Who is Collecting Now?

Millennials are beginning to become more active and integral in the art world at large, specifically through purchasing art and developing their own collections. A 2018 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth survey found that the ever globalizing art world is attracting more and more Millennials, with that demographic being the fastest growing segment of current collectors. Between 2017 and 2018, their ownership rose to 36 percent of collectors, increased by 8 percent from the previous year. Although Millennial art buyers are still only a small contributor to total art sales as a whole, their presence cannot be denied and it is swelling.


According to a study by Park West Gallery, Millennials are more interested in and informed about art and the art market, and that there has been a generational shift as more young people are attracted to art, and collecting it, than their older counterparts. Because art collecting is such a personal venture and based on a widely diverse set of tastes, the kind of art being collected amongst Millennials is variable. Nevertheless, there are some common trends within the reasons for collecting art. The aforementioned U.S. Trust survey found that in addition to collecting for aesthetic value and an appreciation of art that was inherited from family, Millennial collectors are twice as likely to purchase art as a financial asset than any other sect of collectors. Compounding on that practice, Millennials seem to feel that their art collections are an outward sign of financial success, and that they can re-sell their assets as a means to make a profit, or as a way of keeping their collection fresh and new. In fact, Millennial art buyers are three times more likely to resell works they have collected to their baby boomer counterparts (U.S. Trust 2018).

Between 2017 and 2018, [millennial] ownership rose to 36 percent of collectors, increased by 8 percent from the previous year.


From Where are they Purchasing?

While there are numerous avenues by which Millennials seem to buy art, there has been an undeniable increase in online sales worldwide, and particularly among Millennials, who are the most fluent in the technology through which they are purchasing. Social media platforms such as Instagram, as well as online galleries and auctions provide a highly accessible means of viewing and buying all goods, art included. According to a study commissioned by Invaluable, almost a quarter (22.7 percent) of collectors discover new art and artists via social media, trumping museums (20 percent) and galleries (15.9 percent). This means of discovering, experiencing, and purchasing art is—not surprisingly—led by Millennials, averaging about 39 percent of Millennial art buyers finding and purchasing art in this manner. Still, the value of seeing art in person is still very much alive, and many collectors, regardless of age or generation, still seek to see art in galleries, fairs, etc. before making purchases.


Bloomberg News recently reported that a whopping $28 million worth of art was purchased in Hong Kong at auction by young collectors. While this is not the norm, and most young collectors are either unable or unwilling to spend that amount of money, it seems important to note that Millennials are, indeed, a viable force in the art market today.

Unsplash / @antenna

Auction companies, art fairs, museums, and galleries are all seemingly aware of the increased interest Millennials are taking in the art world and are therefore making strides to cultivate and entice young collectors. The art market will have to continue to adapt to the idea that many collectors are now also sellers, and there will be many changes as the market shifts, older collectors either stop collecting or pass away, and the current generation of young collectors matures.


The Driving Force

Millennials seem to have dynamic and active art collecting tendencies, with 97 percent of collectors anticipating new acquisitions of art in the coming year, and many selling some of their currently owned works to make room for purchasing others (U.S. Trust, 2018). According to the survey, this tendency to buy, sell and buy again predicts a market with a higher turnover rate than in previous times.


The consideration of wealth and asset building also plays a role in the reasons Millennials are choosing to amass art collections. Nevertheless, Carter Cleveland, chief executive and founder of Artsy and other experts like him point out that art purchases, particularly those under $10,000, are statistically unlikely to increase very much in value over time. Therefore it seems that to buy art, it must mean more to the collector than financial value. According to a 2017 UBS Investor Watch survey, 54 percent of surveyed collectors, regardless of age group, claim that art and collecting is a personal passion. This also seems to be the case amongst reasons Millennials collect; they wish to support their friends and local communities through purchasing art that they enjoy and believe in. Young collectors are indeed driven strongly by an appreciation for aesthetics and a desire for self-expression.