Get In-Sync with… Ruth Crnkovich (interview)

Ruth Crnkovich and Sergio Gomez hold one of Sergio’s 41 Winters

This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with curator, art historian, art appraiser, critic, lecturer and collector Ruth Crnkovich. Do not miss her personal recommendations at the end of the interview.

There are Facebook friends and there are real life freinds. Ruth Crnkovich is both to me and my family. We go back a while. Ruth was in grad school at Governors State University and I was in the under-grad program when we met.  Overt the years, Ruth and I have worked in various projects together. However, for the last few years, we have been working in our own separate careers with only a few calls and email updates here and there.  A few months back, we reconnected again and began a series of conversations that will lead into some exciting project collaborations for the future.  Ruth is an energetic, well rounded art professional. She has traveled widely and has worked for museums and galleries. Through her private firm, she has appraised very important private collections.  Ruth brings lots of insight into this interview. Make sure to follow her on FB and also on her new blog listed below.  Enjoy!

Sergio: Where did you go to school (college/university) and what degree did you receive?

Ruth: I have a Masters Degree in Art History from Governors State University in IL and a Certificate from NYU in Fine and Decorative Art Appraising. I had an invaluable museum internship at the Art Institute of Chicago, Prints and Drawings Department.

Sergio: Do you feel your education prepared you for the art career you have now?

Ruth: Absolutely! While there is no substitute for real life learning, the preparation and tools I garnered in school really gave me the foundation I needed to move forward in my career. In addition to art history, I also had studio classes in college which really taught me how to look at art in regards to the quality of the work, not just the significance of the artist or period. All that writing for art history reports really did come in handy when it came time to publish essays, commentaries, appraisal reports, or give interviews about art and artists.

Sergio: What is one thing you wish you had learned while at art school?

Ruth: I don’t feel as if there was anything I missed learning in art school. I think I have learned a lot since school, but I don’t think I had enough experience while in school to know that I needed to know more, so I couldn’t have really learned more. I think we are all life long learners and one of the most important things we can learn is that we can not possibly know everything about anything and we only get better with practice.

Sergio: What is your website?

Ruth: I am primarily using social media these days instead of a website. I have two facebook accounts, and; my blog is and twitter is

Sergio: Do you find social media to be a distraction or an asset for you as an artist and how do you deal with it?

Ruth: BOTH! I find that it distracts me once I get involved in updates, but at the same time, it allows me to stay current with what is happening outside of my little bubble. It also keeps me connected with peers, associates and colleagues.


Sergio: When did you get interested in an art appraisals career?

Ruth: I became curious about how things were valued when I was working as a museum curator. I understood why we had certain paintings by certain artists and why we curated shows to include specific works based on style, period, context, importance…but what I didn’t understand was why one painting might be worth $500,000 and the one hanging next to it was worth only $50,000. That is when I began researching values for art. I came across the NYU Fine Art Appraisal Program in 2002 and enrolled the following summer.

Sergio: How difficult is it to get in the field and what is your area of expertise?

Ruth: Getting started in appraisal work was pretty organic. Working in museums and galleries, I found that people were always approaching me to inquire about the value of their artwork. Once I completed the program at NYU, I could provide them with an appraisal if that was what they needed. Or I could advise them on selling the artwork.

My background as an art historian and curator helped me move naturally into the area of Fine Art Appraising as opposed to Ephemera or Furniture or Stamps. I specialize in 20th and 21st Century Fine Art, including painting, sculpture, drawings, works on paper, fine art prints, contemporary glass, silver, and ceramics.

Sergio: What are some of the challenges when appraising work by contemporary living artists?

Ruth: One of the biggest challenges with appraising art by contemporary artists is the volatility of prices in the market. Someone who was hot five years ago may not be selling right now and vice versa. It’s a fluctuating market, so values can change daily. Another very important issue with appraising art by living artists is that many are represented in the primary retail market (Art Galleries) and may do quite well with commissioned sales. However, most practicing artists do not do well at all in the secondary market – that is art auctions. I think this has a lot to do with supply and demand, but it also has to reflects the consumer’s distrust of undocumented artworks. That is, for an item to sell well at auction, it has to have already sold well at auction. Of course, if there are more buyers for art than there are available artworks, the art will sell well in both the secondary and primary markets.

