The Young Collectors: An emerging species

 Paris  |  25 September 2015  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

What were you doing on 19 March 2015? The young socialites of the New York nightlife scene would almost certainly reply that they were sipping from a glass of champagne to the sound of DJ Afrika Bambaataa at the “Young Collectors Party” organised by the Guggenheim museum. The words have been spoken: young collector. An insult for some, a compliment for others. Having penetrated the crowd of YCCs (members of the Guggenheim museum’s “Young Collectors Council”), Kaitlin Phillips of ARTnews can’t help but hide her skepticism; “Young collectors, it turns out, really have nothing to say. Many of them didn’t seem to know why they were there. Old people at least know why they didn’t come.” Beyond the stereotype of a golden youth spent scampering about in their Louboutins and basking in a sea of frivolity, who are the real young collectors that the most prestigious institutions have now stopped to honour? And these young collectors—are they all heirs or young idlers looking for something to occupy their ample free time? Art Media Agency, intrigued by these many mysteries, has picked up the pen to address the issue and uncover the enigma of the young collector.

A flattered generation

In January 2015, Larry’s List, a society which collects the donations of collectors, published its list of the 10 young collectors to watch. By young, they mean under 40. So, who are they? Entrepreneurs or bankers based largely in the States, but also in Europe, Asia and Mexico. Out of these ten collectors, two are women. Their names? Daniela Hinrichs (Germany), Nilani Trent (USA), Robbie Antonio (Philippines), John D. Arnold (USA), Adrian Cheng (China), Moisés Cosio (Mexico), Taymour Grahne (USA), Maxwell Graham (USA), Kai van Hasselt (Netherlands) and Tobias Gombert (Switzerland). According to the Art Collector Report 2014 in Larry’s List, 10% of the collectors, throughout the world, are under 40, with 8% between 31 and 40 and 2% under 30, so a very select few.

But, at a time when budget cuts are making public support even more crucial for many organisations, many are forced to reassess their economic strategy, courting those who already have ample means and who will most likely only continue to accumulate wealth. Art fairs such as PULSE Art Fair or AIPAD, even museums like the Guggenheim, have since been seducing young collectors with trendy cocktail soirees where the latter can quench their thirst for art and public life. It’s with this model in mind that the Guggenheim has created its Young Collectors Council, a club uniting young professionals between 21 and 40 with the aim of raising their awareness of culture and contemporary art. The club’s members can thus meet the artists of their times, the collectors of renown and the key figures of the art world through educational programmes and global events. Those who want to can even take part in the Committee for museum acquisitions, which meets twice a year to vote on the Guggenheim’s new acquisitions.

Others from the same generation have not lost their way and have leapt at the opportunity to create their business. This is the case for Marlies Verhoeven and Daisy Peat, two former employees of Sotheby’s, behind the famous, very “select” club, The Cultivist. They apparently received so many calls from young collectors from the new technology industry, begging them to find them VIP access to the most sought-after events, that they had the idea of helping them to better spend their strength and their pocket money. In New York, London and beyond, these two young collectors help other young collectors to break into the elusive world of private tours, collectors’ dinners and studio visits-a way of making art more accessible to this affluent minority.

Heirs, but not only…

So then, is collecting a family business? For Alexandra Fain, young collector and co-founder of the new fair Asia Now (which will take place in Paris from 20 to 22 October 2015, between the Frieze and the FIAC), it’s even a question of a “family disease”: “I’m currently interested in video art and at the same time it’s my father who introduced me to Bruce Nauman and Bill Viola […] We can’t help ourselves, my father, my sister and I, as soon we find a new artist, we tell each other and exchange details. We even share some artists in common, that we’ve each discovered.” And you’ll find lots of these passionate inheritors if you look, for example, among the members of the YCC and particularly the committee for the “Young Collectors Party”. There you’ll find Alexandra Economou, the daughter of Greek collector George Economou who is also part of the family business. She also confessed to Artinfo in 2011; “I’d like to keep what he has done because it represents my father […] On the other hand, I would like to create something that represents myself.”

Speaking from Beirut, Laure d’Hauteville, founder of the Beirut Art Fair, shares her view on the arrival of young professionals who are looking for an aesthetic way to invest their money; “In 2013, we had, for the first time, a new wave of unknown collectors. These are young people who are between the age of 25 and 33, who were educated abroad. Back in Lebanon, they hold important positions or take over their family business, developing it in a modern way. These young people are beginning to make a decent living and are interested in art. They want to start a small collection with a modest budget and they are happy to find beautiful and affordable pieces at Beirut Art Fair. ”

So a passion for art or the search for an investment are enough to spark off a collection? Perhaps the famous “crisis” has not served for nothing…After all, it’s this generation who are feeling the full force of its consequences. According to Anne-Hélène Decaux, co-director of the department of contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, France, “Due to the crisis, some people turned towards investing in works of art, as attractive and safe investments.” An interest to which the media are also not immune, as Anne-Hélène Decaux states: “The media are more and more interested in contemporary art and the art market in general.” The result? “The interest in contemporary art is the strongest it’s been for decades. If today you ask a person in the street to name three living artists, they can. Fifteen years ago, very few people could even name one.” So it has not escaped this generation to think of art as a safe investment, the optimum way to amass their inheritance. Besides, in many countries, collecting or publically exhibiting art often helps avoid some financially embarrassing questions. Aren’t these young people crazy? No, just aware of the problems of their times.

