Eminent global art gallery owner reveals "10 questions" that clients should ask their dealer

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Eminent global art gallery owner reveals "10 questions" that clients should ask their dealer
The main Gallery at Claremont Rug Company contains a variety of styles, sizes and weaving groups from the 3500-rug inventory.

OAKLAND, CA.- In the 37 years since founding Claremont Rug Company, an art gallery that specializes in art-level antique Oriental carpets from the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving,” eminent global art authority Jan David Winitz has fielded thousands of questions from connoisseurs and collectors seeking his advice about how to judge, value and select pieces to acquire.

He observes that whether the work of art is an antique Oriental rug, a centuries-old oil painting, furniture or a piece of sculpture, the questions for a collector to ask a dealer are similar and extremely important to the decision to purchase a piece.

“Every client brings a unique perspective and interest to the equation,” he says, “but all are ultimately seeking to acquire objects of beauty that satisfy their desires and provide both emotional and intellectual fulfillment.

“Since 1980 when I opened Claremont Rug Company, I have been listening intently to my clients and have discerned what is most helpful for them as they go about making decisions. I let them know that I wish to assist them to formulate questions which will help them to more fully understand the piece of art that they are considering. The entire conversation is about making them knowledgeable about, confident in and satisfied with their choice.”

There are fundamental questions to ask a dealer, he says. “Buying art is a different process than purchasing virtually anything else,” he observes. “The intrinsic appeal of the object is central, but it is equally important that the client understand what is being acquired, its decorative application, artistic merit and why it is valuable. Dealers always greatly serve clients by taking the time to fully educate them.

To that end, Winitz, author of “The Guide to Purchasing an Oriental Rug“ and well over 100 articles on various aspects of art and antique rugs, has established a series of ten basic questions that he believes every potential acquirer of a work of art should ask a dealer.

1. Does the piece come from a specific and significant period of the field? For Oriental rugs, this would be primarily the 19th century and the turn of the 20th century (pre-1920), when the ancient natural dying and hand looming/weaving crafts were still practiced in the Near East, and the weavers had an affinity to the ancient patterns that they adopted for their rugs. Virtually every collecting niche has its “golden age” and periods when primarily lesser works were produced.

2. Is the material used in creating the work of art authentic, representative of the period when the artwork was produced and of superior quality? Inferior raw materials (wool, oil paint, wood, metal) can lead to diminished value over time and cancel out the value of age. In the antique rug world, the question is does the wool, camel hair or silk used in the carpet possess a significant luster and elasticity that enhances the quality of its colors? In paintings, it is the patina and richness of the medium that makes you confident that it will age “gracefully” and with purpose, ensuring great resiliency and durability.

3. Does the piece express an artistic vision that is original, innovative and captivating or simply a “copy” of the prevailing style of the period? Many fields of art have their imitators, who might be contemporaries of a great artist, but who lacked the dexterity and artistic inspiration necessary to produce art of lasting value. Beware of “it is similar to…”. Make sure what is presented as “innovation” is actually a successful departure from an existing style rather than simply something different. Do not shy away from asking your dealer what makes the piece stand out from other contemporary objects.

4. Does it reflect great fluidity of design and color? In all forms of art, superior pieces possess a substantial visual depth and texture that captures the viewer's attention and invites them to gaze over a continually varying composition. A highly collectible piece often will literally take your breath away.

5. What impact should a piece of art impart to someone considering acquiring it? I believe it is extremely important for a potential buyer to ultimately have a personal affinity for any object they purchase. Clients should be encouraged only to acquire objects that deeply touch them, intellectually and emotionally.

6. Is it intensely pleasing to the eye? Beyond the immediate impact, does it have a “staying power” that allows you to develop an emotional and intellectual attachment that is present and even increases every time that you look at it?

7. Is it well-preserved relative to its age? For example, a skillfully restored 150-year-old carpet with some evidence of wear and well-executed restoration usually has significantly greater investment value than a 70-year-old piece in unblemished condition.

8. If it contains restoration, as many older pieces do, was it done with “original” material? As an example, Claremont Rug Company does restoration of older rugs with the original natural dye formulae and has an arrangement with a sheep herder that maintains a flock of the same sheep used to produce the wool in the 19th century.

9. If I take a lot of the dealer’s time in an initial visit to a Gallery, am I obligated to purchase something? My expectation when someone comes to my Gallery is that he or she will have many questions and even some reluctance to ask them. The truth is that the more questions I am asked, the better that I can serve a client. Questions are revealing and often lead to making the best decisions about which artwork to acquire. I’ve had clients who have taken long periods of time to decide as they spend time becoming educated. Some clients acquire rugs only once a decade. Clients should never be “pressured” into a purchase is the first rule at Claremont.

10. What is the dealer’s policy that ensures the buyers’ future satisfaction? I stress that there is an important distinction between the “upon approval” process that all reputable dealers will offer and a long-term policy that allows a client to exchange a piece of art for another at any point in time.

Above all, Winitz says, how the dealer approaches the relationship with a client is paramount. “At Claremont, we have totally embraced ‘client first’ as our process. That means both email and phone inquiries at the gallery are regularly answered by someone who has a degree in Art History or has worked closely with me for more than a decade.

“It is extremely important that the first interaction with any dealer be with someone who can answer questions and provide direction,” he says. “For us, customer service starts well before the sale, not after it is completed.

“While I didn’t invent this approach,” Winitz said, “we have an embraced it from Day 1: an educated, entirely satisfied customer results in a long-term relationship.”

As a result, Claremont Rug Company (www.claremontrug.com) has built its inventory from 70 rugs to more than 3500 art-level antique rugs, all of which were acquired under Winitz’s supervision. His gallery has developed from an initial San Francisco Bay Area following to one that now includes more than 75 Forbes’ List billionaires who reside on five continents.

Winitz has also created a proprietary Oriental Rug Market Pyramid© which classifies rugs by their rarity and collectability as fine art and antiques. Carpets in the Claremont inventory are valued from $20,000 to more than $500,000 per carpet.

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