Figuring out the appropriate market, the most appropriate records for sales, where a particular work fits in an artist’s ouvre, historical significance (which often changes during an artist’s lifetime), and all of those other fluid influences that affects the market (not excluding the moon’s juxtaposition to the sun and the S&P/NASDEQ) make it challenging to put values on living artists work, especially if they are still making art.

Sergio: What are some of the most important parameters when assigning value to a work of contemporary art?

Ruth: The most important thing to consider when valuing work by a contemporary artist is the history of sales for comparable work by that artists. Secondary is the subject and style of the painting – is it what the artist is best known for? Is it a good example of that style, period, subject? What is medium of the work? Oil paintings are generally more valuable than watercolors. What is the condition of the work? What is the size of the piece? Size matters and bigger isn’t always better.

Sergio: How would you describe the American art market in one sentence?

Ruth: Buyers/collectors in the American art market are more savvy nowadays than in the recent past in that they do more research about art/artist before buying~ yet they are always looking for what is new, exciting and cutting edge.

Sergio: What things artists should keep in mind when pricing their work?

Ruth: The most important thing an artist should think about when pricing their work is offering it at a price that will entice collectors to purchase the work without too much hesitation. The key to selling your work is…selling your work. It is better to have 100 collectors with $100 pieces rather than two collectors with $25,000 pieces. Collectors collect. Collectors buy more than one, which is why they are called collectors. Chances are that a collector will buy more than one of a favorite artist’s work, so it is easy to see how 100 sold pieces can double into 200+ sold works. While an artist shouldn’t give their work away, they should consider offering work at a price that will sell it now. Prices can always go up as supply dictates. It’s a bad bad thing for an artist to lower prices (sale price) when sales are slow because they create a depreciating market for their own work. It is better to error on the side of caution when pricing artwork and go with the more conservative price from the beginning, then move up.

Mario Gonzalez Jr. talking about his work to Ruth Crnkovich and Liz Mares at the Zhou B Art Center, January 2013


Sergio: In your opinion, what makes a strong and cohesive exhibition?

Ruth: I think curating is an art of it’s own. The curator is like a composer in that he/she organizes all of the notes (artwork) to create an experience and make a statement. The statement can be historical, socially driven, aesthetically composed, or organized to represent whatever the mission the exhibit dictates. For an exhibit to be strong and cohesive, the show must establish a visual dialog that links all the seemingly different artworks together so that when seen from the curator’s perspective it offers the viewer a new understanding of the art or artist. Each artwork needs to be presented in such a way that it maintains it’s own integrity but still relates to all of the work around it. It can be quite challenging, but I love it!

Sergio: What type of curatorial projects interest you?

Ruth: I like challenging curatorial projects. I really enjoy looking for unusual statements and hidden truths. Sometimes inspiration comes from finding unusual art and sometimes it comes from taking mainstream art, shaking it up, turning it upside down, and rethinking what we thought we knew about it.

I am interested in presenting visual dialogs about everything from social justice to philosophical truths to playful banter on political views. I can’t just pick one style, period, type of art that interests me. I want to explore it all, consider everything, question everything.

Sergio: What is your advise for young curators?

Ruth: My advice for young curators is to explore, consider, question, and look at everything. Then pick the best examples of art that you can find to support your vision. Curating isn’t a popularity contest, so be true to your vision and interpretation and let the art represent your words.

On December 2004, the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago’s south side opened its doors to the public for the very first time giving a start to Third Fridays in Bridgeport. Ruth was part of that initial group. From left: Sergio Gomez, Oskar Friedl, Martin Bernstein, Stephen, Ruth Crnkovich, Nick Depeder, Carla Carr, Javier Chavira and Kimbelry Harmon.


Sergio: What excites you about the current art scene?

Ruth: Everything excites me about the current art scene! I think what excites me the most is the evolution of the artworld as we become part of a global market. Everything from how we create art, to how and where we exhibit it, to how we promote it is changing. It is scary in some ways because the rules of the artworld as we once new it no longer apply, so the old rule books are obsolete. But on the other hand, it gives us the opportunity to be active participants in the new scene. The energy of young and emerging artists, curators, collectors, and critics is frenetic and exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. It is a very exciting time to be involved in this business.

