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Features / January 26, 2015

New Research Profiles Art Collectors

Larry's List has produced the most expansive research project about art collectors to date. We speak to the project's co-founder about his findings.

From reports about Eli Broad’s new museum to controversial profiles of Stefan Simchowitz, international art news suggests the emergence of a particular type of patron. Brash, speculative and equipped with a healthy dose of self-interest, these collectors are opening private collections, driving dizzying auction prices and honing the art of speculative purchasing. But is this image accurate? And, if so, what does the newfound dominance of these buyers mean?

Little insight into collectors as a group actually exists. The habits, tastes and scruples—or lack thereof—of individual collectors are widely reported, but, as a whole, they remain an enigmatic bunch.

A new study hopes to change this. Larry’s List has published a research report on art collectors compiled from data they have been collecting since 2012. With a team of 25 researchers in 20 countries, Larry’s List has created a database of 3,111 collectors, although they estimate that there are 8,000 to 10,000 market-dominating collectors of contemporary art internationally. The report breaks down collectors demographically and geographically, mapping out their buying patterns and concentrations.

We spoke to Larry’s List co-founder Magnus Resch about the production of this research, its relevance for Canadians and the changes suggested by these findings.

Caoimhe Morgan-Feir: To begin, how did you get this data?

Magnus Resch: It’s time and money. The report is based on the longitudinal research project carried out by 25 researchers from 20 nations. We started in fall 2012. Today, it’s the largest and most extensive art collector database in the world. While the research is ongoing, the database is continuously updated and the collector base extended. Currently, there are 3,111 collectors in the database. These are the most relevant private art collectors.

CMF: What does the report do; what are its aims?

MR: The report investigates the global art collector scene. It analyzes private art collectors throughout the world by region, their art collections and the collector’s individual characteristics. It also looks into regional scenes: the emerging collector scenes in Brazil, China and India, as well as the more established scenes in Germany and the United States are analyzed in this edition.

CMF: I’m wondering about the function of this research. How are you imagining it being utilized? Are the reports primarily useful for marketing and development, or other fields?

MR: There are a variety of fields where it can be applied. Primarily, it helps practitioners and researchers: gallerists, auction houses, dealers and artists benefit because the report gives them a very good sense of where their customers are—and where they will be in the future. For researchers it’s great. When I wrote my PhD in economics on the art market I always wanted to have data like this. That is one of the shortcomings of the art market: it’s not transparent.

CMF: And what does the research say about the largest collector markets?

MR: Europe has the greatest share of art collectors worldwide with 38%, followed by North America with 28%. 18% of global collectors are already based in Asia. Of the remainder, only 8% (248) are based in Latin America—overwhelmingly so in Brazil, which is home to 57% of all Latin American collectors.

CMF: What relevance do these studies have in countries outside of the main international collector hubs and emerging markets? What could readers in Canada take away from the study?

MR: Canada takes the 11th rank in our country ranking with 2% of global collectors. This is an impressive number as Canada has more contemporary art collectors than the Netherlands or Japan. Also, we see an increasing number of privately owned museums. These museums become more relevant since they have the financial power to buy blue-chip contemporary artworks and are more flexible than public museums.

CMF: The study notes a major shift towards private museums—we have also noticed this in Canada—but public museums also depend on donations by wealthy collectors, particularly during times of austerity. Should this trend towards private institution worry public organizations?

MR: We identified 10 trends for future years. One of them is that private collectors are taking over the role of public institutions in the ownership, preservation and exhibition of artworks and also in arts education. It is now common for private art collections to rival or even outshine public art collections. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at art auctions. 20 years ago, an auctioned masterpiece would go either to a public museum in London or to an institution in New York. Today, these works are more likely to find their way into a private collection in London, New York or maybe even Beijing.

CMF: With the research you have gathered, are you seeing a new kind of patron, or a continuation and strengthening of traditional models and approaches?

MR: Collectors will gain even more influence in public museums. Many positions in public museums are filled by art collectors who have supported the museums by either donating artworks or giving financial aid. 37% of global collectors are active in one or several public museums. In their role as donors and advisors, they are involved in the acquisition process and therefore decide what kind of artworks the museums will collect and show.

CMF: The study is based from 25 art market researchers in 20 countries. Are countries outside this reach considered, or excluded? Will the research process expand to consider other locations in coming years?

MR: This report covers collectors from 72 countries. My team is located in the most relevant art hubs around the world. I guess we already cover most markets. Particularly, we are strong in Asia (our headquarters are in Hong Kong) and the upcoming markets in South America.

CMF: The demographics present a depressingly narrow view: big collectors are almost exclusively older and male. Do you think these demographics can account for, or at least correlate to, particular tastes within the art world?

MR: That’s true. The average age of a contemporary art collector is 59. A global breakdown by age shows that art collectors are overwhelmingly over 40 (90%). Only 8% of collectors are between 31 and 40 years old. And 71% of collectors are men. When looking at the top 10 artists of global collectors there is only one woman on the list (Cindy Sherman). At least on my team there are more women than men.