Aug 24, 2023 3:02PM
Collecting art can be a tricky endeavor for those starting out. For the next generation, the art world landscape they inhabit is changing at a rapid pace as they embark on their own path.
The drives behind why people buy art are multifaceted. For the young collectors that Artsy spoke to, collecting is about purpose, whether that is through activism, in highlighting specific communities, or relying on one’s intuition.Artsy spoke with 10 prominent young collectors, aged 35 and under, who shared their passions and motivations behind their art buying journeys.
Curator and Collection Manager
London and Ginoles, France
Portrait of Georgia Powell by Jayne West. Courtesy of Georgia Powell.
One could say that collecting is a trait that Georgia Powell began demonstrating in childhood. “I was the annoying child that when we’d go to the beach…I’d just collect things,” she recounted to Artsy. “The back of the seat of the car would be filled with shells on the way home. I’ve always needed to be surrounded by things that I think are interesting or beautiful.”
Collecting art was a natural progression for the curator and collection manager when Powell began managing The Redfern Gallery in London at the tender age of 21, after graduating from university. Powell later went on to co-found the art consultancy CURA Art, where she is currently a director.
Learning to trust her gut instinct has been an integral part of building the foundation of Powell’s collection. Following her intuition enabled the themes of the collection to develop organically and helped her to discover that she was “naturally drawn to abstract and figurative paintings.” This realization has led to adding the works of artists such as Soumya Netrabile, Hormazd Narielwalla, Clara Adolphs, and Amy Beager to her evolving collection.
When exploring the term “collector,” Powell puts emphasis on the responsibilities attached to the term, rather than the status. “At what stage do you call yourself a collector? There are all of these different associations with that word,” she said. “I teach a lot at Christie’s Education, and I’m constantly encouraging people not to cling onto that word, but to think about the responsibilities that surround that role. I’m constantly preaching about the practicalities of collecting like being conscious of things like long-term preservation.”
Millie Jason Foster
Director, Gillian Jason Gallery
Portrait of Millie Jason Foster. Courtesy of Millie Jason Foster.
Walking through London’s Soho district, it’s hard to miss Gillian Jason Gallery’s storefront, which is adorned with large windows populated by bright and bold artworks of female and nonbinary artists. It is also home to a familial venture that led to Millie Jason Foster’s first introduction to art collecting. “I really started building my collection when my mother, Ellie, and I decided to take on my grandmother’s gallery and solely [champion] the artworks of women,” said Jason Foster, who is a director at the gallery. Growing up, she witnessed her grandmother, Gillian Foster, who founded the gallery in 1982, spotlighting “brilliant women at a time where female artists really were not being championed,” Jason Foster said.
Today, the gallery’s portfolio includes artists such as Milan Young, Bethany Hadfield, Savannah Marie Harris, and Elisabeth Frink. The family matriarch not only helped to spark Jason Foster’s interest in art at a young age but also shaped her artistic taste and how she views her collection as a whole.
“I’m very much drawn to original works on canvas, oil, and acrylic on canvas,” she said. “I don’t necessarily have a particular medium. I have clients and friends who say, ‘Well, how do you decide what goes in your collection? Does one piece fit with another?’ And I always say to them that collecting is like building a wardrobe. You have amazing statement pieces that you buy because you think they’re brilliant. But when you put everything together it’s still in essence of you and what your tastes are.”
Jason Foster approaches her collection from both an academic and a personal angle. With a background in investment banking, she is interested in art as an alternative asset, but doesn’t imply art is merely a financial transaction—it’s also a social transaction and personal investment, she noted.
“I have a lot of friends in corporate jobs who [ask], ‘How can I give back socially?’” she said. The answer? Support artists, especially up-and-coming female artists: “I always think about it from a personal perspective. Do I love the piece of art? Do I want to look at it on my wall every day?”
For Jason Foster, the joy of collecting comes from purchasing pieces and then witnessing the progression of the artist’s career over time. It’s an approach to collecting that encompasses the very ethos and mission of her family’s gallery.
Entrepreneur, Executive Producer, Philanthropist, Racial Justice Advocate, Retired 2x Super Bowl Champion, 3x Pro-Bowler
Portrait of Malcolm Jenkins by SHABAZZBORN. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.
Last year, retired professional football player Malcolm Jenkins added another title to his long list of achievements: art collector. He is proving himself to be a quick learner. “I love to learn, and it’s always been something that I’ve been passionate about,” he told Artsy. “For me, it’s just like I’ve been working on these things subconsciously for some years. And now it’s just about putting some structure and education around it, and moving with intention.”
Before embarking on his career as an art collector, Jenkins had an impressive career as a professional football player. He played 13 seasons in the NFL as a safety, and helped both the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl.
