Oliver Stebich talks about SRI Fine Art Services, its inception, and its place in the art services marketplace.
Oliver Stebich founded SRI Fine Art Services in August 2001, amid the initial flurry of the contemporary market and the Internet boom. Sixteen years, three locations, and nearly 100,000 square feet of fine art storage later, Stebich chats about SRI’s relevance and how they are adapting to the changes in the art market.
Q: Why did you form SRI back in 2001?
A: I felt our industry was becoming too corporate, and I still do. I wanted to bring back a personal touch, a passion for the arts, and a strong relationship to the client. The best thing for art is for everyone who surrounds a collection to be really committed to its welfare – especially when the art is in transit and most vulnerable. I’ve built a company that is based on the key question “What’s best for the art?” and I’m proud of that.
Q: There are a fair number of transportation and storage companies in the NY metro area. What does SRI offer that you can’t find elsewhere?
A: Art collections are intimate, often the most personal visual expression of a collector, artist or curator. SRI offers highly personalized service to support our clients and their collections in our care. Our clients have a dedicated staff member that acts as a concierge to them and their collection – they know their collection inside and out, and is available to handle all of their needs, sometimes literally day or night. We’ve had clients experience emergencies in their homes (like a flood or fire) in the middle of the night and had our crews waiting outside ready to help within 30 minutes.
I also believe that SRI’s investment in technology sets us apart from other companies. For example we have real-time GPS tracking in all of our trucks, which adds a critical layer of security and allows us to be in communication with both the client and art handling team at the same time. We are also virtually paperless in all of our transactions with the client.
Q: You’ve seen lots of changes within the art world during the last 20 years that you’ve been in art services. Where do you see the market going and how do you see your role in adapting to those changes?
A: The collector is changing, the way collectors purchase works is changing, and the materials that comprise contemporary work are always evolving. As art has become more of a commodity, its value has often increased and it seems to be in transit more often. However I think the biggest challenge is to always stay up to speed with the ever-growing mediums that artists are using in their works, and know what you are handling and the best way to pack, move, store and install it.
I believe that information is key. We choose to make sure innovation is central to our development. All of us at SRI continuously educate ourselves in new techniques, materials, technologies and practices within our areas of specialization. It’s the reason that SRI has an Engineering department. A nail in a wall is one thing, but installing two 400 lb. cement tablets into a travertine wall is quite another. You only get one shot so you HAVE to know what you are doing. It’s not uncommon for our Engineering team to work directly with artists on installations. We think it’s exciting to grow ahead of the needs of the art market.
Q: What are the questions that someone looking for a shipper or storage facility should ask?
A: I think it’s really important to know who is handling your collection. Can you go to the top and actually talk to the Chief Executive Officer of the company about how your collection will be cared for? Does the company have a track record of being accountable and handling problems in a straightforward manner? Do they know the art and how to work with it? Are they invested in technology? Do they stay up to date on art handling best practices and training? Ultimately, are they a good match for all the needs of your collection.