In The Eye of The Beholder

Appraiser Debrah Dunner Offers an Array of Art Services for Collectors, Investors and the Rest of Us

To some, art is perplexing. To others, it’s wondrous, expensive, fleeting or beautiful. And that’s the point. With beauty firmly entrenched in the eye of the beholder, art can be anything we want. But to figure out what that is, exactly, call Debrah Dunner.

An accredited personal-property appraiser with a fine-art specialty, and owner of the Potomac-based Aesthetica Art Services, LLC, Debrah helps build collections that bring clients joy and that will also appreciate in value, even overseeing the framing, placement and installation of their collections. She steers clients to sound estate-planning decisions by helping them incorporate art in their portfolio. She brokers deals between private collectors, and helps clients sell art at auction or to a gallery, and she arranges private group visits to personal and private collections in the homes of collectors throughout the region.

Debrah also provides appraisal reports and IRS forms when a client plans to take a tax deduction for donated artwork above a certain value. She offers her opinion on whether it’s appropriate to conduct a full appraisal of a client’s artwork, or other personal property, when they are interested in obtaining insurance coverage.

On an initial phone assessment, Debrah might ask about a piece’s age, condition, subject matter and dimensions, plus whether it’s signed, whether the artist wrote on the back, and whether the artist is “listed,” (indicating recognition in the art word).  “If it seems like it might be worth it to do more research,” Debrah said, she would go see the piece in person.

Debrah also plans and hosts private art-related events and trips. “I curated a show at the embassy of Argentina in DC,” she said. For this event, Debrah represented the Argentinian painter Martha Zuick who traveled from Buenos Aires to attend. Ms. Zuick’s work is in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Art Museum of the Americas, both in DC. The embassy event exposed attendees to Ms. Zuick’s new work.  

Every other year, Debrah attends Art Basel in Miami Beach, the country’s biggest art event. “I can arrange tours or dinners and I connect collectors, curators, clients and dealers,” she said.  

Debrah organizes studio tours for DMV-area artists, including Sebastian Martorana, whose sculpture “Impressions” is a highlight of the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery. These tours were for clients interested in purchasing Mr. Martorana’s work, and for Smithsonian docents, who toured the studio, “in order to better understand his practice and craft when giving their own tours of the Renwick,” Debrah said.  

Debrah’s recent work includes assisting in cataloging Sam Gilliam’s entire personal collection of more than 800 works spanning nearly six decades. “This was a highlight of my career,” said Debrah. “I have been appraising works by Gilliam for collectors all over the region and I was approached by the curator of the Hirshhorn Museum to help facilitate communications through long-time collectors of his work and the museum in preparation for a retrospective which is being mounted in 2022.”

As the new DC representative of the Philadelphia-based auction house Freeman’s, Debrah said, “There are so many collectors and great art here. I am very excited to be working with Freeman’s to serve the community and facilitate sales for collectors.”  Her future plans include becoming an accredited appraiser for jewelry and precious metals.

“Every job is different,” Debrah said. “I love going to homes to see what they bought for themselves, or got as gift and how it all comes together.  I learn something every day. What more could you ask for in your profession?”

Founded in 2013, Aesthetica Art Services, LLC specializes in appraisals and other services including advising, consulting, investments, sales, consignments, collection management, and artist management. For appraisals, owner Debrah Dunner summarized, “I come. I inspect. I take notes. I ask questions. I do research. I produce a report.”

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