Cultured Magazine

Fall 2015

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Mary Zlot doesn't take a lot of personal credit for her success. Or not as much as perhaps she could. Rather, the venerated San Francisco- based art consultant attributes her position to luck. "It was totally being in the right place at the right time and being curious enough to figure out how to succeed," says the advisor, sitting in the minimalist Union Square office of Zlot Buell + Associates, the firm she shares with business partner Sabrina Buell. Zlot opened Mary Zlot & Associates in 1983, having left her role at an architectural design firm specializing in corporate interiors. In 2012, she joined forces with Buell, a sharp Bay Area native who grew up with the new generation of San Francisco collectors. Zlot Buell + Associates provides professional curatorial guidance and collection management services to corporate and private art collectors with a focus on modern and contemporary art. "Galleries around the world just worship Mary and give her incredible access. I was able to bring all these clients into the business," Buell says. "When we came together, one plus one equaled 10." The two met approximately 16 years ago, when Buell—then a recent art history and economics graduate from Stanford University— sought out Zlot. "I was trying to figure out how to work with collectors," Buell says, "and every single person I talked to said, 'There's one person in this community: Mary Zlot.'" Zlot, who makes a point always to take meetings with students or recent grads, hired Buell and, later, encouraged her decision to pursue a master's degree in arts administration from New York University. After graduation, and with an introduction from her former boss, Buell worked with New York dealer Matthew Marks, who has longtime relationships with contemporary artists, including Ellsworth Kelly and Brice Marden. Then around the time of the first startup boom, Buell's friends started reaching out with questions about art. "All of a sudden they were at a stage in their life where they wanted to collect, and I was giving them advice on how to go about it," she says. "I realized how much good could be done if that whole generation wanted to engage in the conversation, and I decided I could help them get on board." Neither will drop names, but the firm's roster reportedly includes corporate and private clients, including Charles Schwab, founder of the investment firm and chairman of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Google CEO Larry Page; Instagram co-founder Michel Krieger; and Alison and Mark Pincus, co-founder of One Kings Lane and founder of Zynga, respectively. As Zlot and Buell see it, this new wave of San Francisco and Silicon Valley collectors is categorically iconoclast, which makes sense given the region's passion for innovation and disruption. "They're not the kind of people who want to copy what somebody else is doing, so that really continues this legacy of having very personal collections," says Buell. Zlot and Buell are non-conformist, too, in that their approach to advising is different from other art management companies. It's remarkably discerning, education-focused and staunchly above board. For instance, clients are discouraged from buying anything until they've spent at least a year developing their individual taste by exploring museums, galleries and public art. "I call it eye mileage," Zlot says. Also, no purchasing trophies or trends. As Zlot puts it, "Some people collect by their ears and not their eyes. They'll hear something is important." Buell adds: "We don't get that here." Should a client commit to a work and then, later on, wish to sell, the client must first offer it back to the gallery in which the artwork was purchased rather than take it immediately to auction. It's a less lucrative return, but Zlot and Buell believe strongly that this establishes a vital connection between gallery, artist and client that far outweighs financial gain. "In this new art world that's so money driven, I think our practices help you see art not as a commodity," says Buell, "but as something that's about people." 114 CULTURED A STUDIED APPROACH Art consultants Mary Zlot and Sabrina Buell have quietly become the go-to advisors for San Francisco's startup set. BY EMILY HOLT PORTRAIT BY JUSTIN BUELL

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