When do you become a collector? “You become a collector when you buy a painting and you haven’t the slightest notion of where you are going to put it,” a dealer told me.
“You become a collector when you buy a painting and realize that you have no more room on your walls to hang it,” is the way a collector who has filled his walls in New York, Palm Beach, and Paris explained it.
And why do you collect? The late art historian Kenneth Clark probably said it best: “It’s like asking why we fall in love, the reasons are so various.”
Some of the reasons: social climbing; the work will increase in value; and, as a dealer said, it “provides you with feelings or sensations that you cannot get from anything else—visceral rewards, emotional satisfaction, the fact that you can look at the work in your home every day and continue to get renewed pleasure. It doesn’t wear off.”
Collectors, dealers, auctioneers, museum directors, curators, and consultants were interviewed by ARTnews correspondents in 22 countries for the 21st annual ARTnews 200 and the Top Ten, our lists of the world’s most active collectors.
So what’s the state of the art market? “You have a ton of people with a lot of money and they’re buying trophy art,” said one consultant. What’s trophy art? “Iconic examples by modern and contemporary masters. Warhol and Picasso are the leaders and they’re getting stronger. So are Bacon and Rothko.”
“The tide has changed,” said Neal Meltzer, a private dealer and former head of contemporary art at Christie’s. “The contemporary market has replaced Impressionism and the modern market as the leading collecting field.”
Martin Summers, a London dealer, describes trophy art as works with “the recognizability factor.”
The consensus seems to be that sellers have high expectations and that buyers have become more discerning. “The base is broader as new people keep coming into the market,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, president of Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery in New York and president of the Art Dealers Association of America.
“The global appetite is increasing for great works of art but the supply is radically limited,” said Simon Shaw, head of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s.
Others are calling the market “strong,” “surprisingly strong,” or “solid rather than wild.”
“It’s back to strong,” said Michael Findlay, director of Acquavella Galleries in New York. “We had a psychological and literal slump late in 2008 and 2009. There’s not much of a rush now to speculate in high-priced living artists. Money is being spent more conservatively. People are looking for exciting work by younger artists but don’t want to spend unreasonable sums of money.”
Who’s the art world’s biggest spender? On the basis of recent acquisitions of Impressionist paintings, and works by Picasso and Bacon, among others, the most votes in an informal survey go to Sheikh Saud bin Mohammad bin Ali al-Thani. He is a member of the Qatar royal family and has been on the list of ARTnews 200, as well as on the Top Ten. He has also been buying photography, Islamic art, Arabic art, and fine jewelry.
Sheikh al-Thani has reportedly spent several hundred millions of dollars on art in the last two years.
Milton Esterow is editor and publisher of ARTnews.