Shifts in concentration and industry composition have been accompanied by geographic changes. Although the bulk of collectors still come from the U.S. and Europe, China’s breathtaking economic growth has been accompanied by the growing prominence of its collectors: their numbers among the top 200 have risen to 10 in 2016 from three two decades ago. Japanese collectors have been less prominent of late than they were 20 years ago, dropping from seven to three, although the splashy purchases by Yusaku Maezawa, proud owner of the $110.5 million
painting sold at Sotheby’s in May
, may signal a coming resurgence for his country’s importance.
But in an industry as tradition-bound and relationship-heavy as art, there’s still a high degree of continuity over the past 20 years. Roughly two dozen names (or about 10% of the total), give or take a spouse or two, appear on both lists, although the average age of those collectors neared 80 in 2016.
Some of them have lined up their children to take their place, including retail magnates such as Doris and Donald Fisher, founders of The Gap. Their son Robert Fisher appears on the list in 2016 with his wife Randi. Likewise Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg; Warren co-founded Bed Bath & Beyond, and their son Martin and his wife Rebecca inherited the passion for collecting along with the means to do it. The kids’ presence in the 2016 list helped boost the retail category’s share to 14% of the top 200, up from 10% in 1996.
And, of course, inherited wealth more broadly still makes up an important core of the resources that flow toward art: Around two dozen collectors on each list have inherited significant fortunes or business interests, some of it several generations old.
What about the highest-profile industry of our time, technology? That industry’s share of top art collectors grew to 5% from 2% over the past two decades, but that still seems low for an industry with so many new billionaires. That could change in the future, as they grow into their thirties, forties, and fifties, ages when people tend to start collecting, said McAndrew. Woodham noted that art did not appear to be “a turn-on” for them at the moment, possibly, he suggested, because “artistic innovation doesn’t seem profound enough vis a vis what a lot of the works cost, and relative to the forms of innovation they see in their fields.”
But that could change as the expanding cultural scene in the Bay Area spurs more exposure. Entrepreneurs are “clever, resourceful individuals who…are open to new ideas,” Woodham said. “Artists are a source of creativity.”
Interestingly, researching the collectors across both the 1996 and 2016 lists—those who have made their wealth recently or come by it through their families—turns up results mostly related to their art collecting activities. Like the the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Gettys of the Gilded Age whose names adorn museum buildings and exhibition halls, this current generation of art collectors is creating new legacies through their arts patronage, while information about the sources of their wealth fades into distant pages of search results or lies buried in trade publications.