With the 2017 edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach—also known as the art world’s Black Friday—in full swing, Swiss bank UBS has released an extensive survey of art collectors that explores what motivates them, how they decide what to buy, and how they manage their collections.
UBS will release the findings of the survey, titled the “UBS Investor Watch Pulse Report,” on Thursday at its VIP lounge inside Art Basel in the Miami Beach Convention Center. The study consists of findings of interviews with 2,475 high-net-worth US-based individuals with at least $1 million in investable assets during September 2017, including 608 respondents with at least $5 million. Of the total survey respondents, 1,017 are collectors and 363 say they collect fine art.
Perhaps most surprising—and almost unbelievable—in a cash-obsessed art world: the notion that passion, rather than profit, drives most collectors.
As seen above, 71 percent of respondents said that enjoying “beautiful things” is what drives their interest, while 54 percent deemed collecting a “passion.” Other motivations included supporting artists and future plans for charitable donations.
And while it’s no secret that a certain segment of the art collecting world is notorious for “flipping” in hopes of making a quick profit, the survey results suggest that this is not reflective of the broader art world. Of the survey participants, 65 percent said they have never sold any works of art or objects from their collection. And 25 percent said they view their collection as priceless.
“Collectors don’t apply the same principles to buying art that they would to a typical investment portfolio of stocks and bonds,” said John Mathews, head of private wealth management and ultra-high net worth, UBS Americas.
The report also found that rather than relying on art advisors to make acquisitions—88 percent say they don’t—for most of the collectors, the “first step in the purchase journey” is to seek advice from other sources. In all, 62 percent of collectors used galleries to educate themselves in order to make their fine art purchases. This was followed by online resources (60 percent), museums (50 percent), and magazines (44 percent). Also surprising: One in four collectors said they purchase art online, sight unseen.
This “gravitation toward alternative sources,” according to a statement by UBS, “underscores the evolution of the art buyer’s journey and how the industry will need to adapt to keep pace.”
Other notable findings: 46 percent of respondents said they increased how much they’re spending on art over time. But 41 percent had never had their collections appraised, so they don’t have a fair market or replacement value for the works they own.
Of the top five most attended art events, Art Basel in Miami Beach was first, followed by The Armory Show, TEFAF (The Netherlands), Frieze (both London and New York rank high) and lastly, the Venice Biennale.
As far as leaving behind a legacy, 87 percent of collectors said they planned to leave their collection to their heirs. However, 57 percent said they had not educated their heirs about collecting.
“We were surprised to see…that most collectors have not appraised or insured their own collection,” said Mathews. “[D]espite their overwhelming intention to pass their collection on to their heirs, the majority of collectors have not taken steps to educate [their heirs] on how to manage, appraise and/or sell their collection.”
The taxi to Zhang Huan’s studio in the suburbs of southwest Shanghai takes over an hour, and deposits me in front of a barred entrance, with a gatekeeper’s hut inside. As the gate slides back, a uniformed guard lets me in; I wait. Soon the studio curator and a translator arrive, and then a photographer, who records every detail of my visit, followed by Zhang Huan himself. Neat, lithe, dressed in his trademark high-necked sweatshirt, glasses propped on his peaked cap, Zhang moves with cat-like grace as he shows me around his domain.
Zhang bought the site, formerly a state-owned hydraulics machine factory, in 2005, after his return to China following 20 years in New York. The sheer scale of the factory/studio begins to dawn on me as we step over train tracks and past three wrecked carriages, one propped up against buffers—salvaged from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
The behemoth-like studio reflects two aspects of art production in the second decade of the 21st century: supply and size. Artists need to be able to make work to fill increasingly sprawling spaces; and they need assistants to help, and heavy lifting gear and forklift trucks to move it around.
Zhang Huan attends at his exhibition at Pace London in April 2014. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Pace London)
As author Ursula Pasero has noted, “Many large studios are incorporated and registered as a company and need a turnover of millions of euros or dollars simply to sustain themselves.”