Sergio: What is missing in contemporary art?

Ruth: Collectors and supporters are missing in contemporary art. We need to cultivate more collectors to support artists. This is the biggest challenge we face, yet the one that offers the most opportunity for growth. How do we get people to support the arts? We have to show them the VALUE in what artist do. How do we do that? We do that by contextualizing the art and artists work through shows and writing; by finding new ways to incorporate art into everyday mainstream life; and by showing how art enriches lives. The challenge of this generation in the artworld is going to be competing with technology for viewers and connoisseurship.

Sergio: Since artists today have access to many of the same marketing tools and knowledge as galleries as never before, do you believe gallery representation today is as important as it has been in the past?

Ruth: I believe the role of the gallerist/dealer to the artist is changing. Artist need representation as much as they have in the past, but the role of the representative is changing. Dealers need to become more like agents for living artists instead of storage facilities. In this highly competitive and fast paced business, gallerists have to go out into the world and market the work of the artists they represent through art fairs, media, international exhibitions, and museum representation. No longer is it enough for a dealer to offer an artist a show every couple of years and wait for collectors to come to them. Those who represent artists will need to share commissions and exclusivity with an artist if they wish to help them succeed.


Sergio: What makes a strong private art collection?

Ruth: One of my favorite things to do is to see how people live with their art. I guess I am a voyeur in that regard. I am asked to value/evaluate artworks in a collections or the entire collection of artwork as part of my work. The best collections are those that represent the vision and values of the collector. The art people collect tells a lot about them. When the collector is truly engaged in the process of collecting, the collection will sing out like a well curated show. The weakest or most boring collections I have found to be those that are based on other peoples recommendations instead of intuition, such as collections created decorators, dealers, advisors, or profit margins.

Sergio: Should starting-up collectors focus on only one genre of work?

Ruth: People should buy what they love. People love what they know. So collections may often begin as themed or genre based subjects. As a collector grows in knowledge, so too should the collections. What that means for any one will vary based on the tightness or looseness of the constraints the collector chooses. While I recommend that collectors look at everything, question everything and consider everything, I strongly recommend that they trust their gut and buy what they love. But don’t be afraid to support a promising young artists!!!

Sergio: What kind of work do you seek to collect personally?

Ruth: Since I quit collecting five years ago, I probably have about 100 new pieces of art. I am not really good at quitting things, I guess. I am interested in everything. Of course I am. I love fresh new ideas by up an coming artists. I love in-your-face social and political commentary. I love art the represents a voice from a new or unusual perspective. I love fun art that makes me laugh. Basically I like art that makes me think or makes me smile. Now that I have run out of wall space at my house, I hang pieces from my collection art at my mom’s house, sisters’ houses, and now my nieces apartment. I am beautifying the world!

Sergio: What is next for you?

Ruth: I plan to keep doing what I am doing…any maybe write a book or two.



I love the Thesaurus. I know. I know. But I just love words! It is such a great book. I’ve read “Tuesday’s With Morrie” by Mitch Albom at least three times. It’s a book about dying that teaches us how to live. It is small and easy to read, but I find it very comforting.

“As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed as ignorant as you were at twenty-two, you’d always be twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

Art movie or documentary…

That’s easy~ Gerhard Richter Painting. I am love that man!

Art museum…

The Louvre, The Met, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Also the National Veterans Art Museum on Milwaukee in Chicago. I can’t just choose one.

Contemporary artist…

Gerhard Richter, of course.

I am really interested the contemporary artists in Chicago who have been working since the 1960s or 1970s such as Ellen Lanyon, Richard Hunt, William Conger, Vera Klement, Phyllis Bamson, Ralph Arnold, Ruth Duckworth, and several others. I find them and their art fascinating. I want to capture their stories. We have much to learn from them and much to appreciate in their art.

I am always interested in what you are doing. I think Mario Gonzalez is doing some interesting things with graffiti. Liz Mares work is fresh.

Place to be inspired by…

Versaille near Paris. Central Park in NYC. The company of inspired people.

One sentence advice for an art student…

Always seek the truth and attempt to capture it in your work. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Chicago cafe/restaurant…

Gibsons Steakhouse. I really love a good steak.

YouTube video…

Here it is…Corny but I love it!

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