Understanding the new Future of Art in COVID times! With Thomas Sellin.

Thomas Sellin

By: Alexa Caroline Modugno

Meet Thomas Sellin, one of New York’s top art dealers!

With an impressive array of clientele base and collector network, Thomas G. Sellin is easily one of the most established art dealers in New York City, and that’s not an easy feat. There are so many artists, gallerists, and dealers who have tried their hand in the business and failed miserably. It requires a certain amount of grit and perseverance; and strategic business planning which is crucial to success.

Even in such a highly competitive market, Thomas is able to shine. His deep knowledge of the art world is inherent, as it was part of a family legacy that he took to the next level. With Wellington Fine Art, Thomas excelled and made a name for himself, turning a relatively successful business into a highly entrepreneurial and profitable one. He is an acute researcher with an ability to effortlessly pair clients and collectors with the specified artist they seek to acquire, and his clients can be quite demanding in terms of what they specify as their “taste” level, but Thomas is patient, discerning and calm.

With a background in art from Columbia and William and Mary, Thomas is a fluent speaker of both Italian and French. While studying abroad in Italy in college he was able to hone and internalize his passion for art and develop the refined eye that has made him such a success. He continues to flourish in the world of art, a climate that requires a deep understanding of dimension, color, and design all of which he possesses.

How did you get into the business of art dealing?

My parents started an English furniture business in 1960 at 121 East 70th Street NYC. My father also worked on Wall Street so that was his main clientele who were entertained regularly at the townhouse. Finding it impossible to work with my father, I tried everything from finance to teaching tennis and found the art business the most agreeable. After college, I was living in Manhattan teaching tennis and not making much money. Art gallery openings ran from 6-8 which was perfect. We could drink for free instead of paying hundreds at the bar. I always had a genuine affinity for the arts and ran my own successful dj business throughout high school. I connected the dots when I read John Paulson was collecting the same Calder gouaches which I saw recently at Ricco Maresca gallery. Kaboom! I became an art dealer!

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How did you develop your discerning eye for art and how do you suggest one does so?

We are all drawn to art for different reasons. Some appreciate the historical context of the work, others gravitate toward prestige and price tag, and many of us are inspired by the emotional connection
that forms with the work itself.

Who are some famous artists you’ve worked with who you admire?

Music is my first love. So it’s cool to represent these photographers who have great stories about spending time with The Grateful Dead and others. Photography is ridiculously undervalued right now. It will be interesting to see what the Ansel Adams auction does in December. I just consigned several works to the Bonham’s British Cool sale coming up in February. Loving the artwork you buy should always come first, but if you are thinking about acquiring a work by an emerging artist that might increase in value, it is definitely worth spending time doing research by going to exhibitions and degree shows to see work by recent MFA graduates. The more art you see, the more knowledgeable you will become, which is important for anyone thinking about art as an investment.

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What is the research process like for finding the right artists for your clients?

Frustrating and time consuming but very rewarding when it works out. It’s a business with constantly shifting alliances. Some people will want to work with you, others will not. You cant take it personally. Liquidity in the art market right now is at the auctions so it is important to follow the results. There are around 3,500 auction houses worldwide with at least an auction per week.

What does it take to be successful as an art dealer?

Patience, contacts, research, and people skills- trustworthy, caring, and service. A “good eye” as they say cannot hurt. It helps to be in NYC where the action, many of the trendsetters and exhibitions are.

Are you an artist yourself and do you feel like you need to have an artistic gene to be a good art dealer?

It helps to like what you do. I was a theatre major at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival. I made no money in finance and real estate. I made a lot of money as a DJ in high school and as a tennis pro.

What are some ridiculous requests you’ve had from clients?

A neurotic Texan dealer once had sent the Quogue police to my house because for some unknown reason she thought I was not intending to return her painting. Many clients expect to get something for nothing and they are fishing for prices rather than wanting to sell their art.

How has Covid-19 affected your business?

I miss the gallery openings and Park Avenue Armory shows very much. I am starting an art fund to participate at the high end of the market and also an app SELLINART which is showing great promise.

What do you see for the future of art (artists and art dealers) during these trying times?

Institutional money is beginning to really get into the game as they see the stock market is overpriced and too many people chasing too few real estate deals. They see art (listed and unlisted) as a great hard asset/ store of wealth alternative asset class for diversification purposes. Internet, internet, internet. Double edge sword. Artists can reach collectors directly to transact. It looks like museums and mega dealers are losing some of their control. Nobody has figured out how to become the Amazon of the art world yet!

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