For many people in their 20s, art collecting can seem like a far-off pipe dream, the preserve of the older and wealthy. Millennials, after all, don’t typically make oodles of money, the average income for college graduates is typically under $50,000 and the cost of living in job-creating urban centers are continuing to rise as well. But the art market isn’t all $450 million Leonardo da Vinci paintings and snooty evening auctions, and many in the industry are taking steps to lower barriers to entry and bring in newer collectors, including young people.
“The misconception that art is only for the wealthy is my pet hate,” said Paul Becker, the founder of Art MoneyArt Money, which provides no-interest loans to art buyers. “There is such a rich ecosystem of quality and value beyond the obvious and expensive tiers”. Around 10% of those using Art Money are in their twenties, Becker said, with many of them falling into a group he called “creative professionals”—people working in fashion, design, publishing, marketing, and other similar fields.
Collectors in their twenties can also check out lower-cost mediums like works on paper, photographs, and smaller artworks generally. And they can avoid sticker shock by knowing how much they can afford to spend, and sticking to that budget, even if they fall in love with a work. “The hardest thing is the budgeting—balancing how much you want the piece and how much it costs,” said Neil Hamamoto, an artist and collector. He began buying art in earnest a few years ago, partially using savings from his previous life in San Francisco working in tech while still sticking to a budget that made sense for him. He’s now 24 years old and has a collection of around 10 works varying in size by artists including Josh Sperling, Chris Burden, Tom Sachs, and Robert Moreland, along with two small works by Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama. Hamamoto acknowledged that even if one has the resources with which to collect, wall space can be a challenge, especially in New York City, where Hamamoto lives. The apartments are usually small and rents are high. “If you want to buy something big, you better have a nice wall waiting for it,” he said.
Resource and space constraints aren’t the only barrier to entry. New collectors also have to discover their likes and dislikes, and know where to find and buy the art they enjoy. Auction houses, which hold free and public previews of their high-profile sales, are a fun place to see works up close, as are, of course, museums themselves, art galleries, and commercial fairs, said Emily Kaplan, head of Contemporary Curated at Sotheby’s.
“Every season, there are more and more young people coming in to see the auction previews,” Kaplan said, although young buyers still make up a relatively small share of buyers at live auctions. But Kaplan pointed out that Sotheby’s did away with buyer’s premiums for online-only sales this summer, one way the traditional auction house is appealing to younger buyers. At online auctions, work can sell for as low as a few hundred dollars, well within the budget of younger collectors. “That can be a surprise to a lot of people who think that if they want to collect art they have to spend tens of thousands,” Kaplan said. And since waving a paddle in a room is not a familiar way to buy for most people, online auctions (think of eBay, where you may have bought a piece of furniture or clothing) can be a familiar first step. Kaplan also noted that presale estimates are just that—estimates. If you see a work you like, you can speak to a specialist, who can give you a sense of the level of interest and whether the price might be lower. At The Art Dose this is the job of our curator on a daily basis.
Perhaps most importantly, young collectors can support artists who are also just starting out themselves. Buying the work of an emerging (or even unknown) artist isn’t about bringing home a $450 million trophy for your wall. It is about fostering the career of a young artist you respect and enjoy. “A collection doesn’t need to start with a da Vinci,” as Hamamoto puts it. Next time you see a work that you like and it fits your budget, “go for it,” Becker said. “Owning a unique creation from the hand of an artist is something you’ll enjoy for a lifetime”.
The Millennial Mindset
We need to also address what demographers and marketers now call “millennials”. For every new generation, the predecessors always say that the young blood is spoiled and self-absorbed—Time magazine dubbed millennials as the “Me Me Me Generation”. A generous historian may one day overlook their need for constant validation and safe spaces, but for now, the cliché of being over-parented, over-schooled and over-protected isn’t completely off base.
The so-called millennials never had a summer of ’67, where they tuned in and dropped out, nor a May of ’68 or March of ’89, where they seriously challenged the social order. Instead they were launched amidst the collapsing scenery of the Great Recession. So they had to delay home-ownership, marriage, and children; on the art scene, they socialized, gossiped and Instagrammed, but never actually bought many pictures—until now. A new survey of high-net-worth collectors by the U.S. Trust company, reveals that the latency period is finally ending. Millennials are settling down, finding financial footing, and beginning to collect.
In the past two years, they have become the fastest growing segment of collectors (though still represent only a tiny sliver of sales). If we observe the statistics from the above picture, millennials fall into two camps: wealth inheritors, and a burgeoning group of rising private equity, real estate, and hedge fund professionals (the young tech elite still don’t collect). As the degree-inflation generation, they’re far more likely to have received financial gifts towards their success. They’re curious and ambitious, but not all that rebellious or revolutionary. They’re more likely to obey authority, and basically operate within the system. The great ideological struggles of the 20th century were less immediate to them and that’s understandable.
How they collect art and what does that mean? They’re more transactional and more attuned to how their art behaves as a capital asset. Still, they don’t collect for investment. They’ve simply had to become more enterprising if they want to own the influential art of our time. “I collect because it enriches my life, but it’s certainly become more difficult to on-ramp into collecting,” says an art advisor and early collector of artists like Tauba Auerbach, Kehinde Wiley, and Mickalene Thomas. Millennials mindset is merely a response to the market’s new structure.
But after all, it’s not everything about the money. They’re far more likely to care about the social impact of their investments, and three times more likely than boomers to consider their art collecting a part of their philanthropic aspirations (89% to 27% as we can see from the picture that follows). Sarah Arison exemplifies the new, more socially conscious collector. As president of YoungArts and a trustee of both the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum, she thinks of her collecting as a part of her broader philanthropy. “I collect a lot of works from young artists who go through the National YoungArts Foundation program,” says Arison. She adds that becoming part of her collection “can create an impact for them in furthering their career.” We’re seeing more collectors finding ways to infuse their collecting with meaning.
Millennials also use technology to co-opt art to enhance their personal brands—not so much in their real lives, but in their digital lives on social media. Trent says that Instagram “has been the real game-changer for the art world”. It’s the perfect mix of visual and social. She notes that “for the first time, a completely open awareness exists about who owns and who collects what”. This hyper-connected transparency may benefit the market, but it might also imbue our collecting with a herd mentality, defined by insta-trends, branding, and channel buzz.
To conclude this article, as a visual generation we consume an endless stream of JPGs, GIFs, memes, graphics and images. But if we’re going to become a generation of great collectors, we now need to slow down and learn to just look! And always learn.
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Isaac Kaplan | artsy.net
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Evan Beard | artsy.net
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