Zhang employs some 80 assistants in the studio, but in the case of large-scale projects (he says he makes about two a year) this can rise to 200. “They stretch and prepare the canvases, separate the ash, apply plaster to sculptures, order materials, work with silicone, but I do the final creation,” says Zhang.
Zhang’s reputation was established in the 1990s with performances, some of them extreme, such as 12m2 (1994), which involved him sitting in a stinking village toilet at the height of summer, covered with honey and fish oil amid swarms of flies.
But while performance was a major part of his early practice, today he and his studio produce mainly painting, sculpture, and video, sometimes on an immense scale. In 2015, an ash painting shown at Pace Gallery in New York, June 15, 1964, was 37 meters long and two meters high: it took three years to make, with 10 assistants working on it at a time.
I ask him how many artworks he produces a year, but he doesn’t answer the question, simply responding, “I am under no pressure to produce work. I follow my own ideas.” I certainly do not see many assistants during my visit, although one is scraping away at what looks like a bone in one workshop, while a group are working on some plaster in another.
A sculpture of Confucius made by Zhang Huan on view at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai in 2011. (Photo by Olivier Chouchana/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Zhang’s studio is large, but the factory-like aspect of his practice is by no means unique in China. Other artists, mainly in Beijing, have similarly large studios, often in former factories, leading to accusations of formulaic mass production. Zhang Xiaogang, for example, according to an interview in the South China Morning Post has “lost count” of his “Bloodline” series. These expressionless, stiffly posed family portraits that made his reputation in the early 2000s can command immense prices: Bloodline: Big Family No. 3 (1995) made $12.1 million in Hong Kong in 2014.
As I take my leave, Zhang asks me, “Have you ever seen a studio this big?”
“No,’” I say, “but I am visiting Sterling Ruby’s in Los Angeles in two weeks’ time. I believe it’s just as big.” I can see he is miffed, disbelieving. He asks me who Sterling Ruby is, and asks me to write out his name.
From Shanghai to Los Angeles
Later that month I ring the bell at an unmarked door in Vernon, an industrial city to the south of downtown Los Angeles. Almost no one lives in Vernon, which is mostly given over to warehouses and factories.
This is where the Californian artist Sterling Ruby has his studio, housed in a former truck factory. Again, I am astonished by the sheer scale of the place, which covers four acres—even though the original vast hangar has been divided up by temporary walls.
In one area are lines of racks of clothing, while long “soft sculptures” are laid out on the floor. In another, shelves are heaped with rolls of fabric while a hoist rope, reaching up 37 feet, suspends sculptures. Oversized glazed ceramics are crowded around kilns; the dappled abstracts Ruby is often associated with hang on the walls.
Sculptures by Sterling Ruby included in the Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition, “The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture,” in 2011. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Outside, there are a number of courtyards; in one stands a forklift truck, in another parts of a chopped-up submarine, while blue tarpaulin cloaks a refurbished bus once used by a Californian prison and a giant canary-yellow “electric chair” stands bleakly against a wall. A battered car is propped up, sitting on a pipe.
Ruby, impeccable and athletically dressed in an orange sweatshirt and green baseball cap, tells me he has between 12 and 20 assistants in the studio, where he moved in 2014.
“I was paying a lot for storage of artworks, and I thought, why not have somewhere to keep everything together. This is where I can realize my dreams!” he said.
If the studio complex is large, then so is Ruby’s packed exhibition schedule—with 18 exhibitions in 2016 alone, demanding hyper-prolific output to supply them. His practice ranges from quilts and “vampire mouth” soft sculptures through metal “stoves,” ceramics, video, photography, flags, and abstract paintings to towering stalagmites made of shiny urethane.
Raf Simons (right) and Sterling Ruby salute the audience after their Fall/Winter 2014-2015 men’s fashion show in Paris on January, 15, 2014. (FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
“Production is not a problem, but I never make work specifically for shows,” he tells me. And then there are his fashion designs, which include paint-splattered “work wear” produced from offcuts of other projects, and a collaboration with fashion designer Raf Simons, whose flagship store Ruby designed. Images from Ruby’s paintings on dresses and a coat were used for Simons’s first haute couture collection for Dior in 2012.
