The three types of contemporary art collector


Peter Shanks, Ghosts in a Gallery. CCLicense

The department of research, forecasting and statistics at the French Ministry of Culture and Communication has recently published a report written by Nathalie Moureau, head lecturer of economic sciences at Université Paul-Valery in Montpellier, and elected vice-president of Culture; Dominique Sagot-Duvauroux, economist and research lecturer at the Université d’Angers; and Marion Vidal, doctor in economic sciences at the Université de Montpellier and associate researcher at the laMeta (uMr 5474), the Université Paul-Valéry de Montpellier, entitled Collectionneurs d’art contemporain: des acteurs méconnus de la vie artistique. In this report about collectors of contemporary art, the three authors describe the profiles of different collectors, examining the different ways in which they are involved with the art scene and why, and analysing the typology of collectors, who range from semi-professionals to independent collectors.

What are the profiles and careers of collectors of contemporary art?
The majority (73%) of art collectors are male, and have a higher level of education compared to the average French population. Three quarters of them have a bac +4 qualification and 27% of them have a qualification in history of art. Furthermore, 64% are aged over 50-years-old, since financial capacity generally increases with age, and 47% of them live in the Île-de-France region.

The collectors’ careers are not similar. 43% of them say that they acquired their first work between the ages of 20 and 30 and another third started collecting earlier. The first work acquired by nearly a half of collectors was a painting, whilst a third chose a print, an engraving, or a lithograph to inaugurate their collection, with even fewer people opting for a drawing. Finally, a third of collectors already knew people who collected art before they began collecting themselves.

In the same way, collections are always diverse and varied. The smallest collections are made up of less than 50 pieces (a third of the sample), whilst the biggest collections feature more than 200 pieces and count one out of five. The majority of collections are exhibited in the owner’s home. Furthermore, 66% of collections are not specialised and 68% of the works that they contain were made after 1945. Three quarters of the collections consists of French pieces. Finally, painting is present in nearly all collections (90% of cases), sculpture, photography, and drawing in nearly three quarters, and artists’ book in nearly half of collections, whilst video art and installation are more rarely represented.

Financial commitments, on the other hand, are varied. The average annual budget for acquisition varies considerably, since 30% of collectors spend less than €5,000 per year on works, whilst at the other extremity of the spectrum, 16% spend over €50,000. Three quarters of collectors devote a month of their salary to the acquisition of new works whilst others give the equivalent of two months of income. Furthermore, although a quarter of collectors have never spent more than €5,000 on a work, one out of ten have already acquired a piece for over €100,000.

Collectors’ involvement in the art scene 
Collectors are involved in artists’ lives in various ways. A third of them provide material or financial support for artists, helping them with their premises or materials, or giving them loans, or financial donations. Collectors also support artists in terms of production by giving them orders, as 44% have already done. As well as material or financial aid (by a loan or production assistance), collectors can help artists diffuse their work, establish their fame, or help new talents emerge. Thus, 35% of collectors have declared having already collaborated in an exhibition project with an exhibition curator or a critic, and 33% have published or participated in the financing of artists catalogues. These close relationships seem to be important since three quarters of collectors systematically meet artists.

In addition, several collectors are also involved in institutions. One of the most common forms of involvement, 60% of collectors, is to be part of a society of friends of the museums. Indeed, more than a half of collectors lend works to museums. Additionally, in comparison to other collectors, collectors involved with institutions dedicate more of their free time and money to their passion.

Moreover, the majority of collectors follow the work of a limited number of galleries: with 39% following less than five galleries or exhibition spaces, and 32% following between five and ten. The reason behind this limited choice lies within time restraints and the establishment of a special relationship with an artist. The resulting financial support can sometimes take the form of monthly income for the gallerist, in exchange for one or more works, or, more commonly, a one-time purchase of works. However, a collector’s involvement can also lead to participation in the gallery’s activities; either through one-time funding or, in the case of a gallerist/collector collaboration in management, through monitoring.

In any case, collectors’ involvement is motivated by various reasons, such as the altruistic satisfaction experienced by other individuals in providing assistance to artists and gallerists. In contrast, collectors’ involvement can also be motivated by personal satisfaction. A third possible motivation for collectors’ involvement in artistic life is linked to the social nature of these activities: satisfaction is more often a result of involvement in meetings, social positioning, and the different effects that this creates. However, it is evident that collectors’ involvement in artistic life is not completely disconnected from economic and financial considerations, since it allows them to diffuse privileged information regarding promising artists and to produce communication likely to affect the popularity ratings of artists, notably those present in their collection, for themselves.

A typology of involved collectors: from quasi-professional to independent
The best type of group is one which brings together collectors who have an important role, particularly in legitimate production activities, having been involved in the management of institutional projects, the carrying out of museum loans and deposits, the financing of catalogues, and production assistance. Invested collectors are also active in production activities in a unique way: they participate in the institution’s board of directors or lend works from their collections in France and abroad.

More moderately, level-headed collectors invest less in production activities but sometimes carry out loans with French institutions. They began to collect between the ages of 20 and 30, and state that they split their free time equally between their collector activities and other pastimes.

Finally, the majority of independent collectors, who are quite autonomous in their judgment, began their collection after their thirties, are not involved in production activities, and do not lend works. They only dedicate a reduced amount of their free time to their collector activities, are not very invested in the search for information, and do not follow particular galleries; however, they can visit regional fairs.

Such is the profile which this year’s survey carried out on collectors in France, demonstrating the extent to which their profiles can vary, just like their intentions and motivations.


Image courtesy of Peter Shanks under creative commons license.