2019 Interview with antiquities dealer Howard Nowes

Howard NowesHow long have you been working in art and antiquities, what brought you to this business? 

I’ve been a dealer for almost 30 years—it’s the only job I’ve ever had or wanted. It’s the perfect job for me. Art has always been my passion, I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures. I tell my wife that I will NEVER retire. Never! After I’m dead she’ll have to pry an ushabti out of my dead hands!

What do you think keeps your interest going, is it the people you meet or the art? 

It’s both. Collectors are fascinating people—we all share an obsession with learning, with art, with treasure hunting. There’s nothing more exciting than searching for—and finding— the piece you covet. And, when it comes to antiquities, there’s so much history and mystery attached to them. When you have trained your eye over the decades, you can see things that others cannot. It is literally hunting for treasures.

It’s magical to hold in your hand a work of art that someone made 2000 years ago, and still see and feel its beauty, and the intention of the artist. Being stewards of these pieces is an honor that we take seriously.

What is your favorite period of art and why? 

There are so many that I love! At the top is ancient Egyptian art. The level of sophistication, the iconic nature of it. It’s an idealized beauty that’s as appealing to today’s modern aesthetics as it was back then. And the arid conditions in Egypt mean that art can be preserved in mint condition for thousands of years. It is, quite literally, timeless.

I also love Pre-Columbian art, which is perhaps less understood, and outside the mainstream. There’s a huge range of works of art from these vanished cultures, and many of them also have remarkably modern aesthetics. With the exception of the Olmecs, they weren’t so concerned with naturalism. Artists today are influenced by their abstraction of form, even though they may not know it.

How do clients find you? Do you think owning a storefront is still important in this digital online age? 

I have many clients who I have been working with for decades, helping them to build their collections. New clients often find me by word of mouth. There really aren’t that many dealers in this kind of work, so collectors tend to know who most of the players are. I also have a very active web based business – I’m lucky in that I built my site so long ago that I come up pretty high in search. So when a person gets the collecting bug, I’m often one of the first people they call.

Are there any investment tips you can share with us when buying art as an investment? 

I always tell people to follow what you love. If it speaks to you, then it’s a good investment

 But I also advise buying the best of what you can afford. The reason for this is that the top of the market tends to grow in value more quickly than the middle and lower ends. It isn’t that you can’t do well with lesser masterpieces—you certainly can, and we have pieces for all levels of collecting. But we’ve seen that, over time, the value of the top pieces always goes up faster.

Also—always, always, always do your research. It’s quite easy these days to learn about the value of different types of art.  Pay more for documented provenance and get condition reports in writing. And nothing is set in stone, so always haggle with your dealer for the best price!

Do you think art is still a good investment? 

I think art is always a good investment. Particularly antiquities, which, when you compare them to the contemporary market, are far more affordable. And they’re not making any more of them! Also, you get the love dividend—you can enjoy your pieces, and pass them on as a legacy to your heirs.

Is the younger generation buying much art? How do you perk their interest? 

Younger folks tend to be more focused on contemporary art but we do notice a growing interest in antiquities and tribal arts. What we find interests them is the one-of-a-kind, authentic nature of the pieces. In a world in which everything is disposable, unique pieces with history do get young people excited.

Your gallery provides additional services, can you talk a little about that?

We have a very busy appraisal practice –I’m a certified appraiser of ancient, Pre-Columbian and tribal art, with expertise in classical antiquities. We prepare appraisals for estates, donation and insurance purposes. At one point or another, every collector needs an appraisal. While we specialize in ancient and tribal arts, we are connected to a wide network, and provide referrals if the pieces are not in our area of expertise.

What is the best part of your day at the office? 

I love coming to work every day. I have two young kids, so getting back to the gallery on Monday morning is a relief! And my wife works with me, so we get to hang out all day. 

But really, I love searching for new pieces, opening the boxes when the pieces arrive, and holding the treasures in my hands. I love sending the pieces to collectors who are as excited as I am. I love doing research. I pretty much love everything about it. As I said before, you’re going to have to pry that ushabti out of my dead hands!

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