Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Taylor on art business and forgeries

Author: Ruxanda Renita
Published on: 27.06.2016

Dr. Taylor was one of the first professors who laid the foundation for the B.A. in Arts Management degree in International Business School, Budapest, Hungary – a partner of Oxford Brookes University, Oxford at that time. He inspired hundreds of students in pursuing an art business career. Curiosity and a certain degree of American attitude of saving the not yet so ‘known’ art – the Central European art; brought Dr. Taylor to Budapest, Hungary. It is also the art that brought him back to the USA. After more than four years, I met one of my first Arts Management mentors in the midst of the Armory Show.

Grosland Associate Director of the Masters in Gallery Management and Exhibits Specialization at Western State Colorado University, one of the 27 Certified Appraisers in Modernist and Impressionist Art, a Leon Levy Fellow; Dr. Jeff Taylor shares with us some intriguing information on art forgeries, appraising and research within the Central European and the American art markets.

Jeffrey Taylor on 60 Minutes talking about Beltracchi
Jeffrey Taylor on 60 Minutes talking about Beltracchi

Ruxanda Renita: This May, you took me through the backstage labyrinths of the Frick Collection. You have access to their library, which to art ‘freaks’ like us; it can get the pulse up in a fraction of a second. Is it the access to the Frick Collection that inspired you to become a Leon Levy Fellow? Could you tell us more about the fellowship?

Jeffrey Taylor: I’ve known the Frick Art Resource Library for quite a while, because it’s basically the best art research library in the world, especially if you’re looking for market information like auction and exhibition catalogues. They also have a research institute called the Center for the History of the Collecting that is doing some of the leading work on studying the art market and making that information digitally available to the public. The Leon Levy Fellowship is at the Center and I’m doing my research on Global Secessions at the Fin de siècle, which is when the monopoly salon system begins to break-down and secessions (alternative salons) begin to appear. This process takes places in Paris and then in Central European capitals (Munich, Vienna, Berlin… where the term Secession comes from), but this phenomenon also happened in Budapest, Prague, and New York. So I’m looking at the phenomenon of Secession as it happened across the Western art markets at this time.

RR: Your perseverance inspired and still inspires myself and your rest of the students.  In Budapest, you started art-forensics lab where Hungarian art and not only was ‘investigated’. Your project crossed the Atlantic and together with Prof. Stephen Cooke and Thiago Piwowarczyk you opened a lab at SUNY Purchase. The project caught not only the students’ interest, but also WSJ’s curiosity. What did it take to open a lab in the States and how would you describe the experience of working at the lab in Budapest versus NY?

JT: I realized back in 2007, when the so-called Pollock-Matters forgery case was going down that this art forensics stuff was going to be really important. So that’s when I got to know some people in Budapest who were doing this kind of work, and we began doing these services for the local Budapest market. The difference, I would say was that in Budapest, no one else, not the market, and not the museums, really understood what we were doing so there wasn’t really that peer-review rigor that you find in science in the US. At our lab at SUNY Purchase we really subscribe to scientific method. Stephen is a widely-published chemist, and Thiago is a criminal forensic scientist. Our work is transparent and reproducible, and we rely on published studies in conservation science to base our findings. We also aim to make these services affordable to collectors and the Trade so that the scourge of art forgery can be combatted.

RR: On June 7th, the first auction of Central and Eastern European (CEE) art is taking place at Sotheby’s London. Your PhD dissertation (and first book) was focused on CEE art and you lived and worked in the very center of the Central Europe – Budapest. Now, you are living in the biggest megalopolis of the world – NYC. How did you find the news of having Sotheby’s dedicating an auction entirely to CEE art? Is it surprising or as the Levine collectors said – ‘It is just about time’?

JT: It certainly is time. There’s always been this prejudice towards Eastern Europe (the Cold War distinction fades only slowly) that its art was never important. Just look at art history books from the 1960s, they don’t write anything about places East of Vienna…ever. It’s as if the Iron Curtain existed backwards in time. Back in my early years in the art business in Budapest in the early 2000s, I and some of my clients (NY and LA dealers) were quite sure that Hungarian cubo-futurist artist Hugó Scheiber or the avant-garde Béla Kádár would become big names in the international modernist canon… it didn’t happen. There’s a funny disconnect between, for example, those Hungarians who are in the international canon: Moholy-Nagy, Hantaï, Reigl, the architect Breuer, and, of course the photographers: Capa, Kertész, Brassaï…. And those who are in the Hungarian canon Rippl-Rónai, Csontváry, Ferenczy, Benczúr. A good example of the paradox is that the photographer Martin Munkácsi (who adopted his name in honor of the painter) is far more canonical in the West than the painter Mihály Munkácsy… who, art historians in Budapest note with black humor: “Munkácsy is world-famous to Hungarians.” Now that I’ve seen many parts of Central and Eastern Europe developing bold, self-confident contemporary scenes, I’m hoping we’re going to see the international break-through perhaps on the primary market.

