A Chit-Chat with Parisian Art Advisor Mahssa Talaï​

A Chit-Chat with Parisian
Art Advisor Mahssa Talaï

Mahssa Talaï came to Paris to do an internship in a French fashion company. It made a lasting impression on her, when she attended a meeting with an inspiring art gallerist. Not only was she drawn to the aesthetics, the experience also marked the beginning of her lifelong dedication to the art world. From this moment on she decided to leave the fashion world for good and started working in the communications sector for different art galleries. One year later she found herself promising, that one day she will work as an art advisor. Today (five years later), she fulfilled her dream and she works dedicatedly to make art more accessible for a new generation of collectors, hoping to be able to contribute to more people having a “gallerist meeting”-moment.


Mahssa Talaï has a strong voice who shares her idea about why art matters to her and being a crucial part of her existence.


What does it mean to be an art advisor ? 


Freedom! An advisor gives recommendations to collectors and companies who want to build a collection. They are not attached to any gallery and are free to recommend works and artists they wish. This requires understanding the personality of their client: their tastes, their expectations, their budgets. Then searching through art galleries, international fairs, public sales, private collections. An advisor helps their clients to always make the best decision. They take care of transport, insurance, restoration, framing, inventory and loans to museums, irrefutable proof of the institutional quality of the works they recommend.


Which difference does it make for you to be surrounded by art on a daily basis?


A work of art is a piece of history. No matter what country or culture the artists come from, what matters is intelligence, clarity and beauty with which they express themselves. Their work says something about the human condition. There are many works that I would like to be surrounded by, such as the geometric compositions of Shirley Jaffe, the minimalist abstractions of Rosemarie Castoro or the monochrome paintings of Ettore Spalletti. His exhibition at Marian Goodman’s Parisian gallery in April 2018 left a deep impression on me. His work is poetic, and so spiritual, it must be a joy to live with.

Ettore Spalletti
Ettore Spalletti
David Wojnarowicz
David Wojnarowicz

How do you discover collectable and precious artworks for your clientele?


I spend my time reading, researching, travelling and visiting galleries and museums all over the world. I am on the lookout for the slightest singularities of the art world! My research is precise because I know my clients’ tastes and expectations and I am radical in my choices. I like to recommend young artists as well as modern artists, but also artists from the Middle/Near East like Mohamed Melehi before they are revealed at public sales. They are being fully rediscovered. Today’s buyers are tomorrow’s sellers; we have a responsibility to them.


How do you manage to find your clients? Or are they coming to you? 


I couldn’t say. An advisor only has a few clients; the collector-advisor relationship is rare and precious. It involves meetings, recommendations, viewings, trips and a lot of luck. My first clients were others’, obviously, dealers and advisors I learned from. Today, they are mainly French or from the Middle/Near East. The nicest way to meet is obviously through a recommendation. But I sometimes contact potential buyers, private or public, by email, if I am working on an exceptional work that is likely to interest them. 

Who are your main clients?


They are entrepreneurs, financiers, directors or presidents of companies, independently successful. They have been collecting for years. They are mostly men but I have also sold to some very interesting collectors who are women. A collector is a person who prolongs the different stages of their life through the works they keep around them. Everyone has their own definition of what an artwork is and what it should bring to them. I recently helped sell a photograph by David Wojnarowicz to a collector who saw his retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2018. 


Is collecting an option for ‘regular people’?


Collecting seems complex and expensive. Yet there are magnificent works available for a few thousand euros. There are also historic works for less than €10 000 but that can be a stretch. I think in order to start a collection, you have to visit museums and galleries regularly. While commercial galleries may scare some away, research and reading is a good place to start, and can spark a desire to acquire. A collector capable of understanding the work they see will be more likely to buy it. The works of Hadi TabatabaiHeinz Butz and Norman Zammitt are good examples of accessible yet challenging works.

Bahman Mohassess
Bahman Mohassess

Can you recall any particular art experience that literally changed the way you perceive the art world ?


The opening of the new Tate Modern building in London in June 2016. This is one of the major events of the past few years. The way it was hung showcased both their Western and Eastern collections; a true rewriting of history. I remember a room where European surrealists rubbed shoulders with Egyptian surrealists. It opened onto an even more impressive room where Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet faced Barnett Newman alongside Moroccan artist Hamed Abdalla and Armenian artist Marcos Grigorian. And on the other wall, four historic drawings by Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess. Their exhibitions and acquisitions continue to inspire me today.


How would you like to bring about change in the art world ?


Many things need to be added to or improved, and so much the better. Of course, as I do a lot of brokerage, I would say that there is work to be done on the provenance of artworks: the collectors who bought them, the dealers who sold them, as well as the exhibitions, catalogues and sales in which they appeared. It is important to trace the exact path of an artwork for reasons of security but also of price. Its “pedigree” impacts on its price and its aura. Provenance is often incomplete or vague, and no one takes the legal responsibility for it. 


Do you think Corona will influence the art market ? 


Coronavirus will affect all markets. However, even if the artistic market correlates with the financial markets, it is very different. If it slows down, it will do so later and more slowly. For, unlike financial stocks, today’s grand masters will be no less important after the crisis; their prices are not going to tumble. As long as there is an patrimonial investment to be made, in a reasonable and responsible way, art is always the best choice. Crises are only an opportunity to refocus oneself on certain values, so significant works by established artists, and advisors are here for that!



In art advising and in working with collectors what are the greatest pitfalls you have encountered and what have your toughest lessons been?


You always have to be honest. Being honest doesn’t mean being transparent. It just means putting the right words in the right sentences! It’s a small world and everyone always ends up knowing each other. We can’t force a sale that could take place without us, but we can explain the situation and see if we have a role to play. I think my clients and colleagues appreciate my honesty, and my way of presenting the works I work on as clearly as possible. I always give as much information as possible to move forward with confidence, especially with masterpieces, such as Thomas Schutte’s sculpture. The work of an art advisor is team effort!

Thomas Schutte, Bronze Woman N° 7, Bronze figure on steel table, Courtesy Monnaie de Paris