The seed for Jenkins’s love of art was planted in childhood. “I grew up around my aunt who was an artist. I grew up seeing her art and collecting,” he said. Following his retirement from the NFL, Jenkins’s career as an art collector quickly evolved after a 2022 trip to a Venice art studio. “I started to really see collecting seriously and wanted to understand art on a deeper level. I dove headfirst into that kind of space and saw so many different artists from around the world,” he recalled. “That exposure just really opened me up to collecting.”
Wanting to expand his art education and explore how to collect with passion, Jenkins began working with an art advisor who helped to shepherd him through the art world as he built his collection, expanding his art knowledge and connections along the way. “He’s been bringing me to all the [studio] rooms, and allowing me to meet others who have been teaching me [about the art world], which is the biggest part for me,” Jenkins said. While Jenkins has learned about the business side of the art world, which is often based on educational decisions and data, he never loses sight of the passion behind his collection and what drives him to select specific art pieces. “Ernie Barnes is the whole reason I even got into art,” Jenkins said. “His images are ones that have been seared in my brain since childhood. Finally getting [his work] in my collection, I was elated!”
Jenkins also highlighted artist Khari Turner. “I love his work because he’s infusing water from different places in the country that are historically linked to African ancestry, and literally infusing it with the ink on the canvas,” he said.
As Jenkins spoke of these artists, he noted that the emotional investment in these artists outweighs the financial investment. Meeting the artists and networking is “the fun part”: “I’ve seen it work where a prominent collector will attach to certain artists, and that ecosystem raises that artists’ profile. I think that’s important, especially when it comes to Black artists and Black art collectors,” he said. “I’d like to make connections with artists as they’re emerging because I get to see their careers develop and take that journey with them.”
Co-Founder, PRZM; Trustee, Parrish Art Museum; Vice-Chair, Frick Young Fellows Committee
Portrait of Laurence Milstein. Courtesy of Laurence Milstein.
Laurence Milstein wears his passion for art on his sleeve. “Authors are often encouraged to write the books they want to read. I think something similar can be said about collecting—support the art you want to see in the world,” he told Artsy.
This sentiment has helped shape Milstein’s art collection. “The focus of my collection is around queer contemporary artists,” he said. “As a young collector, I’ve tried to use whatever small influence I may possess to support voices that historically have been minimized, both in the art world and society at large. I believe in living with art that brings joy or invites reflection—and building a home filled with queer artistic expression feels like an extension of this mission.”
Milstein’s passion for art is rooted in his childhood. “Growing up, my mom would—on special occasions—allow me to cut class and go with her to the [Metropolitan Museum of Art] simply to explore various wings of the museum,” he recalled. “I was always fascinated by John Singer Sargent’s Madame X and his then-controversial choice to paint—and later repaint—the sitter’s dress strap slipping off her shoulder.”
Milstein’s enthusiasm for art has also been vital in helping him jump over the hurdle of ageism that he says he has faced in the art world. “One learning curve has been demonstrating the seriousness of my collecting efforts despite perceptions around age,” he said. “I’ve found that speaking to the authenticity of purpose can be a strong way to signal passion—emphasizing how each piece is being collected to be loved and displayed, not to be carted away.”
As well as co-founding the Gen Z consultancy PRZM, Milstein is also a vice-chair of the Frick Young Fellows Committee, where he helps govern a dynamic group of supporters between the ages of 21 and 45 who receive access to the Frick Collection. His perseverance has proven to be one of his collection’s biggest assets, having helped him secure works by artists like Kehinde Wiley, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Derrick Adams.
Collector and Curator
Portrait of Raphaël Isvy. Courtsey of Raphaël Isvy.
Raphaël Isvy may have begun actively collecting art in early 2016, but he has “always been obsessed” by the concept of collecting, from Pokémon cards to sneakers.
“Art was the ultimate goal of my collecting journey,” the collector and curator told Artsy. Developing his artistic taste was easy in Paris: “Living in a city like Paris…that’s an open museum full of culture [that] has trained my eye to like nice cultural things!” he said.
After a 10-year career in finance and asset management, Isvy decided to put his passion for art in the driver’s seat. “Art was a side passion at the beginning. But I quickly understood that to improve my chances to get the best paintings, I needed to build a strong network and to be everywhere: fairs, shows, studio visits, and dinners,” he said.
“When you start building a solid network of collectors, galleries, and artists, you quickly figure that time is the most important value in the art world,” Isvy continued. “At some point, it was nearly impossible to combine both worlds, in addition to [my] growing family. Last November, I decided to quit everything and fully focus on art: collecting, dealing, curating, and finding artists for some galleries I work with.”
Isvy’s efforts and career change have proven to be valuable to the expansion of his collection. His vast collection of 150 pieces includes works by George Condo, Tracey Emin, Robin F. Williams, and Robert Nava.
