Scottsdale’s Leenie and David Engel launch their new art consulting business

By Nora Burba Trulsson

Portrait by An Pham

Art photography by David Engel

Years ago on a trip, Leenie and David Engel bought a pixilated Mona Lisa giclée, a Pop Art paean to the queen of the Louvre. “I remember it cost $400,” Leenie says, “and we were worried about how much it would cost to ship to our house.” That piece was the start of a lifetime of collecting Pop Art, street art and graffiti art for the Scottsdale couple, pieces they have displayed in their contemporary home, designed by architect James Trahan of 180 Degrees Design + Build.

This year, the Engels have launched a new venture, Advise and Curate, an art consulting business aimed toward emerging collectors. But the Engels are not art fans just looking for a fun project—they have years of cred in art and business circles. With Leenie’s background in fine art and David’s in business, the two East Coast natives launched American Studio in 1989, a firm that creates colorful collections of school accessories—pencil cases, lunch boxes, ring binders and more—based on Leenie’s designs. With eight to ten collections a season, the products are sold at retailers like Costco, Walmart and Office Max.

After they moved to Arizona, the pair became involved in the local arts scene, joining Phoenix Art Museum’s Contemporary Forum, where they orchestrated art and architecture tours in the Valley, in support of the museum. They subsequently did the tours on behalf of ASU’s Creative Impact board, which supports the university’s art museum. Currently, both are on the board of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA)

With years of haunting galleries, studios and art fairs like Art Basel Miami, the Engels developed a keen sense of the contemporary art scene and found themselves informally helping friends and acquaintances with their collections.

“We’ve been immersing ourselves in art for more than 30 years,” says David, “and our aim is to demystify the art world for clients of Advise and Curate. We don’t want people to be intimidated by buying art.”

Aiming to work with homeowners, architects, builders, interior designers and the real estate industry, Advise and Curate’s process starts with a site visit and a detailed questionnaire, covering not just budgets, but asking clients questions like whether they want art to soothe or provoke, and what memories they might have of a first visit to a museum. “We want clients to tell their story through their art collection,” says Leenie, who also works on her own paintings in a home studio. “Their collection should reflect their personalities, not ours.”

The couple’s strength is contemporary art. “If someone comes to us wanting to collect Chinese pottery, that’s not our strength and we will recommend someone else,” says David. “We also don’t want to match the art to the wallpaper.” Through the business, they hope to encourage the support of living artists, including getting to know the artists via studio tours.

The Engels l help clients select art—for residential, as well as commercial settings, handle transport and installation, plus arrange storage if necessary. Clients can also “test drive” art through them, on approval from galleries or studios. They also offer cataloguing services to keep track of collections.

“The bottom line is, we don’t live in our client’s houses or work in their offices—they do,” says Leenie. “That’s important in selecting the art. There should be joy in what they assemble.”