amount of pressure. You are looking after so many people: artists, staff and the space.”
As she got more and more hands-on in the art business, Almrud became intrigued with the idea of becoming an art advisor, of helping clients shape their collections and acquire new pieces. She closed her gallery and, for many years, commuted between Vancouver and New York. After having her dear son Sebastian, however, she wanted to settle in one place and she chose New York.
“It made life easier, being rooted in a city like New York, where there is constant access to art. I realized that to be vibrant in this world, you have to be part of it. Coming to New York, 4, 5, 6 times a year doesn’t give you that kind of presence you need to have.”
Now, she travels around the world, researching and hunting down contemporary and modern art pieces for private clients. It is a discreet business where many collectors prefer to keep a low profile. “I love my clients. I appreciate the trust they have in me. There is a freedom in being able to go out into the world to access art that makes your heart sing.”
Looking at the work of Adel Adbdessemed in London
One of the most exciting facets of Almrud’s work is discovering new artists before they get wildly popular. “You see incredible work and you realize that it is going to have historical importance and be timeless. That is something that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.” Almrud was excited, for instance, when she first saw the work of Christopher Wool. “Now, a work on paper is a million dollars. A painting is five to thirty million.”
Right now, the art market is buzzing. “It’s a collector’s market.” When it comes to modern and contemporary art acquisitions, New York is the epicenter, with London and Switzerland following close behind. You’ll find Almrud in any of these places, meeting with private clients, browsing galleries and bidding at auctions.
“Auctions give you an opportunity to get works that aren’t available through the dealers or galleries.” Almrud will do her bidding on the phone. “I like the privacy. I don’t have a very good poker face. Then, you can also strategize how you will bid.” She might be bidding in a private room at the auction house or even watching the auction online and bidding from her home office. Almrud will have discussed bidding strategy and limits with her clients prior to the auction.
The auctions themselves are thrilling and intense. “You don’t want to push the price up. You don’t want to overpay.” There are times, Almrud says, when she has paid top dollar. “At the moment, it was the highest price. Now, when you look back, it seems like such a good deal.”
With all of this exposure to great works, Almrud has come to appreciate a broad range of artists. “I love Gerhard Richter’s Gray paintings, especially his work Six Gray Mirrors – a work at Dia in Beacon NY. I think this has something to do with my love of the rain and overcast days – a leftover from growing up in Vancouver.”
And Richter is an artist whose paintings have most certainly appreciated over the years. “A painting that you would have gotten in 1991 for 150 thousand would sell in the market for between 15 and 45 million dollars today.”
Almrud has a particular appreciation for “the minimalists: Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Fred Sandback. To me, their works are somewhat still undervalued in this market, but they are such an important moment in art history. I very much like the quiet, contemplative work, particularly in today’s world full of visual noise everywhere.”
Susan also appreciates artists from her hometown. “Vancouver has a reputation for having strong photographers and conceptual artists. Great artists like Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Stan Douglas paved the way for the Tim Lees, the Geoffrey Farmers, the Steven Shearers – the young artists that came after them. They really helped put the Vancouver art scene on the map.”
Back in New York, Almrud is enjoying bringing up her son amidst the vibrant art scene. “We’re family members in every museum in the city. I take him out to see exhibitions in a fun way. We saw Jeff Koons at the Whitney, Murakami at Gagosian Gallery. Last week, his whole class went to see the Matisse cutouts.” Susan and her son also get out and about to enjoy public art in spaces like The High Line and Central Park. When she can, she will bring him on her art travels.
Taking her son to the Bridget Riley exhibition in London
Of course, the life of a New York Art Advisor is not all elegant trips and artful city browsing. “A lot of the travel is physically exhausting and it is taxing to be away from home and your children.” You’ll often find Almrud hauling, moving and wrapping the artworks herself. “I like to keep things moving all the time, and waiting for someone to do it for me is not always the best option. Albert Einstein said: ‘nothing happens until something moves,’ so you have to do the work.”
And what suggestions would Almrud offer to those who don’t have plentiful bank accounts, but who would like to start building art collections of their own?
“Just be curious. You don’t have to spend a lot to be a collector. Just get curious and be willing to learn.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos courtesy of Susan Almrud