Art Curators and Consultants

Kara Pollnow with a few pieces from the private collection of John and Susan Horseman. Photo by Jason Mueller

When we admire a painting on the wall, we don’t think about crediting anyone other than its artist. But in actuality, many people are involved in the journey of a single work from the artist’s studio to its destination on the wall. From collectors to consultants to restoration specialists, the art world is as varied as the works themselves.

Art consultant Kara Pollnow has experienced firsthand the many facets of the industry, first in the public art market working with Ivey-Selkirk Auctioneers and now as a curator for local collectors John and Susan Horseman.

As the collection’s curator, Pollnow is responsible for overseeing more than 180 works of American art created in the first half of the 20th century. “I have a lot of hats. Not only am I responsible for physically maintaining the works—in terms of cleaning, restoration and reframing, but I’m also in charge of helping to catalog them,” explains Pollnow. Many of the paintings acquired by the Horsemans have incomplete or nonexistent background information. “If a piece hasn’t been previously researched, it’s my job to learn everything we can about it. Any archived auction records, articles, illustrations or quotes I can unearth regarding a work will enhance its significance—and by extension its value to the collection.”

Pollnow also oversees pieces on loan to museums, galleries and traveling exhibitions around the country, as well as advises on any new acquisitions. When it comes time to add something, she works together with the Horsemans. “I offer my opinion based on my years of experience,” she says. “John is very actively involved with dealers and museums that are familiar with his pieces, so we are always hearing about things that might be an asset to the collection.”

After more than 15 years in the New York art market working with high-profile outlets such as Christie’s Auction House, St. Louisan Helene Sayad was well prepared to start her own St. Louis-based business, Helene Sayad Fine Art Consulting, several years ago. Since then, she’s provided her services to first-time art buyers, serious collectors and everyone in between.

The variety of her work—one day she could be at an exhibition meeting up-and-coming artists and the next she could be tracking down a particular Warhol for a client—is what Sayad likes best about her career. “I love the one-on-one relationship consultants have with their clients,” she says. “It’s a joy to share my passion for art, whether I’m helping someone purchase their first piece, add to an established collection or educate them about art in general by escorting them to exhibitions or auctions. It’s a fun way to interact with people and to help build their interest and knowledge.”

The art world has plenty of ‘personality,’ adds Sayad. “That is the most exciting part of the job. You have the academic types, like curators and museum administrators, but you also have the people focused on making a sale, for whom it is a business. Then there are the artists and their advocates, the people who work tirelessly to help bring new work to people’s attention.” Finally, says Sayad, there are the buyers. “I love looking at art with other people and hearing their reactions, both negative and positive. It’s all a part of the experience.”

Sayad says the St. Louis art scene is bustling. “We have such a rich artistic history, and our nonprofit and enrichment resources provide so many opportunities for our community to increase their understanding of art.”