An generation involved and on all fronts

Young collectors do not obviously just collect, certain need to be full participants in the world of art. Alexandra Fain, for example, associates her love to the collection as a curiosity concerning the Asian artistic scene, from where the idea to create an art fair which be dedicated to her. All the same, if you take back the Top 10 of Larry’s List, Taymour Grahne uncovered a huge curiosity in relation to the artistic scene of MENU (Middle-East, North-Africa). This young collector who did his studies in international relations did not think to fall in the melting pot of the art world, but he clicked when he discovered the Syrian collection of modern art from one of his friends. He confided to the magazine Canvas: “I was reading articles about the explosion of the Middle Eastern art market and decided to take time while in Beirut to explore the art scene […] I ended up visiting galleries, getting into discussions with the owners, doing studio visits and meeting a few artists and collectors.” Thus in the process, he started to become a specialist in the region and wrote about it on his blog Art Of The Mid East, all while collecting.

And where do they go to find works? Auctions can be the beginning for some… this is the case for Lin Han, 28 years old, who in 2013 uncovered the series Mask, of Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, on the cover of a Sotheby’s sales catalogue.  He ended up offering it for a whopping $1 Million, supported by his parents who do not collect, but pay up to 20 to 30% of his purchases. According to him, it “was my statement that I have come to the market”. Alexandre Errera, founder of the New Circle – a club of young collectors offering access to privates events and sales- confided to Wall Street Journal:  “I don’t know anyone in the U.S. or Europe who would buy the catalog cover of Sotheby’s as their first piece of art […] In this race for new collectors, people who are that early into collecting surely are a gold mine.” Far from this gold case, others visit the less so thunderous rooms, according to Anne-Hélène Decaux: “We see more and more young collectors in the sales room, but more in the room, they also raise the bids more and more by the telephone or online. […] The design and the photography are domains very researched. The photography, for the neophyte collectors, are often a point of entry more accessible than contemporary art. Certain images are very well known that they have become cults.”

And the art fairs? Here is a scenario which does not frighten Alexandra Fain, “I visit many galleries and also art fairs. I hear a lot of talking of “fair fatigue”, but, personally, I love the system of the art fair which reassembles in the same place in a defined time, lots of exhibitions. There, the offers compete and this allows to appreciate more the force and the power. There is good adrenaline and good tension in art fairs.”

The participants of cultural influence

According to Art Collector Report 2014 of Larry’s List, Europe has the largest proportion of collectors (38%), then North America (28%) and Asia (18%), followed by Latin America (8%), Middle East and Africa (5%). Precisely, the cap on the African continent to the discovery of another interesting phenomenon. It concerns young collectors who divert their personal passion to less worldly purposes, even philanthropic. More often, these elite children have visited the best Western institutions and have been, at the same time, made aware of contemporary art. Some therefore began to collect, but in a point of view which has nothing trivial – even comprised of the bottom of the claim. Sindika Dokolo confided to Le Monde in March 2015: “How we, Africans, arrive to integrate the circuits and the art world without being done over. For someone of my generation, it is to be on a battle field where I have the impression to grow back lines that my children will not have to push. Conforming is the common trait of many people in art with regard to Africa.” The collection of the 40 year old, is considered as the largest collection of contemporary art based in Africa, in Luanda, in Angola, and regroups several 3,000 items.

This young involved and outspoken collector is not, however, the only to spread the colours of its culture. Take Theo Danjuma as an example, barely 30 years old and son of Theophilus Danjuma, magnate of oil and old minister of the Nigerian Defense. This last one was chosen to open in 2016, a private space dedicated to his collection in Lagos – where tastes are according to him, more conservative – more than in London in order to create a dialogue. Note also Marie-Cécile Zinsou, the daughter of old managing partner of the Rothschild investment banking and currently the first minister of Bénin, Lionel Zinsou. She confesses to The Art Newspaper that the creation of the family museum was the occasion of a “journey of discovery” for the locals who stripped the aspect of contemporary art made them say that the museum was empty… “Now contemporary art is accepted,” she adds. On a continent where 47% of the population are aged less than 18 and where private initiatives have more chances to succeed than the public projects, education and cultural awareness form high stakes. Especially as according to the report Génération 2030-Afrique, published in 2014 by l’UNICEF, in 2050, 40% of children less than five years old in the world will live on the Africa’s continent.

Far away from the image of socialites with reduced consciousness, young collectors count many involved participants. It will be useless to want to dress the identikit of a generation which has nothing homogenous. Incidentally, what generation has the ambition to be? But, one thing to be sure among young collectors is that they have interesting things to say and that they take on a role which the elders did not feel obliged to assume… an emerging species.

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