art installation service

Looking for a Sign

Firm Principal and Founder, Jaime DeGroot, reflects on three years in business–the ups and the downs, the chaos and the accomplishments.

Jaime and our new office sign

Jaime and our new office sign

Our company was born out of necessity and therefore, in a rush. We quickly put together the best framework we could just to get up and running. Since then, we have slowed everything down and made a business of carefully considering everything that goes into art consulting. We try to plan for everything, obsess over the smallest details, overpack, and overthink every turn before we make it.

Although we work in a visual industry, a lot of our work is invisible. Behind every piece of art hanging on a crisp wall is a myriad of unseen considerations: construction schedules, transportation, insurance, hardware, and proper cleaning, to name just a few.

Because each project is very different, we start fresh every time and build on our arsenal of knowledge to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Inevitably, there are things you cannot plan for and unexpected mishaps–but finding the best solution for any situation we face during a project is our forte. It is this experience in problem solving that defines the work we do for clients as well as the small business hurdles we face daily and in unexpected ways.

I know there are many people out there who can relate to the sleepless nights, financial bottlenecks, and the heartburn that comes with running a small business. I try to remember that everyone is facing struggles on some level–big and small. When we have had a particularly stressful day, when the challenges are new or completely unexpected, I am left looking for a sign that I am doing the right thing. That sign was literal this past week: the signage for the new office we moved into this year arrived, just in time for our third anniversary.

Taking stock of these past three years, I can certainly say it was sometimes tough. But on a daily basis I am reminded of how much easier it is when you are working with a team of passionate and capable individuals. Add to that a roster of clients that are increasingly passionate and pleasant by the day, a community of talented artists, and a network of incredibly knowledgeable vendors, and you have yourself a wonderful job. When people learn about our occupation, they usually say how fun it sounds, and mostly, it is.

As I look down on this small sign that took a village to hang (Thanks, Aron) showcasing a logo that was essentially procured overnight (Thanks, Joel), I am astonished at what my community has accomplished during these three years. Many thanks to our new neighbors for welcoming us into the 1709 W. Chicago fold and especially to my team members, Brontë, Julia, and Keiko who will forever hold an office in my heart. It is only by your grace and skill that we have been able to hang the DeGroot Fine Art sign–and a lot of beautiful art.

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Conserving A Family Heirloom

A portion of the damaged frame

A portion of the damaged frame

While the majority of our clients are corporate entities with large collections, we also collaborate with a select group of private clients to assist with their personal art collections. A recent connection from a previous project reached out to us to discuss a number of updates needed for their artwork. After a few conversations, we met with the client in their home to reappraise their collection and look into potential acquisition options.

While reviewing the artwork, we were immediately drawn to a painting in the living room that looked like it had a story behind it. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, this traditional oil painting depicted a lively scene with a mother and child, who seemed to be dancing in a kitchen. An impressive, ornate frame that expanded out from the canvas encompassed the painting. The artwork, while stunning, seemed to have suffered a bit from age and had a dim surface over the composition. The frame, too, was a bit worse for wear with one of the intricate ornaments snapped off and sitting next to the painting. The frame’s gold foil seemed a bit dull and chipped.

Our client told us that the painting was a family heirloom, collected by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States at 13 years old. A beautiful work of art that was clearly much beloved, we were quick to suggest that conservation help enliven the painting again. Painting restoration is a great option for protecting an artwork over time. You can read more about artwork restoration and conservation here.

The Conservation Process

The newly conserved painting

The newly conserved painting

We were delighted to bring the painting and frame to a local and well-established conservation firm. A family business, it seemed especially fitting for revitalizing a family heirloom. The skilled conservator first stabilized areas where the paint had cracked. The surface of the painting was then cleaned, removing dust as well as an older layer of varnish. A few small areas were retouched with paint specifically formulated for restoration efforts. Once this phase was complete, a thin layer of archival, reversible varnish was applied to the surface of the painting. This specific type includes a layer of UV protection, which helps to preserve the colors in the artwork over time. Reapplication of varnish enhances the details of a painting, illuminating delicate brushwork and subtle changes in color. This process can make artwork look brand new again.

The frame was repaired as well. The conservator was able to reattach the broken ornamentation and reapply the gold pigment. By the time the work was complete, the artwork looked like it had traveled back in time. After reinstalling it back above the mantle, the client was able to enjoy his artwork and connection to his family’s history.  

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Have Art, Will Travel

The site of a recent project in Denver, CO

The site of a recent project in Denver, CO

While many of our clients are headquartered in downtown Chicago, we work on projects throughout the region and country. Corporate art advising often involves large-scale logistics management between offices; many art collections are spread out between numerous offices and storage locations, so we manage artwork movements on our clients’ behalf.

All Our Services, in Any Location

We provide all of our fine art services in any location requested. Because we operate a primarily paperless office, we can work on-the-go with remote access to our project materials. The key components of our projects are managed on digital platforms, including collection inventories, exhibition design, and artwork installation strategy. This gives us the flexibility to manage and update projects while travelling wherever our clients need us.

In a few recent projects, we inventoried 700 artworks in a law firm’s in New York City office; installed a 500-piece collection in Washington, D.C.; sourced historical materials from corporate archives in Seattle, Los Angeles, and St Louis; and organized a rotating artwork exhibition in a Denver skyscraper.

