THE BUSINESS OF ART: ROBERTS + TILTON GALLERY
Sometimes, there’s that thing. A feeling perhaps, a connection maybe? You know, that thing that makes you swoon ever so slightly when you see a work of art that grabs your attention. That thing you just can’t put your finger on. That thing that makes you linger just a little bit longer. Whatever it is, it’s taken hold. You saw a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, an installation, or something of the sort and for reasons you can’t seem to articulate, you liked it.
That thing, you involuntarily intuitive n00b, is, well, art. On the surface, art is defined by that “thing.” It’s what moves and shakes the market, it’s the reason for supply and demand. It’s ultimately the reason why the sticker tag is twice the price as the artwork hanging jealously next to it on the wall. But beyond the painted canvas, the unwavering eye, and the creative zeal that comes with seeing a work of art that moves you, lies a much more strategic and far more calculated artistic vision that is the fundamental and propelling catalyst behind “that thing” in the first place—it’s the business of art.
Situated in Culver City’s growing arts district, Roberts and Tilton, the aesthetically potent brainchild of Bennett Roberts, Julie Roberts, and Jack Tilton, has been cultivating, acquiring, curating, and selling some of the art world’s best offerings for nearly two decades. From museum acquisitions and home collections, to navigating an emerging artist’s course or shedding new light on an already established one, the gallery is a connoisseur of the business behind the beauty.
Art is a different kind of thing—it isn’t like buying a car or clothes or shoes. It really is something different. Technology can sometimes make people forget that and just buy the same way they will buy anything else.
“Galleries in LA have become so good that everyone’s game has to be up,” Bennett tells us. “Now, you can’t just run a nice, average program—you want to make sure you stay fresh, especially with our position as a gallery that’s been around for many years.” From facilitating acquisitions for Kehinde Wiley’s retrospective opening at The Brooklyn Museum in February and collaborating on the gallery’s film festivals with Aaron Rose (Beautiful Losers), to introducing new artists to their program such as Betye Saar and Thomas Wachholz, the gallery is staying ahead of the curve. “You have to be involved in so many aspects of an artist’s career beyond just showing the work,” explains Julie. “I am acting as an agent, working on outside projects, doing commissions, partnerships, editions, and books.”
So with all the forward momentum, the process of bringing on new talent must be rather tricky when thinking about the scope of what it entails. We imagine it looks something like Dr. Strangelove’s war room, with the trio entrenched behind a round table, directing and rerouting the paths of a young artists’ creative merits. Bennett laughs, “It’s a little bit more Eyes Wide Shut than Dr. Strangelove. We have a real meeting of the minds on how we find artists; we see what comes from our trips, travels, and studio visits. It’s a little more mysterious because you never know when collaborations will come up. Also for me, because of the Internet, I’ll find things online that I decide to give a chance to, and a lot of it has turned out to be our most interesting artists.”
Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Haiti @ Roberts & Tilton
The influx of the Internet, the gallery owners tell us, has entirely changed the way art is viewed, distributed, and even reflected upon. “The good thing about it is we can sell to people all over the world or expose something new to the world in two seconds,” says Bennett. “The downside of it is that everything moves so quickly. Unless you move quickly, you could lose it, and because you move so quickly, you have no time to think about any of it. Art is a different kind of thing—it isn’t like buying a car or clothes or shoes. It really is something different. Technology can sometimes make people forget that and just buy the same way they will buy anything else.”
Galleries in LA have become so good that everyone’s game has to be up. Now, you can’t just run a nice, average program—you want to make sure you stay fresh, especially with our position as a gallery that’s been around for many years.
With technology changing the game, it takes skilled curators like Roberts and Tilton to navigate the treacherous terrain of an ever- changing art market. Gone are the days of a hearty handshake and a meet and greet—“We’re now selling to a lot of people we never actually even meet.” These days, there are far more elements at play when attempting to understand why the piece on the wall makes you tick. In fact, it appears to be more of a ticking time bomb—a carefully calibrated, preemptively gauged powder keg, erupting in commissions, exhibitions, acquisitions, and ultimately, that special “thing.” So next time you feel it, remember the team of people behind it who made it happen.