While his passion for art is the driving force behind his collection, Isvy’s journey as a collector hasn’t consisted of a few learning curves. “If collecting was simple, it wouldn’t be a niche,” he said. He noted that having access to work by in-demand artists can be a challenge. It is also important to “find [works that are] both representative of the artist and of your taste,” he said, and how to determine a balance in terms of “style, medium, colors, artist gender, years, and movement” across one’s collection.
“All those things are hard to master, and you need to make mistakes to understand, improve yourself, and be better at collecting,” he added.
Associate Director, Gagosian; Chair, Guggenheim Young Collectors Council; Steering Committee, Milken Institute
New York and Los Angeles
Portrait of Sophia Cohen by Griffin Lipson. Courtesy of Sophia Cohen.
It’s no surprise that Sophia Cohen was drawn to art at a young age. Growing up as the daughter of prominent art collector Steve Cohen, she developed a keen eye for art that grew organically. “I developed an urge [to buy art] and I bought what I could afford. I remember I started when I was 13,” she told Artsy.
“I bought a $500 small canvas with my allowance,” she said. “I think growing up with objects created a mindset for me that I wanted to be surrounded by objects. The excitement of building something of my own, creating my own narrative with my collection, was just too enticing.” Today, Cohen’s collection includes works by Anna Park, Anna Weyant, Rashid Johnson, and Jonas Wood.
Growing up, Cohen found herself “pushing back against art a bit,” she said. “When I got my undergraduate degree, I studied archeology. I was a working archaeologist before I actually started my art career. It was a really beautiful and innocent way for me to approach art because I was able to [study] it from a basic human object standpoint, and then from there navigate to where I wanted to be in the art world.”
Through her studies, Cohen noticed the overlaps between the art world and archeology: “When I got my masters in art, I wrote my thesis on Michael Heizer. [His] father was an archaeologist, and my paper [focused on] how archaeology influenced his art practice and land art,” she said.
Archeology gave Cohen a greater appreciation for the materials that help create various pieces of art and the tactile elements of those materials. It has influenced how she treats “objects and the people behind them, and being thoughtful about that,” she explained. The experiences Cohen gained during her academic and archaeology careers led to her position as associate director at Gagosian, where she works today.
Independent Curator, Cultural Producer, and Second-Generation Collector
Portrait of Huma Kabakci by Kayhan Kaygusuz. Courtesy of Huma Kabakci.
Huma Kabakci’s collection represents the talent and narratives of countless artists and illustrates the story and timeline of her family lineage. “I didn’t begin the collection; my late father did in the 1980s,” she told Artsy. “He had a gallery in central Istanbul. I remember spending a lot of time in his gallery and artist studios. I was very curious from the start to learn more and to make sense of my dad’s passion.”
In her mission to better understand the passion behind her father’s collection, the curator and cultural producer immersed herself in books about curation and art as a young adult. “I then wanted to know more about art, history, and the history of collecting, but also the future of collecting and collection management,” Kabakci said. While studying advertising and marketing in London, she landed a gallery internship at age 18. It was during this time that she was “exposed to a lot of great artists before they became great, like Ai Weiwei, Kader Attia, and Susan Hefuna,” she said.
Hefuna’s work struck a particular chord with Kabakci. “She’s an Egyptian artist living in Germany, so I was so excited to share all of these artists with my dad,” she said. “We found [older, rare work] by Susan Hafuna. That was our first purchase together.”
After her father’s death, Kabakci inherited his collection at the age of 19. Wanting to make educated and conscious choices to preserve and expand the collection, she went on to complete an MA program in curating contemporary art. Today, Kabakci’s collection features nearly 800 works of art by artists such as Hefuna, Moataz Nasr, Ardan Özmenoğlu, and Fahr-El Nissa Zeid.
Kabakci’s father believed a collection should be “intergenerational [for at least] four generations,” likening it to a relay race. “I agree [to an] extent that it has to be a living, breathing collection and it changes,” she said. “But at the same time, that’s a lot of pressure for the next generation.”
Kabacki has since added her own signature to her family collection by researching, reading, and meeting other second-generation collectors. “I was recently invited to a residency in Italy and Galatina and I met inspirational thinkers, curators, artists, but also second-generation collectors. They were there just to engage in inspiring conversations, and inspire the next generation of collectors.”
Human Rights Activist, Arts Patron, and Entrepreneur
Portrait of Amar Singh by Rio Romaine. Courtesy of Amar Singh.
Amar Singh is determined to shift the landscape of the art world. “The top 20 most expensive works in the world are all by white men,” he told Artsy. “That gives you a view into the landscape of the world we live in. There are remarkable painters, who are gay, who are lesbian, who are female, who are Black females, but they just haven’t been included in the conversation.”
