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Van Gogh-Betweens : Consultants Judy Slutzky and Nancy Sheffner Help Their Clients Find Artworks That That Will Feel Right at Home

August 26, 1995|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When someone goes from wanting to buy a painting to fit over the couch to wanting to buy art because they really like it, art consultants Judy Slutzky and Nancy Sheffner feel they've done their job.

"You don't buy art to match the furniture," Sheffner said. "You buy art because you love it."

Any size or color art can go in a home if the owners respond to the work, she said, and fine art becomes more interesting and involving with each passing year.

"For about the same amount of money that you'd spend on a piece of decorative art, you can get a lithograph by a famous artist or an emerging one that you'll enjoy more and may even go up in value. Although there are no guarantees of that, still it's art with something behind it," Sheffner said.

Working together for eight years, Sheffner and Slutzky act as liaisons between their clients and galleries or artists. They work on commission and do not represent any particular artist or gallery; instead, they search for art for their clients' homes.

When they begin helping people start or add to an art collection, Slutzky and Sheffner often advise them to review their budget, start in one area and wait to get exactly what they want.

"There is never a sense of urgency," Sheffner said. "They have to get something they like and can live with. It's better to have one great piece and blank walls than walls filled with art you don't like."

"I had empty walls for years," Slutzky said, laughing. "We never had the feeling that we had to fill the walls up right away. Sometimes that's the problem with working with some designers because they want to see a totally finished product."

Seeing art at galleries and museums is one way to learn about your style preferences.

"When we don't have a sense of what people like, we ask them to go through magazines or art catalogues and put little yellow markers by art they respond to," Sheffner said.

From this, they find out if the client likes figurative work or abstract work, large brightly colored pieces or small monochromatic prints.

Slutzky said that because the formal aspects of art include color and form, people naturally pick art in colors they like.

"But after they've been buying for a while," she said, "they discover art in every color, and it begins to take on a different dimension. Then we know that they're very excited about it. Nobody has a collection of only blue paintings."

Slutzky and Sheffner suggest that when you go to a gallery, you should never be afraid to ask questions about the artwork on display or request to see what's in the back room.

"We have been going to contemporary art galleries for years, and there's a lot more art than what's on the wall in every gallery," Slutzky said.

Once the artwork is purchased, the place it is displayed in the home is important.

Even if a work only cost a few dollars and has strictly sentimental value, frame it properly so it will last.

"We've seen examples of works turning beige or getting spotted because of improper framing. These things can be restored, but it's expensive," Slutzky said.

Works on paper should not be near windows because of the possibility of light damage, and they should be covered in UV glass. Oil paintings should be kept away from the sun because colors will fade.

"In my house I have skylights, so I have them treated with UV glass. That blocks out over 90% of the harmful rays," Slutzky said.

"When we get something framed, the framer will ask us where the work will be hung," Sheffner said. "Its placement will depend on what kind of absorption papers he will use for backing, because moisture can often be a problem."

Patina is sensitive to moisture. If you buy works from artists who aren't used to damp climates, they may not know how their patina or finish will hold up. "We have had to hire experts in patina to finish works since the artist wasn't capable of doing it," Slutzky said. "You also have to consider the question of whether or not the work can go outside."

Living in an earthquake-prone area, it's important that sculptures and ceramics be secured. If the sculpture is on a pedestal, use an adhesive to keep it on the pedestal and secure the pedestal as well. "If you have a ceramic vessel, you can put clean sand in it to keep it stable," Slutzky said.

There are other considerations.

"Once we bought a wooden sculpture that we noticed later on had termites in it," Slutzky said. "Of course, we took it back. But who would think of that? When we sell a work, we have to be very sure of its longevity. It's very expensive to restore things and very discouraging to have to return them."

Although Slutzky and Sheffner are contemporary art collectors, their homes are very different.

Slutzky and her husband, Joel, live in a high-ceilinged, contemporary-style house in Newport Beach with large paintings and sculptures. There are also traditional elements, with medieval plates and trompe l'oeil doors.

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