The art consultant Dianne Brown and I recently met for a ladylike tea at the One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai. Carrying a classic Prada handbag, dressed all in black with glossy brown hair and the coy smile of Mona Lisa, she spun an afternoon of fairytales about the art world. Originally from Florida, Dianne became a lifelong expat and lived in Budapest for many years before relocating to the UAE in 2009.
When she first moved to Hungary it was immediately after the fall of Communism. Intrigued, she began to study Hungarian art and got involved in the commercial side of things. She has a delicious way with words and I lost myself in her description of Budapest’s emerging arts scene the way I might in a consuming novel:
“In the Post-Communism era, the art community had to go through significant changes. First of all, the museums had been fully funded by the state so there was never before any impetus to please the public. During Communism you were told what to think and the government controlled everything, including the arts. The Hungarians are hard-core, obsessive collectors—it is part of their national character. They had some of the biggest art collectors in Europe at the beginning of the early 20th century, and people had to hide away their family collections for fifty years.” After Communism fell, the collectors and auction houses came back with passion and Dianne was in the thick of it, ultimately as a gallery owner, but also consulting with the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest to restore some of the national treasures that had been hidden and neglected for years.
After more than a decade in Hungary, Dianne and her husband grew restless and decided it was time to move on to Dubai, their next adventure. It was here that she unexpectedly fell into art logistics, the business of handling and shipping fine art. She has safely sent thousand of pieces of art to new homes all over the world. Educating collectors and UAE gallerists about proper handling and logistics has become a passion. “People are spending so much money and then damaging their cherished possessions. It’s as simple as knowing that if you touch the surface of a painting it absorbs your fingerprint forever, which you cannot always clean without further damaging the piece. When your children inherit the painting the fingerprint will still be visible. The piece of art should be famous, not your fingerprint!”
She is entirely too professional to reveal any details about her clients, but did tell me this particularly juicy (at least to an art geek) story in general terms: “A new client was referred to me by a friend. He showed me a painting he wanted to send to the US and explained that it was an abstract piece he had owned since 1975, which he paid $250,000 for at the time. Although the client wanted to keep the artist’s identity secret, it was not a stretch for me to guess that it was by one of the abstract 1950’s painters. I arrived at his home and found a masterpiece hanging on the wall. Unfortunately it had gotten quite banged up over the years from living with a family. A painting is a living thing. It is made out of linen and earth pigments and oil. It reacts to climate. When it gets old it gets brittle. You should think about treating it the way you would your grandmother.”
I was by this time in the story able to guess the artist whose painting Dianne was referring to. Have you figured it out yet? After the painting had been crated up, a hurricane hit and the shipment date was unexpectedly delayed by 24 hours. She remembers carefully unpacking it, setting it on the floor, and spending an entire evening communing with it, examining every square inch of it “to understand and absorb as much as I could. Ironically, it was not the magical, transcendental experience I had hoped to have, that I had shared with other works of art, although I did truly appreciate the technique that had been used.”
As an independent art consultant, Dianne frequently offers recommendations and education and is often contacted by young collectors. She offers this parting advice to you: “Don’t buy because you think it’s a good investment. A lot of beginning collectors get paralyzed because they think their purchases also need to be wise business decisions. Usually only art at the absolute high end will rise in value later. As long as you buy something you like, it’s not a mistake. Once you buy your first piece, you’ll never stop.”
You can visit Dianne Brown on Twitter here.