As one of the hottest artists in the contemporary art scene, Ruby has been unabashedly commercial in driving his career, burning through galleries. At the time of my visit, he was represented by Foxy Production, Gagosian, Sprüth Magers, Taka Ishii, and Xavier Hufkens, having left the mega-player Hauser & Wirth in 2015.
Supply and Size: What the Market Wants
Outsiders to the art market often find it difficult to comprehend the importance of supply in the art market. This is not an industry like most others, where the problem lies in finding buyers for your product.
The problem here is to find desirable works for sale, notably on the secondary market. In the primary market, there is a theoretically endless supply as living artists create new work. The reality is more complicated. Galleries control the market for their artists, “rationing” it in order to maintain prices and high demand. Only a small number of artists account for the bulk of the market and so the pressure on them to produce enough for their galleries can be intense.
The demand is not only for quantity—it is also for works of a certain size. And while “huge” art is not a modern phenomenon—centuries-old artworks such as the Sistine Chapel in Rome or the great Baroque palaces in St Petersburg were vast undertakings—a number of elements in today’s world have stimulated the need for large-scale artworks.
Visitor numbers to Christo’s Floating Piers (2016) overwhelmed local authorities. Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images.
Public institutions are pressured by the need to attract the public with a “wow” factor; huge new private museums want impactful, striking works; and even the increasing magnitude of buildings in urban spaces has demanded scaled-up public projects. Examples range from the “Monumenta” series of installations in the Grand Palais, Paris, or Tate’s Turbine Hall projects in London, to Christo’s three-kilometer Floating Piers project across Italy’s Lake Iseo—all part of an event culture that demands BIG.
This appetite for size is mirrored by the growth of the major art galleries, as illustrated by Hauser & Wirth’s massive Los Angeles space, a sprawling, 100,000-square-foot former flour mill converted into galleries, a sculpture garden, restaurant, and shop.
“Over-production is a serious problem; I would say the limit was reached in 2013 or 2014,” says Stéphane Custot, the owner of the London gallery Waddington Custot. “And it has got to change, because it could eventually destroy confidence in the contemporary art market.’”
Demand From All Sides
The art market almost doubled between 2005 and 2015 when it reached $63.3 billion, before falling back to $56.6 billion in 2016, for both for sales at auction and those through dealers (though the latter are trickier to evaluate).
And yet this extraordinary leap in size of art sales is only part of the story; the most astonishing aspect is how contemporary art has come to dominate the market today, with growth in demand from many different sectors, and not just for buying and selling.
“The cross-pollination of celebrity culture, fashion and glamour has given contemporary art in general, and art events in particular, a promise of enjoyment, excitement and the promise of exclusivity,” writes the art advisor and collector Marta Gnyp.
There is now a proliferation of books, websites, articles devoted to artists and exhibitions in magazines, fashion and luxury goods tie-ups, plus the rapidly expanding calendar of biennales, art fairs and displays around the world.
Jeff Koons with one of his Louis Vuitton Masters bags. Photo courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Art is used to sell real estate, to brand a hotel, to give a new building project or a restaurant the most hip and “now” credentials. At the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, alongside the 20 or more satellite events, even companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Volvo and Mazda, as well as a gourmet food company, Dean and DeLuca, have put on art-inspired projects, while luxury goods firms also tout their products with art.
All this needs supply. And possibly one of the main reproaches leveled against today’s art market, particularly the higher-end segment, is that of over-production, with some well-known artists locked into producing more and more—often similar—works, just to satisfy the demands of all these events.
Indeed, any visitor to a major art fair will be struck by the similarity of offerings by the major galleries, from a mirrored sculpture by Anish Kapoor(the “Pottery Barn of void,” quips one dealer) to a spotted Kusama pumpkin. As the New York-based journalist Christian Viveros-Fauné puts it: “You can only get so much out of a single artist—and the market wants repetition rather than innovation.”
