The next generation of art collectors is shunning pretension in search of an art experience that reflects their lifestyle

Galleries and artists cater to the young at art: the next generation of art collectors is shunning pretension in search of an art experience that reflects their lifestyle

Debbie Hagan

They’re young. They’re educated. And they re earning more than their parents. They’re not worrying about the future. They’re not into cold, white box galleries; they’re into bright colors, contemporary designs and art that’s fun.

They’re the next generation of art collectors, and though they haven’t yet reached the age of 45, they’re showing a strong presence in the art market.

David Smith, chief executive officer and owner of Michael Godard Fine Art, sees these young art collectors as an untapped market with a lot of disposable income. Eighteen months ago, Smith introduced artist Michael Godard to 25- to 35-year-olds. Godard paints Spanish olives that swim in martinis, dance on poker tables and smoke cigars. Godard’s world is one of nightlife indulgences. “It’s not about drinking,” said Smith about the Gen X appeal. “It’s about hanging with friends. It’s about the social aspect of drinking–not sweating life too much.” The artist is currently in 365 galleries worldwide and is selling 2,000 to 3,000 prints a month.

Burton Morris is another artist who has caught on with younger buyers. “It’s for a newer generation of collectors–people who like color, who like more contemporary art, who like art that makes them happy,” he said about his art. “It’s something a little more positive. It appeals to the ‘Friends’ demographics.”

His bold, retro pop images of coffee cups, the Statue of Liberty and toasters have appeared on the sets of TV shows such as “Friends” and “Just Shoot Me.” His work is collected by Jennifer Aniston and a variety of celebrities. They’re all around his age, said the artist, who’s 39. He was even commissioned by the Academy Awards to update its image–give the Academy a youthful makeover–by designing bright pop posters and banners for this year’s ceremony.

“The style is simple and easy to identify with,” said Morris about why the younger crowd enjoys his work. “I keep things easy and to the point. I’m known for using everyday ideas and making them come to life.”

Looking at the Numbers

Every marketer defines the Gen X, Gen Y and Millennial crowds a little differently. For this article, we have divided younger art buyers into two groups, 24- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 44-year-olds. At 40 million and 45 million respectively, these two groups make up nearly a third of the nation’s population. Neither group falls neatly into the Gen Y (ages 20 to 28) nor the Gen X (ages 30 to 38) categories. Still, they represent the two types of young buyers that art dealers see.

According to the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, a fifth of all people ages 24 to 44 own original art (paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints). Those ages 24 to 34 (16 percent) were slightly less likely to own art than those ages 35 to 44 (22 percent). Of course, older buyers had more income. In fact, 45 percent of the art buyers ages 35 to 44 earned $75,000 or more a year. Only 29 percent of those 24 to 34 earned as much.

Of the young art buyers, 67 percent are married–61 percent of those ages 24 to 34 and 70 percent of those who are 35 to 44, according to the survey. Thirty percent of the 24- to 34-year-olds had never been married, compared with 13 percent of the 35- to 44-year-olds.

The survey also showed that both groups of young art buyers were Internet savvy. Nineteen percent used the Internet to search for artists, galleries and exhibitions and to educate themselves about artists and art history. Nearly half spent an hour or less a week searching the Web for art. Another third spent as much as two hours a week on the Web looking for art.

Affordable Pricing

Keeping art affordable is essential in marketing to younger art buyers. “We priced our work so it’s under $1,500,” said Smith about pricing Michael Godard’s giclees on canvas, which are gallery wrapped (no frame). Some dealers have complained that Godard could raise his prices, but Smith put it like this: “Under $1,500 is something you can come up with. It’s the one nice thing you’ll buy to put in your house.”

HANG ART, in San Francisco, opened six years ago under the banner, “emerging artists for emerging collectors.” Leah Edwards, marketing director, explained that the gallery was founded for young people in the area who couldn’t find a comfortable place to shop for art. “Maybe they hadn’t developed their own taste to such an extent that they could find an artist on their own,” she said. Since then, the gallery has developed a reputation throughout the Bay area for selling original work by new artists for around $2,000.

“I think a lot of people come here because they want confidence,” said Edwards. “We create an atmosphere that feels very comfortable. We give them a 30-day money-back return policy. We’re open seven days a week. All of the work in our inventory is on the Web site (”

On that site, buyers can build a personal gallery (similar to a wish list) or make direct purchases. “It enables them to narrow things down,” Edwards said. Some couples will look through the art at home, she explained. They pre-shop. “They don’t want to be here for hours looking through art,” she said. Their attention span is short. They’re busy. When the couple finds the painting that they want, one of them will pick it up. They don’t feel it’s necessary that they both go.

