“I think people want to work with him because he’s very knowledgeable, very straightforward, very honest,” Joannou said. “It’s extremely simple to work with him; basically you just say something and this is it, you don’t have to go through all kinds of ceremonial process.”
Deitch advised him formally through the bank for a few years, later working “more on a friendly basis.” He played a key role in helping build Joannou’s collection, and the two of them staged ambitious shows that examined the modern condition, with titles such as “Cultural Geometry” “Artificial Nature,” and “Post-Human.”
He also advised Joannou to publish high-quality catalogues, hiring leading graphic designers such as Yale University’s Dan Friedman, to document and edit the books on the foundation’s early exhibits, since Greece at the time was not a heavily trafficked stop on the art circuit.
“Being in Athens at the time, so few people saw the shows,” Joannou said, noting at the time there was no internet. “We wanted it to become as well-known as possible so it was very important to have a serious book.…Deste has been working with this in mind ever since, doing very special catalogues for every show that we are doing.”
Joannou said he never found it odd that his art advisor was employed at one of the world’s leading banks. Citibank just “coincidentally happened to be [his] day job,” Joannou said. “It was always about the exchange of ideas.”
To people in the art world, seeing one of their own installed in a bank was “perceived as kind of fresh and different,” said Koons. “Usually the two points of view were separated.…Of course it was known that people who collected could be from the banking world, but someone who’s more engaged from the creation point of view, it was quite fresh.”
Deitch had found a sweet spot. By the mid-1980s, he and his global networks were “one of the major forces in the international art market,” he said, among the biggest buyers at Art Basel in Basel and at auctions.
“There really weren’t any competitors in terms of this kind of service, helping collectors who otherwise didn’t have access to the center,” Deitch said. In addition to analysis, advice, and access, he and his team would also bring in art historians and conservators to advise on particular acquisitions, and handle the logistics, such as shipping and conservation, a full-service model that has been adopted by major art advisory firms such as Art Agency, Partners, a division of Sotheby’s.
The bank established a clear, transparent fee structure, with an annual retainer based on the level of service required, and an incentive fee “for a particularly advantageous acquisition,” he said.
“It was investment, but in a broader way,” he said. “It wasn’t investment like in the stock market. It was really a very specific, tailored and sophisticated form of asset management.”
Today, of course, there’s an entire industry of art advisors trawling art fairs and auction houses on behalf of their clients. According to Deitch, that’s not necessarily a bad thing—it’s the way that artists can make a living.
“In most cases it’s a dealer or an art advisor who gets people engaged with the art world and helps them with their collecting,” he said. “If you don’t have any of this, how are artists going to make a living? You need an economic structure to support them.”
Christo, the Poster Child for Art Lending