This is an edited excerpt from Georgina Adam’s forthcoming book, Dark Side of the Boom. Adam is a London-based journalist and writer, editor at large for The Art Newspaper, and a contributor to the Financial Times. The book, which focuses on the excesses of the art market in the 21st century, will be published on January 5 by Lund Humphries.
Sheikh Raed Bader and Rabbi Michael Melchior: key figures in the religious peace networkALF/UNAOC
A remarkable alliance of Israeli orthodox rabbis and Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East is mediating behind the scenes following the anger and violence sparked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.
As demonstrations continue throughout the region, Israeli forces clashing with Palestinian protesters and Israeli air strikes following rockets fired from Gaza have left at least a dozen Palestinians dead and hundreds injured.
The US Jerusalem declaration has also emboldened Arab calls to boycott associations with Israelis. But these Muslim and Jewish religious scholars remain dedicated to non-violent strategies for securing rights and security for both Israelis and Palestinians and to “stop people killing”, Sheikh Imad Falogi, a former Hamas leader in Gaza, tells The Art Newspaper.
The covert interfaith efforts, which religious leaders describe as a “religious peace network”, began in the early 1990s and spread across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, focusing especially on maintaining the peace in Jerusalem and its holy sites. In 2002, the senior Egyptian mufti Mohammed Sayed Tantawi joined several Holy Land religious leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury to sign the Alexandria Declaration, a set of shared religious principles for non-violence.
Today the coalition includes a growing number of Muslim scholars in almost every Arab country; the network stretches from the North African Arab states to Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. Some Muslim leaders have met with Israeli orthodox rabbis in Spain, Italy, Norway and Turkey. While they primarily focus on improving Jewish-Muslim relations, they also maintain close connections with church leaders from Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank. The Pope is kept apprised of their work, they say.
Despite anger with the US declaration that it will move its embassy to Jerusalem and with Israel over Palestinian rights, “big” numbers of Islamic leaders in the Middle East and around the world want to work with these Israeli rabbis “for a real peace and political and community rights”, Falogi says. Religious leaders must play a role, he explains, because they can achieve results better and faster than politicians as they have “more power in the Middle East”.
Falogi also says that the rabbis he sees as his allies have studied the Quran, as he has studied the Christian Bible and Jewish holy texts. “The rabbis in this network understand us—our religion and rights—better than the politicians.”
Equality not separation
Avi Gisser, an Israeli orthodox rabbi who heads the West Bank settlement of Ofra and is chair of Israel’s national religious education council, has deep respect for his Islamic partners. “I teach in the Jewish religious community that we need to build our life together, Jew and Arab, Jewish and Muslim; there must be equality, not separation,” he says. Gisser also now teaches on Islam and Palestinian rights, and advocates for interfaith connections for “security and to fight terror”.
“It is dangerous to talk to rabbis but I’m convinced it is good for the two sides,” says the Islamic law scholar, Ali Sartawi, who served as a Hamas-affiliated minister of justice in the 2007 Palestinian government. “We can’t build peace with the political side only. I don’t have any problems with Jewish people on the Israeli side. I respect the Jewish religion. But if fundamentalists grow on both sides, I will be afraid.”
“Of course there are extremist Jews and Arabs who don’t like [this alliance],” Gisser says. “But in the general population there is a lot of will for closer relations.” Earlier this year, when Sheikh Abdallah Nimer Darwish, the co-founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel who also helped to set up the religious peace network, died, Gisser visited the mourning tent and was invited to speak. “They accepted me,” he says.
The US Jerusalem announcement was widely seen as pre-empting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. After Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, it declared the territory part of its capital. But Palestinians and most of the international community consider East Jerusalem to be occupied and do not recognise Israeli sovereignty there. Palestinian residents in the area, who mostly do not have Israeli citizenship, want East Jerusalem to be recognised as their capital and to have equal rights. To Muslim and Christian Arabs, the US declaration is also a threat to the sacred spaces of East Jerusalem’s walled Old City, which is home to numerous sites holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Jewish, Armenian, Muslim and Christian Arab quarters.
