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Liz Garvey 1

On Cultivating Relationships: an Interview with Elizabeth K. Garvey, Co-founder and Director of Garvey|Simon

Elizabeth K. Garvey is the Co-Founder and Director of Garvey|Simon. Prior to its establishment in 2010, Liz was the President and Owner of EKG Art Advisory (1999-2009), and Co-Director of Schmidt-Bingham Gallery (1989-1998). She is also a member of Art Table, a professional organization dedicated to advancing the leadership of women in the visual arts, as well as a founding member of the New York chapter of the Association of Women Art Dealers. Throughout her career, Liz has placed herself at the forefront of business and social advancements, leveraging her experience to further the progress of the fine arts industry.

Garvey|Simon’s contemporary exhibition program focuses primarily on works on paper. Though the roster ranges from hyperrealist to abstract, the artists are unified by their use of unusual materials and meticulous methodology. This interest in circumventing the norm lies at the core of Garvey|Simon’s business mission. Established with the intent of extending the reach of the New York art scene, Garvey|Simon began with a series of pop-ups in New York and the Midwest. Liz is constantly looking to identify and expand into alternative markets and collaborate with other seasoned dealers and galleries.  Liz is also very active in the secondary market, assisting clients to sell their work privately and with discretion.

Liz assists collectors nationwide as a private curator to establish and build art collections. She is always thrilled to help individuals purchase their first piece of fine art. Her approach is grounded, offering clients a relaxed entry into the New York art world. 

Other services include: collection and database management, appraisals, framing, artist coaching, online platform consultation, and selling on the secondary market.

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Liz via video call between London and New York City…

1. Describe your business in 5 words:

Art, access, collector, artist, and liaison. 

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

Well, I’ve been in the fine art industry since I moved to New York in 1989, so it just happened organically when I came here for graduate school to study art history and got a job at a gallery, and things just snowballed from there.

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession?

Being able to ignite passion and interest in particular artists and genres in clients. I wear multiple hats in my career; which keeps things varied and interesting.  What’s exciting for me is connecting the artist to the collector, and seeing the collector get really enthusiastic about their work and then collect in-depth. On the flip side, as a gallery owner who represents artists, it’s always wonderful for me every time I sell a work by a living artist whom I work with, which means there’s a growing awareness for them and that their work is getting out there. 

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession?

Finances, and solidifying the business plans. Making a profit that is acceptable is the most challenging thing; it’s a very tough business, financially. Galleries aren’t like regular stores; we sell one-of-a-kind works that aren’t cheap. Finding new audiences for the works usually requires a decent chunk of capital for various sales avenues such as marketing, selling online, joining platforms like Artsy or 1stdibs, doing a fair, and certainly for up keeping a brick-and-mortar gallery in a place like New York City. You need to be selling a ton of works if it’s a lower price point (for example, $5000) or at least a few higher-end works around the $20,000 mark. It’s a lot to deal with, and to balance this out I also work a lot in the secondary market and with private collectors. 

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?

Have a business plan, and don’t work with a$%holes. Only sell what you really love, and don’t spend money unless you are certain that it’s going to end up coming back to you and more. It’s also really important to talk to others. What’s so great about AWAD and other organisations for women art dealers are the relationships and the ability to pick other people’s brains. Don’t try to figure all of it out by yourself.

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!)

I would say get your feet wet by working for other galleries first. Try to do as much as you can from the ground up. Take a job where you’re learning how to hang art, prepare works for shipping, and use a database. I believe that if you want to enter the gallery business, it’s essential to do all these things for somebody else first. Having some experience in talking to people about art really handy as well. It’s a lot more involved than most people think, and I can’t imagine going into this business without having a decent amount of experience working for other dealers first. 

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address?

The entire art world is changing and is going through a metamorphosis right now. What’s happening is that the very big galleries with numerous international locations represent the most well-known (read: expensive) artists working today, and they have a much larger share of the pot. Smaller businesses instead have to collaborate in order to make things work because just like me, a lot of dealers are closing their physical spaces, working and attending fairs together to get our artists better exposure. This also helps save money in a sense as you don’t have to pay rent for a space that might not be worth having. So the biggest challenge, for most of us AWAD members, is to be able to have creative flexibility in the way we are conducting business and to really cultivate the relationships. It’s great if you’ve been working for a while or are a part of an organisation, but it also boils down to having good relationships with others. 

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why?

Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, known as the Mona Lisa. Image from:
I’d like to be the Mona Lisa, but not for a long time. I’d like for people to not be able to figure me out entirely and be engaged in the mystery. Though not for too long, maybe for a maximum for 2 months, as I’m not a huge fan of crowds! 

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited?

The definite benefits are meeting other people whom you might not have met otherwise. It sets the stage for possibilities, whether it’s collaboration, referrals, or even friendships. Every time I go to an AWAD meeting, I really get something out of it and definitely intend to be more active in that regard. 

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network?

Keep in touch and get to know other people, even if you don’t develop a strong working relationship right away. I’ve benefitted from getting to know other seasoned art dealers who have been in the business for a while. But I might not have known them if not for AWAD, and really it can just be as simple as being on their mailing list and saying ‘hi’ once in a while. 

Building relationships are more important than anything else, I believe, as there’s no real school for learning how to be a dealer. It’s such a niche career, and while you can go to business school, that doesn’t necessarily give you the network and knowledge of how this complex world functions. Overall, I’d say to stay flexible, think outside of the box, never stop learning and never stop networking. // Artsy
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