10 questions with former Christie’s specialist turned Art Advisor, Bojana Popovic

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September 9, 2022
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11 min read
Bojana in front of Basquiat’s Sabado por la Noche (English: Saturday Night), 1984.

After four and a half years as a Specialist in Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie's, Bojana is now an independent art advisor, guiding her clients in their journey of building a collection. Though independent, she is also currently the key art advisor for Quintessentially members. Prior to her work at Christie’s, she received a Masters in Curating from The Courtauld Institute of Art and worked for several years at TATE Britain, The Serpentine Galleries, and as a Collection Manager for a distinguished private gallery in Zurich and Paris. During her time at Christie's, she also led art history lectures in collaboration with Christie's Education, specifically for their MA classes. Since then, alongside focusing on her advisory, Bojana has offered Art History lectures for Quintessentially, Artscapes and Regent’s University. Furthermore, she has contributed to exhibition catalogs, online journals and publications.  Bojana was listed as a 'Top Recommended Art Advisor' in the Spear's 2022 Art Advisors Index.

How did you get into the art world? What is your first memory of you wanting to enter this world?

From an early age I remember going to art workshops at museums and galleries every Half Term break. I loved hearing the stories behind the paintings. My mother is very passionate about art too, so when I expressed a wish to study History of Art, she was very supportive. I ended up doing my BA and MA in The Courtauld Institute of Art and was almost tempted to continue onto a PhD, simply to stay in that bubble a little longer! It was there that I really found my specialism in Post-War and Contemporary Art, after covering so much ground during the History of Art BA. 

You have tapped into almost all sectors of the artworld - auction houses, art museums, galleries and now you are advising clients and lecturing at Universities. What have you learned from each sector and in what ways do they differ and/or resemble each other?

Like most young people about to leave university it can seem daunting finding your first job. As I had completed a Masters in Curating, it would have made sense to follow that career path, however my experiences in the Curatorial department at Tate Britain, actually led me to discover what I really thrived off. A fast-paced environment thrilled me and I knew that in academia or the public sector, projects would take a while to process and develop. I was eager to get my hands on some art (gloved hands – don’t worry) and learn. So, when I was asked if I would be interested in an opportunity in a small private gallery, Art Cuellar Nathan, as a Collections Manager and Researcher, I decided to give it a go. Immediately, on the first day, we were in the gallery’s offsite warehouse admiring art by some of the masters of the 19th century. Participating in art fairs in Paris and New York was the highlight, not only because I love to travel, but also because there was such a huge array of incredible art under one roof. What I also discovered was that I really enjoyed the social aspect of meeting collectors and art dealers – discovering what brought them to art.

Working in a small gallery certainly has its benefits – it becomes like a little extended family, and I still count many of those early contacts as close friends to this day. But, as my specialism was slightly outside the gallery’s remit and I again felt I needed more of a fast-paced environment, I pursued a position as a Cataloguer at Christie’s auction house.

Over the next four and a half years I developed into a Specialist of Post-War and Contemporary Art. It was a sharp learning curve and I couldn’t have wished for better exposure to art. The sheer quantity of art works that pass through the doors is really impressive. Working on their Online, Day and Evening Sales, meant I was given an insight into such a broad range of artists – from emerging young talents to established icons of the 20th century. The constant practice of writing market reports and valuations, alongside condition reports on the physical art works, built my knowledge as a specialist, and was invaluable training for my future pursuits. There is no way I could possibly advise a client on a purchase of an artwork today, if I couldn’t assess whether it made financial sense in the context of the art market or if I couldn’t vouch for the condition of the piece itself.

I eventually left Christie’s in 2020, because who wouldn’t want to start their own business during a global pandemic! Very quickly I was set up as an independent art advisor and started working on my own projects.  My primary objective was to nurture my existing client base, while forging a new network, making sure that all the work I did, made the client’s experience of buying art easy, enjoyable and informative. I didn’t want to just pitch art works for sale to them, I wanted to be a reliable soundboard whenever they wanted to discuss art. A few of my clients had heard I used to do occasional lectures about the Art Market for Christie’s Education MA students and wanted to learn more. So, I started doing one-to-one Zoom lectures during lockdown, which was fantastic - not only because it was a fun way to socialize at a truly depressing time, but also because it gave me the opportunity to really get to know what art they were each drawn to. Shortly after, Quintessentially reached out to me to ask if I would be able to offer similar bespoke lectures to some of their members and that’s how I got involved with their organization and eventually became their selected art advisor. Since then, I have been regularly involved with companies like Artscapes and Level that offer wonderful programmes of art history lectures to a broad range of groups. Some are for corporate events, while others are for members of the public. I’ve enjoyed lecturing immensely alongside my primary art advising business, simply because it’s enabled me to share my knowledge of art with so many interested people. One project also led to another, until I became a guest lecturer at Regent’s University last year and in a few months will be speaking at Oxford University.