The human rights activist and art patron realized there was “a lot of gatekeeping within the art world,” he said. “It has to be shattered down. As a human rights activist, as a collector, and [an] art patron, I built my collection to highlight the works of overlooked communities and artists.” Singh has built an impressive collection that includes the works of female, LGBTQ+, and minority artists who are often excluded from the mainstream art world. The London-based art dealer also supports underrepresented artists through his gallery, Amar Singh Gallery, and philanthropic efforts.
In 2021, Singh partnered with Christie’s in a sale of six works, where part of the proceeds went to Vital Voices, a women’s rights foundation. The sale generated over $1.2 million and consisted of works by Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Yvonne Thomas, and Lynne Drexler.
Singh highlights Drexler as an example of a female artist who has long been overdue credit for her contributions to the art world. “In 2017, a work on paper by Lynne Drexler cost a few hundred dollars, that’s it,” he said. “That literally is the definition of being overlooked. This has drastically changed in a short period of time.” Nowadays, works by Drexler consistently fetch six-figure sums at auction.
“With all of this comes a whole new wave of culture,” said Singh. “This is the point people are missing. It’s not just about collections. We have our first man of color, who is Indian, as the prime minister of the United Kingdom. The U.K. now celebrates Diwali in a way it never had before because he is Indian. We’re seeing the cultural shifts and impacts.”
Director, Noldor Artist Residency
Portrait of Joseph Awuah-Darko. Courtesy of Joseph Awuah-Darko.
Joseph Awuah-Darko’s vast experience as a collector is evident in his statements and convictions. “Any collector knows that there is no such thing as a spontaneous decision,” he told Artsy. “More often than not, it is a decision where you have to consider a number of different factors.”
It could be said that community and mentorship are the core of Awuah-Darko’s collection. “It unfolded very organically. This journey began through my obsession with studio visits. I was building these organic friendships with artists and being introduced to their work, being introduced to contemporary African art,” he said. It was through these casual introductions that Awuah-Darko began to “nurture and acquire emerging artists continent in a meaningful way.”
One artist who has been a pillar of Awuah-Darko’s collection is Modupeola Fadugba, a self-taught Nigerian multimedia artist. “She was one of the first artists I ever acquired. She has really been one of the artists I’ve looked to,” he said. “Her mixed-media medium has inspired the way I collect.”
Within the art community, Awuah-Darko also found mentorship in fellow collector Shane Ackroyd. “I really look up to Shane,” he said. “He is someone who is very focused in his convictions about the types of artists he supports. And I think for me, I’ve learned I’ve similar convictions about making those studio visits and getting to personally know the artists.”
The community and mentorship he gained within the art community inspired him to found the Noldor Artist Residency, Ghana’s first independent artist residency and fellowship program for contemporary African artists. “The Noldor Artist Residency is an annual four-week program inviting an emerging African artist with limited access to resources to expand on [their] practice in a dedicated studio space and retreat in Accra, Ghana.”
His journey of collecting, community, and mentorship has strengthened Awuah-Darko’s intuition, a tool he leans on when deciding what pieces to add to his growing collection. “The final decision should be down to your own internal convictions about an artist’s work, and should not be a borrowed belief in an artist,” he advised.
Head of Asia, TRLab
Portrait of Sylvia Wang. Courtesy of Sylvia Wang.
Sylvia Wang attributes a visit to Art Basel in Hong Kong in 2017 as the beginning of her art collecting career. “I’ve always adored innovative creations in fashion, design, and other aesthetic approaches,” she told Artsy. “The decision to start art [collecting] was also inspired by the strong boom of contemporary art and the increasingly mature market in Asia.”
As the Head of Asia at NFT platform TRLab, Wang has witnessed this boom of contemporary art and the changing landscape of the Asian art market firsthand. She credits her studies at the University of Hong Kong for shaping the theme and direction of her collection.
“I majored in international relations [at the University of Hong Kong], and that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by artworks discussing geopolitics, which is also one of my collection’s directions,” she said.
Wang fuses modern technology and her academic background to create the backbone of her collection and its expansion. She turns to modern art platforms to source the latest information about the art industry, which in turn helps to forge the path forward for her collection’s future. She also leans on art history as a continual source of influence. “Art history is always the foundation for collectors to trace back and look ahead,” she said. “Whenever you have doubts, think about whether the work’s prominent or pioneering enough to be recorded in art history in 10–20 years.”
As a collector, exploring platforms like Artsy has enabled Wang to draw inspiration from artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang: “I always admire Cai Guo-Qiang’s exploration through various mediums including drawing, installation, performance, and of course, the most famous ‘Gunpowder Drawings,’” she said. “It also encourages me to appreciate new forms of art.”