At Studio Soto in Boston, director Gustavo Soto-Rosa faces some challenges in selling contemporary works to 35- to 44-year-olds. They are affluent, most of them earning $100,000 or more a year. But they live in small apartments, and contemporary paintings tend to be very large. The other problem, Soto-Rosa expressed as a question: “How much artwork can you own if you live in a small space?” Rather than stop buying when their apartments are full, some of Soto-Rosa’s customers circulate their purchases, displaying half of their collection at a time.

Soto-Rosa doesn’t see many buyers under age 30–only young people who come from collecting families. The other twenty-somethings, he said, haven’t developed an appreciation for art buying yet.

Learning to Buy

Art education leads to art collecting, which eventually leads to philanthropy. This logic hasn’t gone unnoticed by museums nationwide. To cultivate collectors, many museums have set up “young collectors clubs.” They go by different names, but most operate in more or less the same way. Membership fees entitle members to private viewings of museum collections or special exhibitions and other exclusive museum privileges. Members may go on trips, attend lectures, participate in art tours and attend dinners and socials.

To join the Museum Council at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, members must be between 21 and 45 years old. Membership fees fall into two general categories: $500 and $1,000. Those at the higher membership level, known as fellows, are invited to more outings and have more personal access to curators. Recently, MFA’s fellows traveled with museum curators to Cuba, where they toured artists’ studios. Curators also take them on a shopping trip each year to the New York Print Fair.

In 1998, Dr. William Pirl joined the Museum of Modern Art’s Junior Associate Program. Now 35, Pirl was working temporarily in New York and joined the museum’s program as a way to connect with others socially. “It was one of my best life experiences,” said Pirl. “It became an integral part of my life.”

Before moving back to Boston, the psychiatrist joined the MFA Council and will take over as chairman in July. “It’s a great way to meet people my age;’ said Pirl. “It’s been fun developing with other people and going to the Print Fair and seeing other people grow as I grow.” They attend parties at each others homes and share tips on artists, exhibitions and galleries.

Curator Barbara Shapiro is one of the museum’s liaisons with the council. Pirl said that she has taught him and other budding art buyers “not to be afraid of buying art.” The other bit of wisdom she has passed on, he said, is: “Yes, you will make mistakes, but you can always get rid of them.”

Making It Fun

Younger art buyers avoid “art speak” and pretentiousness. “I’m still intimidated in some galleries” said Pirl. “It makes me feel more comfortable to know that this is a business and that people would like to make sales.”

In San Francisco, HANG’s mission has been to create an art-buying atmosphere that’s fun and comfortable. “When you walk in the door, you know immediately it’s a very different place,” said Edwards. Each wall is painted in a different color, such as fuchsia, delft blue or bright orange. Music plays. A dog and cat roam the gallery. There are funky but comfy chairs everywhere, and the staff greets customers, but there’s no pressure to buy. They don’t work on commission.

At Soto Gallery, Soto-Rosa turns his exhibition openings into real parties. He may hire a Latin pop band and invite performance artists.

Michael Godard also believes an opening should be a party. In February, when he entered his opening at Luis Sottil Gallery in Key West, Fla., he donned a gladiator outfit. A few nights earlier, at Wyland Gallery in Orlando, he dressed as a vampire.

“Michael changes costumes every night” said Smith. “We do [the openings] like rock concerts. We make them fun for people. People want a buying experience.”

More than that, young art buyers want art that’s real–art that’s part of their lives and lifestyles. “I appreciate the sanctuary atmosphere of a museum,” said Edwards. “However, art should be part of your life–you need to be able to picture it in your life when you’re in the art gallery.”

Home Ownership

and Young People Who Own Original Art


24-34 35-44

OWN THEIR OWN HOME 65.2% 82.8%

RENT 33.6% 15.6%


Source: 2002 Public Participation in the Arts Survey.

Note: Table made from bar graph.


* Burton Studios, (412) 969-5145

* Michael Godard Fine Art, (760) 310-4288

* HANG ART, (415) 434-4264

* Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, (617) 369-3268

* Studio Soto, (617) 426-7686

COPYRIGHT 2004 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group