Bojana in front of Lynette Yiadom Boakye’s Cemetary, 2005. 

When you take on a new client to advise, what do you want to know about them? 

The first question when I meet a new client who is looking for advice on collecting art, is whether they are looking to buy as an investment or to hang in their home. The reason I ask that, is not because the options are binary and cannot overlap, but because it helps me understand their priorities and mindsets. When someone is choosing art for their domestic space, it has to reflect their personality, their interior design, the messages they want to project and it’s highly personal. Often, it will involve us narrowing down styles, colors, sizes and of course, artists. Needless to say, it helps when someone has a very clear vision or artist in mind. If they are seeking primarily to make an investment, then the initial conversation is more budget-based. Are they looking for a few less-established names that could be higher risk or one big asset by an established name that will most likely steadily increase in value over time? I am keen to provide my clients with all the necessary information they need to make a good decision. Market reports, for example, are useful tools that can help chart the likelihood of an artwork appreciating in value and it’s something I share with my clients, so they don’t just have to take my word for it.

How do you help your clients curate their collections? Do you cater to your clients taste or do you help them “build their eye” if they are just starting out- and if so, how do you go about that?

I think this ties in well with the last question. Some clients have a clear unwavering vision of what they want – especially in their home. Others are more open-minded and want to learn more about the contemporary art world before making their selection. This is really where my two worlds of advising and lecturing merge and combine. For those who want to be immersed in art and learn about emerging trends or the masters of the 20th century, I organize visits to galleries and art fairs where I lead them around and tell them a bit about the artists presented there. It gives them a chance to discover their passion.

Please share some of the most VIP events you have hosted for clients.

I think one of the most VIP events I organized was for a member of an international royal family. I organized a before-opening time private view and guided tour of the sold-out Kusama exhibition at TATE in London. I accompanied the family there, and it was a truly magical experience to be in this huge museum before all the crowds walked through the doors!

What advice would you give anyone looking to start a physical art collection?

The key piece of advice I would give is go to as many gallery shows and fairs as you can before committing to buying an art work. Really get to know what you are looking for, as you might discover something unexpected that catches your attention. In this way, you will be training your eye and immersing yourself in emerging trends. I would also really advise to go with an advisor you trust who can help with suggestions and market knowledge. Investing in art is like investing in any other asset, if you aren’t comfortable in making the jump on your own because you can’t dedicate enough time to doing all the research yourself, it is really worth getting the advice of someone who is trained in the field and has had first-hand experience over several years.

In your opinion, what are the three most important things to know when it comes to collecting art?

Artist’s market, the work’s provenance and condition. You want to make sure you aren’t overpaying for the artwork you are buying, so it’s important to understand the artist’s overall market – that way you can assess where your potential acquisition fits into the existing trends. Then, it’s important to understand the provenance of the artwork – ideally you would hope the work has not exchanged hands too many times or too recently. When buying primary, this is of course far more straightforward. That leads onto the physical condition of the artwork: the less it has exchanged hands, the more you can feel reassured about its condition. With contemporary art, generally condition should be good, but it is still very important to verify that it hasn’t been touched up or damaged in any way and that the current condition is stable.

Can you share any news or projects you are currently working on?

I just finished recording for an art documentary, which will hopefully air next year at some point! In the meantime, next week, a podcast on female artists run by Intelligence Squared (which I took part in earlier this month) will be released. There is never a dull day! At the end of September, I will be hosting a talk at a London-based Private Member’s Club about how to start collecting contemporary art, which I am excited about! I have invited one of my clients, who is a wonderful speaker, to also provide his insights as he has been collecting for a few decades now and has built a phenomenal collection. He is a real inspiration

What makes you different from other advisory firms out there?

I want to make sure that if a client is buying an artwork through me, that it is above all, an enjoyable and smooth experience. So, I really try to make the process as easy and accessible as possible; I think the lecturing work I have done really helped me find a way to explain the sometimes-complicated parts of the art world, in a way that does not seem daunting. My aim is very much to share my expertise with my clients. I also have a very strong link to a selection of important artist studios, which means I can source incredible pieces that have not been shown on the market and are not really available otherwise. Buying primary, ensures the works have the best possible provenance, are priced well and are also in impeccable condition. When a client acquires a work through my advisory, I will personally be there from start to finish – assisting with organizing shipping, insurance, storage, framing and installation. There were many benefits to working at Christie’s and one of them was building an immense network of top specialists across many related fields, so that now I have top conservators worldwide, the best neon specialist who installs Tracey Emin’s neons and the best framers and shippers all in my phone book!

Is now a good time to buy?

Absolutely! At a time when there are so many instabilities in other investment groups, art can remain a stable asset – especially as it is not linked to just one currency. Furthermore, for those wishing to pass down wealth to their children, art is always a great investment because it is not taxed in the same way as gifting money or properties. Contemporary art is such a vibrant category with world records being smashed consistently – so I think there are huge opportunities for clients!

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