RR: Which CEE artist from the auction or not is your favorite and why?

JT: Among those in the auction, I would say Attila Szűcs. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He is a true craft painter. Among those not in the auction, I would say Alexander Tinei… he also happens to be one of my oldest friends in Budapest. I bought the first painting he ever sold in Hungary. I also love long-time Budapest ex-pat Marcus Goldson who does amazing caricatures of Budapest. His paintings are like Truth on steroids. He is the Daumier of contemporary Budapest.

RR: Recently, you became a Certified Appraiser. You passed the tedious 8-hour long test and are officially the ‘detective of the masterpieces’. Why did you decide to pursue this path? Did you see a need in the NYC art market or was it rather driven by your pure passion towards the art of The Hermitage and TATE?

JT: Well, previously, I was an Accredited Appraiser with Appraisers Association of America (AAA), which is the main art appraisers’ organization, which means that I was a general appraiser. When I passed this exam, I became a Certified Appraiser in Impressionist and Modern Art…. And I get to put the letters AAA behind my name (which leads to a lot of jokes about changing flat tires), but it means that I have the highest level expertise in the field of Impressionism and Modern art. There are only 27 Certified Appraisers in the field of Impressionism and Modern worldwide.

RR: This is the second summer when you are teaching the summer course French Art and Its Markets at IESA in Paris. What makes you to come back there- is it the indubitable art context of Paris, the students or rather a mixture of the two?

JT: Ummmm… well… It’s Paris… who doesn’t want to come back to Paris every year? But also, for me, it’s a great opportunity to mix research (I’ll also be researching the Paris Salon and its secessions as part of my Frick fellowship) and teaching. When I lived in Budapest, among the many jobs I had was that I worked as a tour guide, and a lot of my business was showing American students on study-abroad around Central European cities. I’m very attuned to how to get them to make the most of an international experience, and I think in the four weeks the students are in Paris (June 27-July 22), we show them EVERYTHING: all the museums, palaces, the galleries (both primary and secondary market), the auction houses, and the Clingnancourt flea market. If you want to understand the Paris art market and see all the art museums, this is that program.

RR: After teaching at Oxford Brookes University  IBS and SUNY Purchase; you have just taken the position of Grosland Associate Director of the Masters in Gallery Management and Exhibits Specialization at Western State Colorado University. Congratulations! Can you tell us more about the program and what makes it unique within the other art programs available?

JT: I chose to take the position because to me it was the ideal MA program: the sort of thing that my BA students in Budapest and New York were looking for in graduate study: something intensely focused on the art business. Furthermore the program has a short 2-week residency at our lovely campus in Gunnison, Colorado, and then the rest of the program is online…. Which makes a lot of sense to me, because a lot of young people working in the art business can’t afford to take time off work and be a full-time graduate student. This is something my former students in New York and those in Europe can do to earn an American Masters diploma from a good school and not have to relocate or give up their day job.

RR: During one of our last meetings in Manhattan, you were telling me about a book on the art business that you are working on. Will it be focused on the continuously growing contemporary art market; or would you rather have a more scholarly approach on the evolution of the market?

JT: Well… kinda both. Back in January I signed a contract with Routledge, who are the leading publisher of arts management texts, to write a book with the really sexy title of: Visual Arts Management. It’s going to be part of their Mastering Management in Creative and Cultural Industries series.  It’s meant to be a definitive textbook of the art business, including chapters on the Primary Market, Secondary Market, Auction Market, Museums, Art Fairs, Antiques, and also specialized subjects like Curatorship, Cultural Heritage Compliance, Customs, Transportation, Taxation, Venue Solutions, Business Models, and Connoisseurship.

RR: You have several articles written on art forgeries. Why is this topic so appealing to you? Is it because you enjoy playing with science and chemistry or rather because you enjoy playing the detective?

JT: I think it appeals to me on an intellectual side very much. I see the threat of art forgery as a form corruption of knowledge. I also see it as a serious threat to the art market. That’s why I spent a long time studying the Knoedler case. This is both a professional activity I do through my business, Taylor Art Services, and also something I study and write about as an academic.

RR: Dr. Jeff you ar a real ‘intellectual’ as us, Eastern Europeans say. I will never forget our long conversations in Budapest on Jewish culture, Christianity and art and so many other subjects. What would be your advice to the millennials in choosing their career path?

JT: Pay constant attention to what you do absolutely best. For much of your career, if you want to be successful and get somewhere in the art world then you’re going to have to be good at forcing yourself to do things well, that you don’t normally do well… like be good at numbers and accounting, but you force yourself to be competent at it. Ultimately, though, you should pay attention to what your strength of strengths is and work towards building a career where that’s what you’re doing all day long, but this definitely takes time and long-term strategic planning.