Friday, June 29, 2007

Young Collectors, where are you?

New Collectors On The Block
Liz Tunick, The Forbes Collector 11.08.05, 4:00 PM ETNew York -

Art collectors keep getting younger. Consider the 13-year-old boy who spent his bar mitzvah money on a Rembrandt etching at a 2003 art fair. In a few years, after finishing his education and landing a well-paying professional gig, our young friend may find himself with plenty of disposable income and empty walls in his loft that his tiny Rembrandt won’t fill.

How will he scratch his art itch then? Sure, he can spend his weekends wandering the dizzying art mall that is Chelsea, getting dissed by dilettantes in pointy shoes. Or he can fast-track his art world access by joining one of the dozens of dynamic collecting groups springing up around the country, many of them auxiliary membership groups attached to museums, auction houses and art fairs.

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With its graying leadership, the art community is looking to foster the next generation of collectors, trustees and donors. Paltry acquisition budgets put museums in the business of collecting collectors, ideally ones blessed with deep pockets and impeccable taste. It’s in museums’ interest to shape that taste so that its collector protégés might one day gift their treasures to the institution.

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So who joins these groups? Young married folks interested in art and looking for a boost on the social ladder? Cultured singletons who prefer to spend a weekend gallery hopping to TV watching? While only a few groups have actual age requirements, membership age ranges from 21 to 45. Whatever the age, gender or marital status, all are united by their desire to learn more about art and socialize with like-minded culturati.

Young collecting groups cater to these interests by hosting frequent events ranging from intimate visits to artists’ studios to bopping blockbuster galas. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Contemporary Extension group takes its members on a winery field trip, complete with a slide talk on the “Bacchanalian History of Wine Seen through 4,000 Years of Art.” It also offers an innovative community-service project that pairs members with local students to view exhibits and make art together. The Contemporaries, a collecting group started this year by Harvard Business School alums, recently sponsored a tour of artist Cedric Smith’s studio in Atlanta to view his mixed-media images of African-Americans initially inspired by rap artist Public Enemy.

Indeed, the most important thing these groups offer: insider access, invaluable in the insular and clubby art world. Want behind-the-scenes access to museum collections and staff? Members of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Apollo Circle attend exclusive curator-led workshops on topics like developing a “collector’s eye” or the importance of art conservation. A few blocks down, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Whitney Contemporaries meet regularly with curators, trustees and director Adam Weinberg. At the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the youth-oriented Museum Council sponsors connoisseurship seminars, special exhibition openings and weekend jaunts to New York art fairs.

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Want a curator to accompany you to a few cutting-edge galleries to demystify the art? Philae Knight, co-chair of the Whitney group, says that their events foster “a close relationship” with gallery owners and artists. Nothing like an influential curator in tow to melt the frost off those gallery gatekeepers.

All of which makes it easier to whip out the checkbook when you are so moved. That’s exactly what Affordable Art Fair director Helen Allen hopes will happen with the New Collectors Group she formed in conjunction with the New York-based fair, which offers vetted contemporary art for under $10,000. Curatorial lectures and gallery walks are intended to help educate and broaden the market. Rodney Reid, a founding member of The Contemporaries, gets even more specific: “We focus on young artists, as we’re aiming to create a generational support system.” In other words, young collectors can help their creative peers be less reliant on their day jobs so they can focus on making art.

So, what’s the ante to get into this game? Fees range from nothing (joining The Contemporaries is free, but you have to be invited) to hundreds of dollars for an annual high-category museum membership. Of course, part of the mission of any museum-related group will be to support the institution. Young San Francisco collectors recently raised a whopping $1.9 million with their swanky spring ball. But often the cost of joining goes simply to cover the cost of group events, like space rental, speaker fees and refreshments.

The bottom line is that all these groups help people enjoy what they love: art.

The following is a list of collectors' groups and contact information:

The Museum Council
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.
617-369-3268 /

The Apollo Circle
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.

SFMOMA Contemporary Extension
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Whitney Contemporaries
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, N.Y.

AAF New Collectors Group, New York, N.Y.

The Contemporaries, New York, N.Y.

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