Suburbs, Small Towns, and Cities

We are keen to travel for projects of various scales. We regularly install and relocate artwork for clients with suburban branches in the Midwest: throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio. Our team of art handlers travels with us for Midwestern projects and can provide exclusive-use shipping options for the artwork.

As well as offices, we visit client storage spaces to recommend options for installation. Corporate collections are often full of surprising artworks that can be forgotten in storage. It’s fascinating to comb through stored artwork and archives and find items that will be a great fit for a new space. During this type of project we also make recommendations about work that may need a new frame or conservation. We've recently travelled to Columbus, OH to reinstall artwork in a renovated office; transported artwork from storage in Chicago to Ann Arbor, MI, where we selected and installed art that complemented a newly-implemented design program; and acquired, framed, and shipped artwork for an office in Des Moines, IA.

When on the road for work, we take advantage of the opportunity to see fine art institutions that are otherwise too far for a casual visit. We love meeting with galleries that serve similar communities and learning about local artists that exhibit there.

Site Visits

For multi-phase projects, we prefer to schedule a site visit to learn more about the location. Areas of new construction can change dramatically from the initial floor plans we receive, and it's better to understand which artworks will be most impactful by visiting a space in person. This also gives us a chance to strategize with local project managers, see how the design strategy is implemented, and learn about local artists, galleries, and institutions. 

Working with the Local Art Community

We work with elite professionals across the country and make it a priority to support local art communities wherever we work. During our site visits we schedule meetings with prominent galleries and institutions to learn about notable local artists and fine art movements that are important to that area. Every region has its own distinct history and fine art traditions. When we highlight artwork unique to a specific community, that focus fosters a sense of pride in the people who occupy that office.  

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Two Years & Counting

Elvis Two Times by Andy Warhol

Elvis Two Times by Andy Warhol

I've long been fascinated with the idea of twinning. As a child I paired things together into grand collections, making an ark of my belongings. Many years later in an art history graduate course, I was asked by my teacher to bring something to class that represented duality. The next day I came toting my Elvis Presley rubber stamp. The king was a twin in real life, but this trinket also carried a double meaning: allowing for endless impressions of his likeness, each similar but not exactly the same.

Last week marked the second year of our business and with it came a timely reminder that even things that appear identical are often full of nuances that make them empirically different. Our first year felt fresh and exhilarating, with nowhere to go but up. We were charged with the firsts of everything: clients, contracts, cold calls, and even robocalls were a delight as it was all brand new. During this time we built an incredible stable of corporate and private clients; we grew as a company and as individuals. We seamlessly supported our clients with elite vendors in the business of art handling, conservation, and framing through varied art-related circumstances. 

It is only in the second year, however, that comparisons could fairly to be made. Year two was steady and strong, with lessons along the way. We found a natural ebb and flow, learning more about the many challenges that face ourselves and our clients. The most exciting part of this second year has truly been facing these hurtles and finding their solutions. At the core of art consulting, is a quest for solutions -- often artful and inspiring, but at times a matter of logistics or simple perseverance. 

In this past year I traveled to the Netherlands to get inspired by their grand art institutions and shared my findings through our social media platforms. The company traveled to Colorado to hang art in a newly renovated lobby. These trips to the area allowed us to connect with Denver’s local art community. We also brought New York to Chicago, by coordinating a pop-up show in one of our rotating exhibitions. In town, we facilitated an artwork showcase for an important business conference and helped companies with their construction project logistics: moving, storing and reinstalling artwork. These are just a few of the many jobs that are bolstered by our many experiences connecting with artists at their studios and attending gallery openings.

These years have hardly been identical, but our team looks forward to making our mark again and again. Each additional year of art advising will hopefully bring with it a new series of fine art challenges and triumphs. I often remark on how great it is that no two days are the same in this line of work, but it doesn't keep me from gathering them up in my mind and cataloging what we learned for future use. A collector at heart, I’ve learned more is better when it comes to both art and experience.

It is with tremendous gratitude that we enter our third year, knowing we couldn't have done it without our surrounding community. We hope to continue to support local artists and galleries as we grow together, finding creative solutions for corporations that nourish all those involved. We will come armed with our tools and our lessons learned, ready to handle all your art related requests with meter and care because in the words of his royal highness, “Wise men say only fools rush in.”

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Art Collecting Culture

A few weeks ago I traveled to Amsterdam, the capital city of The Netherlands, to explore my heritage and a whole lot of art museums. When starting this company in 2016, I was put in a position to name our consulting firm rather quickly. After trying many options on for size, we landed on my surname which translates in Dutch to "The Great." Growing up I hoped it meant I was a decedent of royalty, but I've since learned it simply refers the stature of my ancestors. Either way, the name conveyed a sense of grandeur and was a perfect tribute to my grandmother who was herself an artist. 

After arriving at the airport I certainly found myself surrounded by those who are vertically advantaged, with a large part of the population over six feet tall. Equally great were the ways in which the Dutch lived; their iconic row houses are towering, skinny, and compact. At night I would peer into the windows as I walked along the canals and was struck by the consistent presence of original artwork on the walls. They even hung beautiful large-scale paintings in their houseboats!

Surely inspired by the multitudes of world-class art museums in their country, the line between historical and home blends seamlessly there. Many of the pieces hanging were contemporary, and it made me wonder why our culture doesn't make the leap as often. I am making a concerted effort to not only improve my own home by investing in work made by living artists but to also help others make their spaces "Great" in the finest sense of the word. DeGroot Fine Art strives to place superior, local artwork in offices, hotels, restaurants, and private collections alike.

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