Palestinian protestors in Gaza burn an effigy of Donald TrumpPhoto: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
In the wake of Trump’s announcement, the network’s members have been scrambling to convince authorities and communities to avoid provocation and violence across the region, and especially in Jerusalem and at its most contested holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram Al Sharif, or noble sanctuary. The location of the second temple, destroyed by the Romans in AD70, remains the holiest site in Judaism. For centuries, the compound has been home to Muslim shrines, including the Al-Aqsa mosque, the holiest Muslim site in Jerusalem and the third holiest site in Islam.
It is critical for people to understand the strong emotions surrounding this site in the Arab world, says Sheikh Raed Bader, an Islamic law arbitrator and the leading legal authority of the Southern Islamic Movement of Israel. “Al-Aqsa is like Mecca” for Muslims everywhere, he says. At the same time, Bader says that many hours of conversations with rabbis have helped him to understand Jewish connections to holy sites, too. “We have tried to find the most positive, deep, creative solutions,” he says.
The challenges to keeping the peace at the site are daunting. In recent years, religious and nationalist Jews have visited the site in much bigger numbers, while male Muslim worshippers aged under 50, who can be prohibited by Israel from visiting their mosque, say they feel disrespected and disenfranchised.
The Jerusalem rabbi Michael Melchior, a former cabinet member in Israel who co-founded the religious alliance, says the coalition is “always on guard”, as the holy site is “nuclear”. Tensions peaked in July, leaving several dead on both sides. But the violence would have been significantly worse if the network had not intervened, Melchior says. Extremists “who wanted to create a world war, a clash of civilisations, would have had thousands of people killed,” he says. “We were three minutes away from that happening. I had many calls from the chiefs of police. We negotiated the situation before the whole Middle East went up in flames.” The Muslim scholars tell the same story. Together they helped mediate between the Waqf, the Islamic council appointed by Jordan to oversee Muslim sites in the Old City, “with the support of a lot of players in the Muslim world and the Israeli police, approved by the Israeli cabinet”, Melchior says.
Radicalisation of Muslim and Jewish stakeholders at the Temple Mount/Aqsa Mosque complex is “aided and abetted by end-of-days Christian evangelicals who are exacerbating tensions,” says the Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem expert who advises policymakers.
“The next eruption of violence is only a matter of time,” he says. “These are growing religious movements that have weaponised faith, whose claims are exclusive, existential and absolute—Biblically driven Christian settlers, the messianically driven Jewish Temple Mount movement, the various iterations of extreme Islam, and ‘end-of-day’ Christians. The traditional religious leadership—the Holy See, the orthodox patriarchy, the mainline Protestant churches, chief rabbis and the traditional sharia courts—are being marginalised.”
As a result, Israeli relations with Jordan, the custodian of Muslim sites, have never been worse. But engaging the faith communities could help, Seidemann says. “I don’t think anybody is considering turning over the political processes to faith communities or giving religious leaders a formal place at the negotiating table,” he says. “There is, however, a greater awareness that failing to address the faith dimension of this conflict has grave ramifications, creating flawed political processes, undermining the integrity of the city and potentially destabilising it.”
Until there is a peace agreement and rights and security on the ground for all residents, the network is trying to fill in where political, diplomatic and security efforts fail. “We are not a government or in power. But if we get requests to help, we all try to help each other,” Melchior says. “We do interventions all the time.”
Resolving sectarian disputes in Jerusalem can reverberate widely, Bader believes. “We need Muslims and Jews to explain that peace is not only good for Israelis and Palestinians, but a model that influences Libya, Iraq, Syria and Algeria. We want to meet rabbis who are of the same mind. I don’t meet with rabbis or sheikhs who want to make war," the sheikh says. "Look what happened in Egypt: 300 people in prayer killed in the name of religion. This also happens in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. The people who do this do not represent our texts and do not represent God.”