High-end auction houses are hardly known to cater to the 20something set. Attend any major sale, whether postwar and contemporary or Old Masters, and your fellow paddle pushers are less likely to belong to Facebook than to AARP. So it was with some astonishment — and, of course, delight — that 29-year-old Manish Vora fielded a call from Christie’s asking for his help. The auction house wanted to engage fresh faces, it said. It wanted to appeal to younger buyers. And it wanted to enlist Vora’s contemporary-art-based social-networking group, Artlog, in the project.
"Christie’s has really made a strong effort to appeal to new audiences," says Vora, whose group is for young professionals interested in combining social activities with exploring the New York arts scene. "It’s redone its Web site. It’s now got a presence on Twitter and Facebook. And part of that outreach was approaching us." So in mid-September, Christie’s kicked off its First Open postwar and contemporary sale with a preview cocktail party exclusively for Artlog members, complete with an open bar, plus an after party. Yes, an after party. It was "supercasual," says Vora, aimed at "making people feel comfortable with the idea that Christie’s is an approachable place for young collectors."
That auction houses are reaching beyond the heavyweight regulars ready to drop the dollar equivalent of a suburban home on a small Damien Hirst to woo a younger, less moneyed demographic is just one indication that over the past year the landscape has shifted under fledgling collectors’ feet. While the recession has put a damper on art purchases across the board, young connoisseurs and the groups that support them say a confluence of factors — more generous discounts and decreased competition from seasoned buyers — makes this a better time than ever for 20- and 30somethings with a little extra pocket change and an interest in art to dip their toes in the market.
"It’s a great opportunity for young collectors to buy right now because prices are lower, so they can get more value for their dollar than they could a year or two ago," says Kipton Cronkite, whose company, Kiptonart, connects aspiring aficionados with emerging artists through social events and other activities. "The state of the market is affecting collectors in terms of the ability to buy certain things, but because prices are coming down in art, just as they are in real estate and other sectors, people are trying to think about art not just as an investment but as a way of getting behind a particular individual who really needs support and visibility. A year or two ago, cash was flowing, and people were like, ‘Oh, this is the hottest artist of the moment.’ And now I see people really looking at the pieces more and really forming an emotional attachment to them."
Institutions and other organizations are taking advantage of this new attitude to cultivate a set of art lovers who could become lifelong supporters of their programming and perhaps contributors to their holdings. The Museum of Modern Art, for one, is using its Junior Associates group to foster such relationships. In recent months, MoMA has refocused the group, restricting it to members under 40 (a new association for middle-aged patrons is in the works) and launching a series of dance parties for young patrons, hosted by the associates, called MoMA MiXX.
In a similar vein, the Guggenheim Museums Young Collectors Council recently sponsored a panel discussion at Cipriani Downtown on "collecting the emerging artist." "We went on for hours," says longtime YCC member Jeremy E. Steinke, who moderated the discussion. "You could tell that people were hungry for the inside experience of how you make choices — how much of it is about investment, how much is about risk, how much is about just being passionate about collecting." Steinke, who was also a founding member of the New Museums now-defunct New Group of young collectors, says the ycc is particularly attractive because the Guggenheim tries to engage select members, Steinke included, in its acquisitions process, providing lessons they can apply to their own collecting.
Auction houses, for their part, are putting together sales with a less seasoned clientele in mind. At Phillips de Pury, long regarded as a more welcoming venue for neophyte collectors, the new chief executive, Bernd Runge, is launching 18 auctions of contemporary art with themes like "sex," "film," and "music," the last of which featured a DJ hired to play during the action.
These efforts have caught the attention of people like Rodney Reid, cofounder of the invitation-only young collectors club, The Contemporaries. Many of Reid’s peers have been dissuaded from collecting by both the general economic downturn and the "difficulty of gauging what real value is, because the contemporary segment of the market has been disproportionately affected by price swings," he says. "A lot of people have been hesitant to buy new works until they figure out where the market is going to stabilize from a price standpoint."
For those who are still interested in making purchases, Reid has some tips. He points to a recent Kehinde Wiley exhibit at Deitch Projects as an example of a way to get in the game without risking too much capital. The show contained the photographs on which Wiley bases the paintings for which he is known. The works were thus "similar in concept but at a lower price point," Reid says. "I think that’s probably a direct response to this current environment." Certainly it presented a smart buying opportunity for fans of Wiley’s work who might be gripping their wallets a bit tighter these days.
Cronkite advises his clients to use the same tactics in buying art as they do in purchasing an apartment. "It’s OK to negotiate," he says. "It’s OK to ask for a discount. There’s nothing wrong with that." He also recommends looking for recession bargains, like the gallery equivalent of a closeout sale. Artists whose galleries have been forced to fold, he notes, will often offer their work minus the dealer markup.
Another product of the straitened times is the rise of the art world version of buying on time. "If you wanted a Kara Walker collage or drawing a year ago or two years ago and you couldn’t afford the $25,000, now you get a 20 percent discount and the director of the gallery is giving you a payment plan," says Steinke. "You have these opportunities to get things that will deepen your collection in a really profound way. I see that happening, and I partake in that practice myself."
For his part, Vora counsels searching both high and low. At the low end, attend some of the smaller arts events, like the Affordable Art Fair, which offers work priced under $10,000, or Art Basel Miami Beach’s satellite fairs, like Scope or Pulse, which tend to have slightly more affordable art from newer galleries. At the high end, reach out to venues that might previously have been regarded as unapproachable — Christie’s, for instance, even if you don’t plan on raising your paddle right away. "I think they understand the fact that from a long-term perspective, you can have these folks who are potential buyers down the road and you can get them comfortable today," he says. "Even if they’re not purchasing right away, it’s a smart thing to do."
Over the past year the landscape has shifted under fledgling collectors’ feet. While the recession has put a damper on art purchases across the board, this is a better time than ever for 20- and 30somethings with a little extra pocket change to dip their toes in the market.
These days, many buyers "get a 20 percent discount and the director of the gallery is giving you a payment plan."
Cronkite counsels his clients to use the same tactics in buying art as they do in buying an apartment. "It’s OK to negotiate," he says. "It’s OK to ask for a discount." He also advises looking for recession bargains, like the gallery equivalent of a closeout sale.
"New Blood" originally appeared in the December 2009 / January 2010 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' December 2009 / January 2010 Table of Contents.