A subscriber wrote, “I was wondering just who buys all the art. I came up with a few possible demographics. Then it occurred to me that I should ask my favourite guru — you.”
Thanks for the elevation… These days there are five main types of art buyer. Some are a combination of more than one type. While it’s not something that you must make a study of, it’s often useful to recognize these birds when you see them in the field. Also, it’s good to know that they have habitats — some dealers attract or generate one type and not another. This can be a factor in a gallery’s and hence an artist’s success. The main types are collector, investor, decorator, believer and moneyburner.
“The collector” — perhaps the most precious — is hot-wired for art. He has art in his homes, offices, yachts and closets. While he can sometimes be “sold” things, he loves a chase and a sense of discovery. He may be compulsive, even addicted — it’s in his blood.
“The investor” looks at art and sees money. He tries to buy low and sell high. He uses terms like “important” and “flip.” He knows about taxes and regularly asks about values “for insurance purposes.”
“The decorator” needs something — often anything — to fill a space. Framing is important, as is colour. “Neutral subject matter” often fills the bill. He brings fabric swatches and may travel with a co-conspirator. “Trend” is big in his vocabulary — whether his inclination be period, retro, contemporary or kitsch.
“The believer” is the most innocent art buyer. He may be new to the game and feels the magic of it all — often sharing his excitement with an equally smitten partner. Art really speaks to them — they have a profound admiration and respect for creators.
“The moneyburner” has the dough and likes to get rid of it. He expects art to be expensive and reminds his friends of the figures. Because he “doesn’t have the time,” he’s often a dilettante. He exercises his whims, but often asks the advice of those who are ready and willing to give it.
PS: “To love a painting is to feel that its presence is not an object but a voice.” (André Malraux)
Esoterica: Among all of the art-buying types you’ll find the entry level, the mid-stream, and the seasoned — and some more mature than others. Incidentally, openly naming them in public is a mistake — while they’re all nice birds, they tend to think that they’re another type than what they are. You don’t want to ruffle their feathers. Just identify them and let them be.
This letter was originally published as “Art buyers” on December 10, 2004.
“I’m attracted to artists like Frida Kahlo, because her work was her life, her questions, her outrage, her suffering, her pain. Everything is in her work.” (Madonna)
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