Digital ExclusivePersonalities

2018’s Art Influencer: Mary Zlot

Story by Erin Carlson; photo by Gabriela Hasbun


Call her The Art Whisperer. More than three decades after founding her prominent SF-based advisory firm, Mary Zlot, art advisor, remains one of the most influential curators-for-hire of modern and contemporary art in the world.

She works with corporations and private collectors who rely on her sophisticated eye and deep knowledge when choosing art that reflects a brand identity or personal taste. (Often, people who find themselves in the position to buy fine art also discover that they need someone like Zlot to match their sensibilities with likeminded artists of whom they might never have heard.)

“The major part of my business is educating, and when we take on a client, we encourage them for the first year to just look,” she says. “We go to museums. We go to galleries. We travel.”

Zlot began her career in 1978 when the architecture and design company Environmental Planning and Research -— which had no art expert on staff -— recruited her to establish an art advising department in order to fulfill corporate clients’ demand for “good art” in the workplace. Zlot successfully filled the void before striking out on her own five years later, enlisting such A-List consultees as SFMOMA, Charles Schwab & Co., and Williams-Sonoma, among other big brands. Seven years ago, she teamed up with partner Sabrina Buell, who has advised top-tier tech clients including Kaitlyn and Mike Krieger, Mark Pincus and reportedly Larry Page. Zlot renamed the firm Zlot Buell.

“What’s happening in San Francisco is just really monumental,” Zlot says. “It’s a young culture. It’s a vibrant culture. It’s a culture that wants to learn, to know what’s happening, to explore, to be exposed. The curiosity level is gigantic and that’s what makes it all really exciting.” As for Silicon Valley, “The tech community really wants to understand what they’re seeing. They’re very bright. They want to understand how things fit into the big picture, and we do that.”

The best part of Zlot’s job?

“I love working with our clients and I feel so fortunate to be in the world of creativity. My favorite part is continuing to learn.”

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