Joshua Roth has art collecting and deal making in his blood; his father, Steven, cofounded the Hollywood talent powerhouse Creative Artists Agency, sits on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and marinated young Joshua in the art world. Roth, 36, is now an attorney at Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avechen & Shapiro in Los Angeles, specializing in the rarefied realm of art law and handling sensitive high-dollar deals between collectors, galleries, dealers, artists, auction houses, museums, and every combination of same. Roth knows his territory well; he came of age as a collector at 23, paying $1,500 for a Raymond Pettibon drawing. Today he has assembled a collection of more than 40 works that concentrates on L.A. artists.
What should a collector look for in an art lawyer?
Art is a $65 billion–a–year business. It’s a very clubby, very cliquish, very closed-off world, so you want someone who really knows the counterparties in your deals. Art is a typical supply-and-demand market, where the supply is low relative to the amount of people who want to buy . . .
And artists want to keep the supply low as well.
They do, because they know that the more they put out into the world, the greater risk they have that the art ends up in the hands of people who have bad intentions, who are what’s known as flippers. So the artists are very wary of who gets the artwork. They want to create these sustainable markets where art is held in the hands of the people who really matter, who are influential collectors, who are respected by or who have connections with museums, and are people who are not involved in the market for purely speculative purposes.
How does an art lawyer help collectors?
One collector who I’m helping right now is buying an expensive painting that’s in high demand from a gallery in New York. The gallery knows that the moment they transfer the painting to this person, it’s worth 10 times what the person is paying. What we did here was forge a relationship with the gallery. We came up with a plan whereby this collector would donate the work to a major museum. Ultimately, my mission was to create a scenario where the two parties had enough mutual respect and trust with each other.
What is the biggest mistake a collector can make?
When they buy solely what they think is a good investment. One thing that is true with art or any kind of passion investment is that you really do have to fall in love with it. Generally, if you’re passionate about something, then other people will feel the same way. If you’re looking at something purely as an investment, you’re much more likely to buy something that’s not going to have any value. You want to think, “Is it a quality work of art? Does it move me? Does it have a historical reference? Is there academic support behind it? Is it serious, and would I like to live with it?” Those are the most important things.