Robert Galstian: In Support of the Now

An ode to the collectors who keep the art world churning.

A widely referenced international collectors’ survey points to four distinct categories of collectors and their motivations for collecting art.  The art aficionados held deep passion and enthusiasm for all things art related; the traditionalists were motivated by a long family tradition of art collecting; the investors were seeking ways to expand on their financial portfolios; and the hybrid collectors’ broad range of reasons for collecting defied categorization.

About the survey participants motivations for collecting art: 80% of respondents cited a love of beautiful things; 72% described collecting art as a passionate activity; and 79% said they enjoyed occupying their time with, and developing a comprehensive knowledge of, art.  LA-based collector and art patron Robert Galstian fits neatly into two categories of collectors and ticks all the other boxes for the motivations behind collecting.

Pre-pandemic you would most likely find Robert Galstian at one of the in-person events on the art world’s cultural calendar, such as the annual Art Basel in Basel fair; or the Venice Biennale, walking the various pavilions to discover what’s new; or the assortment of Paris art shows and exhibitions, New York City’s museum openings and exhibitions and certainly the December Art Basel Miami Beach where major collectors made their yearly pilgrimage on the hunt for that perfect piece of treasure.    

Galstian has been surrounded by art since childhood. “My parents were collectors,” he recalls.  “There was art all around us in the house,” which fueled an intense passion for art that would lead to his patronage of several museums.  “The first works I started ‘collecting’ were gifts, given to me by a good friend of the family,” he says.  “One was an abstract drawing of a human figure by Salvador Dali, reminiscent of his ‘clock’ figures.  I was very young – too young to ask questions about the work – it finally came alive when we were invited to Dali’s home.  I remember being mesmerized by his moustache.  And I still have that drawing.”   

Other early works include a lithograph proof by Miro, marked “bon a tirer” (good to print), from his grandmother.  His collection has mushroomed over the years, so much so that Galstian says he rotates the works about twice a year.  And he keeps on collecting.  “I’m very drawn to painting on canvas,” he says.  “There is something about paint that really pulls me in.  And when I’m on a studio visit, I like to start with the sketch pad or earlier works to see how the work has progressed.”

In Support of the Now
As he adds to his collection, Galstian looks to contemporary art and artists.  “I like the art of now,
’” he explains.  “And I like artists who experiment with textures: acrylic, watered-down acrylic, oils….”  He likes to support living artists (“they’re often still paying off their school loans and need support”) and likes to buy several works by the same artist, accumulating in-depth.

Which artists command his attention today?  Recent purchases include works by Brooklyn-based Naudline Pierre, known for her distinctive modern combination of lush colors and Renaissance-religious themes; West African-born Conrad Egyir; and, in 2009, several pieces from Aaron Garber-Maikovska, who ultimately created a series of two works specifically for the collector.  “Aaron was amazed that I figured out his code to transform his performance art onto the canvas,” Galstian remembers.  “The movements transform into a kind of grid which he draws on the canvas – walking and turning become right angles, for example.”  Galstian is proud to be his first collector.

For photography Robert looks to artists such as Shikeith about whom he said, “He’s an exceptionally talented artist who graduated from Yale’s MFA program back in 2018.  He is also a recent recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. His work embodies the exploration of the psychological landscape of Black masculinity.”

Friends often asked to accompany him on his art-buying trips, looking for insights and advice, and a new sideline emerged – the eponymous Galstian Advisory was born.  “I decided, why not turn my passion for art into a business?  And so now consulting supports my art collecting.”

His first advice to novice collectors is simple and straightforward: “Don’t rush into buying.  Go to as many galleries, museums and arts nonprofits that you can possibly go to.”  That involves visiting museums and galleries – online these days.  And when they talk, Galstian’s advice echoes that given by experts since time immemorial.  “Buy what you love and you can’t go wrong.  You have to think about more than the investment part since nothing is guaranteed and you’ll at least have something you love in your home.” 

Before the pandemic, Galstian often invited clients to join him at art fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach or Frieze in LA and NYC where he could guide them through physical interaction with art.  “It’s good to be next to a painting or a piece of sculpture before buying it,” he says, “so you can think about how it feels, how it will work in your home.”  That brings up the increasingly prevalent practice of buying and selling art online.  “Video and photography are not so bad online.  Paintings and drawings usually pose a problem in capturing the richness and colors, as they don’t always get picked up accurately by the camera.  You then have the issue of how it looks on your laptop, phone, etc.  It’s certainly much easier if you’re familiar with the artist and their work; however, I still prefer to see the art in person, to have that physical interaction, to see the texture.”

The COVID health crisis has changed Galstian’s mind a bit about online art.  “Online exhibitions are a good way to attract new visitors,” he admits.  “But some Zoom webinars can be exhausting.  Webinars based around themes are the ones that I prefer.  Hearing from the artists or their family members are also very interesting and provide a good deal of insight.”

An LA “transplant” from his native New York, Galstian believes both cities add to the current art scene. “Los Angeles is a less expensive place to rent a studio than New York, and California is such a center of creativity and innovation,” he says, referring not just to world class museums as LA’s MOCA and LACMA, but to technology and entertainment as well.  “But New York is where the major galleries and auction houses are, where the deals are made.”  He believes there are other important art centers to consider. “Chicago and San Francisco are interesting, and Franklin Sirmans is doing a fantastic job at the Perez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM),” he opines.

Art as Change Agent
An avid patron, Galstian supports museums and believes art should be a vehicle for
change – so it’s no surprise he became involved in COVID relief efforts and the anti-racism movement.  “We all became one with George Floyd,” he comments.  “Enough is enough already…I had to do something.”  He joined marches in person and, collaborating with a like-minded London curator, assembled “United for Change,” an anti-racism fundraising exhibition held on Artnet from June 15-July 3, 2020, featuring works by Andreas Stylianou, Catalina Guirado, Maxim x WLS, Misia-O’, Hayden Kays, Jermaine Francis, Jon Daniel, Juan Antonio Guirado and Todd Williamson.  An earlier exhibit, “In This Together,” presented online under the auspices of his Galstian Advisory LLC, raised funds to help support COVID-19 relief efforts and related charities.  

His is a diverse life; Galstian is ever mindful of the sage advice offered by a gallerist in his early days as a collector.  “He said to me, ‘Whatever you do in life, just make sure you’re passionate and enthusiastic about it. Wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work.’  That tells you a lot about who you are.  I started my career in finance on Wall Street…I don’t think I’d be very happy if I were still there today.”  

Visuals are compliments of Robert Galstian
1. Conrad Egyir, Facsimile, 2020, Oil, acrylic and mixed media on canvas 
2. Aaron Garber-Maikovska,Amy’s Kitchen, 2011, ink, acrylic, gel medium and graphite on paper