DAVID W. STREETS: KEEPING APPRAISED
DAVID W. STREETS: KEEPING APPRAISED by Lynn Morgan
For the past five years, veteran art dealer David W. Streets has been holding court at his Beverly Hills gallery, David W. Streets Fine Art. A Southern transplant, David Streets arrived in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and established himself as an art dealer, appraiser and consultant.
“We’re very eclectic, “he explains. “For twenty five years, I’ve represented very established artists and upwardly mobile new talents from around the world. I represent artists I like, and want my clients to enjoy and hope that they will want to collect.”
It’s a different, and more challenging business environment from the gentile socialablity of New Orleans Royal Street, where his former gallery was located, pre-Katrina. Instead of the casual, friendly “drop-in” clientele that visited his New Orleans gallery as much to chat as to buy paintings, his Beverly Hills clients are more likely to request private showings and appointments. ‘I’m involved in more celebrity-based sales here, and they are out-pacing the fine arts, especially contemporary art. I’m doing a lot of appraisals: private collectors, corporations, even museums are taking stock. They want to know what they own, and what it’s worth, deciding what to liquidate and what to hold.”
Celebrity photography and memorabilia has become an enormous part of David Streets’ business. “People are fascinated by it, especially younger clients; people under forty from around the world. They want to buy a piece of pop culture, a piece of American history.”
This trend, he believes, has several causes. “This economy, “he says emphatically. “There are people who are making money, especially in entertainment, technology, but they are afraid to spend it.” He also sees a shift in cultural attitudes towards art: “No-one wants to be known as a ‘big art collector’ now. Nobody wants to be conspicuous. It’s become very discreet, and it’s done in the back rooms of galleries, not in front. And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s less respect for legacy, for history, for being the protectors of art and antiques and preserving cultural history. The key for us in the art business is educating a new generation of collectors. There are people who are making tens of millions of dollars but they have no clue about art, about antiques, about collecting and connoisseurship. In the past, the people who built great fortunes built great homes, great art collections, even museums. You don’t see that any more. Eli Broad is probably the last of the great collector/philanthropist.”
David Streets is encouraged, though, by the enthusiasm he sees in young Hollywood. “A young man, a kid, really, came into my gallery in New Orleans,” he reminisces. “He had on cargo pants; he needed a shave. It was Heath Ledger. He had just gotten his first pay check for ‘The Patriot’ and was curious about art. He was a client for years.”
Younger collectors, in or out of Hollywood, are drawn to different categories of art. ‘Photography is enormously popular, “says the art dealer. “When I began in the business, photography was barely acknowledged as art! It was capturing an image, instead of creating one. If you were a ‘fine art’ dealer you didn’t touch it. Now, people are fascinated by the iconic images created by photographers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn and the early pioneers like Stieglitz. Young Hollywood, young technology, young business people aren’t buying paintings or sculpture, they’re buying photography. Russell Brand and Katy Perry and Leonardo DiCaprio are buying mid-century photography. It’s less pretentious. Photography is hip and young and it captures a moment in time. These are iconic images; moving images.”
David Streets is impatient with the “industry”: “There’s so much mindless snobbery. People with degrees in art have such rigid, ingrained prejudices about art, what is worthy and what isn’t. You have to be open to new ideas, open to learning, open to people. I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and I learn something new every day.
“The art business is really show business, “he continues. ‘The great artists know how to connect with people intellectually and emotionally, and how to create images that are important and unforgettable. Damien Hirst is one of the greatest showmen on earth.”
Art suffers, both in sales and significance, when artists under reach, and fail to strive for the epic and the unforgettable, and instead settle for the safe and soothing. “The ‘sofa art’ buyer has degraded the art market, “says David Streets. “It’s my responsibility as a dealer to take new clients by the hand and politely and graciously educate them about appreciating art, collecting art, living with art. It’s vital to make a long-term investment of your time in clients. When you build relationships, you build trust and continuity.”
David W. Streets has found a unique and very modern way to reach out and educate potential new collectors. He is working with “Good Morning America” anchor Lara Spencer on “It’s Worth What?” a new television show devoted to appraising art, antiques and memorabilia. “I’m a consultant, “he says modestly. “It’s a good way to introduce people to the idea of collecting.”
Despite the gloomy state of the economy, David Streets is optimistic about the future of art and the art business. “It’s a buyer’s market if you have cash, “he observes. ‘People are struggling, and struggle brings out creativity. I’ve seen incredible resurgences in Cuba and Haiti after disasters. It will happen here. We’re in strange, uncharted times, but I think we will enter a period of great creativity and excitement and expansion.”