1) The Enterprising Collector
Typically first-generation entrepreneurs, often from market-driven professions like finance and real estate, they view art as an asset class, but rarely as a pure investment (although most maintain lines of credit against their collections). They covet secrecy; information is currency to this group. Priced out of trophy hunting and too financially driven for the connoisseurs, their goal is to destabilize the canon, challenge the ancient regime and define (and increasingly redefine) art history through collecting. While their ambition often exceeds their ability, a few—names such as Robert Scull, Charles Saatchi, and Guy Ullens—cut through the hype and help canonize the art of their time.
2) The Connoisseur
Connoisseurs are the intellectuals of the art market, animated by the history, subtlety, and attribution of objects. They buy methodically and rarely as an investment. At their best, they slow the world down and force us to stop and contemplate. Despite the trappings and absurdities of their stuffy culture, I’ve found the type to be fiercely independent, so unaffected by accepted taste that you could almost call them the new avant-garde. They are, however, deeply invested in the opinions of a select few, not out of some noblesse oblige but because for this group, expert opinion often matters more than fact. They socialize selectively, often excluding the layperson who is always bound to miss the subtle essentials.
3) The Trophy Hunter
Many have psychoanalyzed this type of behavior. Sigmund Freud believed that such collecting compensated for prior disappointment, such as having a cold and distant mother. Thorstein Veblen thought it was snobbery in the form of conspicuous consumption. For Pierre Bourdieu, it was power in the form of symbolic capital. Whatever their anxieties or obsessions, they acquire voraciously. They also tend to be our biggest borrowers. There’s an old line in private banking that if you don’t need the money, then you’re a perfect candidate for a loan. This group leverages their art to do big things (like take over a large company) during their lifetimes, and uses their art to create a legacy after death.
4) The Aesthete
I’ve found aesthetes to be a joy and a terror to work with. They have a contrarian’s sensibility and short attention span which can make doing business a challenge. But they tend to be great synthesizers of information with a level of taste so advanced that it’s often unapparent for years. The response from a noted aesthete when I asked why he focuses on what he termed “Chinese cynical-realism” was withering in its self-assurance: “You’ll understand one day.”