Steve Guttman Is the Art World's Consummate Concierge
The Uovo founder discovered a void in the arts, and filled it with a suite of tech-driven white-glove services the industry had never seen before.
Interview by Sasha Levine
Photos by Emily Andrews
August 07, 2017
You’ve got the entire art market cornered: Uovo stores, packs, delivers, restores, and exhibits artwork, servicing museums, collectors, galleries, art advisors, artists, and designers. You haven’t left much space for your competitors.
I don’t really think we have competitors. I think that people who come and see the facilities would conclude we don’t have competitors. But there are other people who are in the business. We’re not in any way creating a marketplace for art, though—that’s not our thing.
As founder, you’re also the perfect client.
That’s how I got into it. It was very clear to me as an art collector, a businessperson, and a real estate developer that there was a crying need for a facility like Uovo. Within three years we’ve gone from tiny to almost six-hundred-thousand feet of storage space. We thought it would take us five to six years to fill our first building—we didn’t think we would have three buildings within three years.
You recently added “knight” to your list of identifiers.
I’m chairman of the American Friends of the Pompidou Foundation. I was fortunate that France recognized me for what I’ve done for that organization. I’ve worn my pin once. No one in the United States would know what it means. It made my mother very happy.
Tell us about your collection.
It started with French and English furniture, and then it developed into contemporary art and American folk art. Our newest thing is art nouveau. I think it’s quite beautiful: It’s not fancy, it’s not overwhelming, but there’s a very big elegance. And it’s very under the radar. That’s one thing as a collector I really enjoy: finding artists or periods that aren’t really in vogue. I guess in some ways I’m a frustrated artist myself, and the way I can satisfy myself is finding something that not everybody’s doing. We [my wife, Kathy, and I] are not really driven to much by what’s going to be a good investment. That’s not something that’s that exciting to us.
You’ve used it to decorate the Uovo premises.
Otherwise it would have been sitting in a storage unit. As a collector, as someone who really loves art, loves design, as long as I am financially able to—I just love looking at the things. Actually, it’s good you put me here [across from Jay Heikes’s “Phosphorescent” (2013)]. I’ve never sat here and looked at that piece before!
They’re great digs. Uovo has a nice modern museum-meets-Manhattan Mini Storage vibe. I heard one collector chose to store with you because you could eat off the floors—which, I can vouch, are squeaky clean.
We always say we’re better than museum standards, because museums don’t always keep museum standards. We’re maintenance freaks.
What’s the next city you have your eyes on?
If you took the rest of the United States and looked at how many museums, how many collections, how many collectors—how much need there is for storage—and compared that to New York City, the rest of the country probably wouldn’t equal the demand you have here. We’d rather serve and dominate this market.
Besides Oscar de la Renta and Giorgio Spanu and Nancy Olnick, of Magazzino, who keeps their collections here?
We have foundations, artist estates, art galleries, artists, museums, at least eleven, maybe twelve—
What’s hiding behind door number three? Can you tell me?
Ah, discretion. You must be carrying around a lot of good secrets.
My colleagues chastise me because I’m not supposed to know there’s a $3 million Joan Mitchell painting being sold to this person or that person. Every once in a while I will see someone I know and get invited in, and that’s fun. I’ve seen some great art. But in terms of having that many secrets—I wish! I get in trouble if I open any of those doors.