Conversation with Tom Hale

December 01, 2014

Art + Auction: Conversation with Tom Hale

 

The deluxe new Uovo art storage facility opens the doors of the second phase of its 280,000-square- foot, purpose-built facility in Long Island City this month. Its executive vice president for sales and business development talked to Sarah P. Hanson about the company’s ambition to revolutionize the care and feeding of precious collections and meeting the needs of art connoisseurs and professionals.

How did Uovo come about?
Our principal, Steven J. Guttman, a collector himself, was looking for a New York– based company to handle his holdings. He found most art was stored in unsuitable, retrofitted buildings, and that most facility owners resisted implementing new technologies and were often ambivalent about client services. Steve saw the opportunity to create a game-changing company.

What sets it apart?
In terms of scale, Uovo: NYC is unlike any other facility in the U.S. Another amenity is our bespoke tracking system, a secure digital database that is far more efficient than the analog tagging systems typically used by other companies, and eases access for clients who may want to view works on short notice. We also employ a highly specialized staff, who bring years of experience in art stewardship and security. A client can request to see artwork in one of our six viewing rooms where it will be well handled, well lit, and nicely hung.

In what other ways have you exploited technology?
An insulated exterior panel system isolates the building interior from climatic conditions. A pressurized air system, precise temperature and humidity controls, and a particle filtration system maintain a near perfect environment. To prevent damage during transit, loading docks are enclosed for maximum protection. Our architect, Jack Wilburn, consulted with renowned museum climate engineer William Lull, lighting designers, and conservators. Our state-of-the-art security system offers many levels of protection without limiting clients’ access to works. And due to the unfortunate lessons of Hurricane Sandy, our backup systems include two generators that can run the entire facility off the grid for two weeks.

Who are your clients?
Any individual or institution with a collection that could benefit from our level of services. We care for the assets of artists, museums, galleries, collectors, and archives. Additionally, the quality of New York’s creative scene has meant that our facility has also attracted other interesting collections: couturiers’ archives, rare instruments, memorabilia, and [holdings of] foundations and libraries. We work with clients to devise bespoke stewardship solutions. We can design private storage rooms, fit out archives, provide shuttle services, install pieces, assess the condition of new accessions, and more.

Why did you leave a gallery for this enterprise? 
I was with White Cube in London for more than a decade, through a bull market and some amazing exhibitions. My decision to move was brought about by a number of factors, but most of all by what I see as a dramatic shift in the art world. I could picture how Uovo will service and provide resources for the art world’s post-redbrick gallery future.

Sounds apocalyptic. What do you mean?
We’re in an era that is being driven by wealth funds, agent advisory, private views, and ultra-discreet sales. Traditional forms of art logistics are ill equipped to meet the increasingly complex needs of both the art and the client. A gallery that attends 12 art fairs a year and has work cycling in and out of inventory, a collector with homes around the world, an artist who produces immense pieces, auction houses with top clients acquiring works at various international outposts — they all require specifically engineered solutions. But at the core of all this activity, the art is still what matters most, which is why we seek to support the people who support the art.

What are some of the storage challenges presented by today’s artists?
There is an Anselm Kiefer piece I knew from White Cube. It features a six-foot brick wall, a large lead satellite dish attached to its face, and weighs about two tons. It is covered in road salt that degrades the surface over time, as Kiefer intends. So it isn’t a simple issue of conservation. If a work like this entered Uovo’s care, we would come up with a detailed plan for monitoring and managing its condition to ensure that the collector feels secure and the artist’s intentions are honored.

A version of this article appears in the December 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine.