Why Do Billionaires Invest in Art?

Large, warped impressions of a muscular body in stark colours against the piece’s black background.Back Of The Neck © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1983
Rebecca Marsham

Rebecca Marsham, Sales Director[email protected]

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There are multiple reasons why billionaires invest in art, ranging from financial gain to cultural appreciation and social status. In fact, art has become a popular investment among high net worth individuals, offering a potential for high returns and portfolio diversification. However, art collecting among billionaires is driven by more than just financial gains. In this article, we’ll examine their motivations for art collecting, and the art investment strategies they use in their acquisition process.

Jean-Michele Basquiat’s In This Case. A Neo-Expressionist style of a head against a red background with additional symbols. Image © Christie’s / In This Case © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1983

The Appeal of Art for Billionaires

A Store of Value

One key motivation for billionaire art collectors is the belief that art can be a store of value and a hedge against inflation. In times of economic uncertainty, many wealthy individuals turn to tangible assets like art as a way to protect their wealth. Art, unlike stocks or bonds, has a unique ability to maintain its value even during periods of economic turmoil.

Art & Wealth Management

With an increasingly complex global economy, many high net worth individuals are looking for alternative investment options to diversify their portfolios. Art offers a unique investment opportunity, as it is less correlated with traditional financial markets. This allows billionaire collectors to better manage their wealth and reduce their overall risk exposure.

Returns and Diversification

The potential for high returns is another key driver behind billionaire art collectors' investments. While investing in art can be risky, the potential payoff can be substantial. In recent years, the art market has experienced significant growth, with many works of art selling for record-breaking prices. This has encouraged the ultra-wealthy to view art as a viable investment option that can deliver significant returns and further diversify their portfolios.

Legacy Planning

For many billionaire art collectors, investing in art serves as a means of legacy planning. By building a collection of valuable, culturally significant works, these individuals can leave a lasting impact on the world long after they are gone. In this way, their art collections serve as both a personal passion and a means of creating a lasting, meaningful legacy.

Passion Investment

Perhaps the most obvious reason for billionaire art collectors' investments is their appreciation and passion for the arts. Many wealthy individuals have a genuine love for art and derive great pleasure from collecting and showcasing the works of various artists. This passion often fuels their investments, as they seek to acquire pieces that resonate with them on a personal level.

Social Status

Owning a collection of prestigious, high-value art can elevate a billionaire's standing among their peers and within society as a whole. In this sense, art collecting functions as both an investment and a means of asserting one's place among the world's elite.

The Benefits of Art Investment for High Net Worth Individuals

Investing in art has become an attractive option for billionaires due to its potential for high returns and diversification benefits. Unlike traditional investments such as stocks and bonds, art is a tangible asset that is not directly linked to financial markets, making it less susceptible to market volatility. Over the years, the art market has proven to be a lucrative investment avenue, with top-tier artworks regularly fetching millions at auction. For instance, in 2021, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s In This Case sold for $93.1million at Christie's house, making it one of the most expensive artworks ever sold, demonstrating the immense potential for investors to earn significant profits by buying and selling art at the right time.

Billionaires can leverage their influence in the art world to create demand for certain artists and artworks, which can drive up prices and create further investment opportunities. This is particularly true for Contemporary Art, where the endorsement of a billionaire collector can significantly impact an artist's career and the value of their works. For example, the German artist Gerhard Richter's painting Abstraktes Bild sold for $46.3million in 2015, making it the highest sale by a living European artist at the time.

Owning a valuable art collection can offer cultural and social benefits to billionaires. Art collecting is often associated with refined taste and cultural sophistication, which can enhance the collector's reputation and social status. Additionally, billionaire collectors can use their art collections to support artists and cultural institutions, thereby promoting arts education and preserving cultural heritage.

The Tax Benefits of Investing in Art

One significant advantage of investing in art for billionaires is the potential tax benefits. Artworks can be considered a capital asset, and as such, they can be subject to preferential tax treatment. When an artwork is sold for a profit, the capital gains tax rate can be lower than the tax rate for ordinary income. Additionally, certain structures, such as trusts or foundations, can be used to further reduce or defer taxes on art collections.

Billionaires have a unique opportunity to establish art museums as public institutions, allowing them to donate works from their collection and receive a tax deduction for the charitable gift. They can also loan their artwork to museums and other institutions and claim tax deductions for the associated expenses, such as insurance and transportation costs.

Investors can also employ a strategy of borrowing against their collection, providing lenders an opportunity to resell the debt, amidst a $2 trillion valuation of privately held art, with a $400 billion potential for the lending market.

“It’s not the same mindset as, ‘you’re going to own something forever.’ There’s a view that you buy something, and then when you want something else or are done with it, you sell it and reoffer it. Things take on more of an investment mindset. So that creates opportunity for some of these financial services.”
Charles Stewart, CEO, Sotheby's

Many high net worth individuals use offshore entities, such as offshore trusts, to minimise taxes on their art collections.These structures can help to avoid estate and gift taxes while also providing increased privacy and confidentiality. However, these strategies are not without controversy, as they have been criticised as ways for the ultra-wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

The tax benefits of art investment can provide significant savings for billionaires, making it an attractive investment option for those looking to diversify their portfolio and reduce their tax liability.

Art Investment Strategies with a High Budget

Investing in art requires a strategic approach that takes into account a range of factors, including market trends, valuation, and the collector's individual goals. Some common art investment strategies among high net worth individuals include:

  1. Buy and hold: One popular strategy is to buy and hold onto valuable pieces for an extended period of time. This allows the collector to benefit from appreciation over time, as well as any potential increases in demand for the artist's work.
  2. Trading: Another approach is to actively trade art, buying and selling pieces based on market trends and valuation. This strategy requires a deep understanding of the art market and an ability to identify undervalued or underappreciated works.
  3. Art funds: Billionaire art collectors can also invest in art funds, which allow them to pool their resources with other investors to acquire high-value pieces. This strategy offers diversification and the potential for higher returns, but also comes with higher fees and less control over individual investments.

How Art Investment Helps Billionaires Stay Rich

Wealth Preservation and Growth

Billionaires often view art investment as a long-term store of value and a hedge against inflation. As a tangible asset, art is not subject to the same market fluctuations as other financial instruments, such as stocks or bonds, making it a valuable addition to a diversified portfolio. Moreover, art has shown impressive growth in value over the years, with top-tier artworks regularly fetching millions at auction.

Strategies and Tactics

To maximise the value of their art collections, billionaires employ various strategies and tactics, such as buying artworks by emerging artists, leveraging their influence to create demand for certain artists, and investing in art-related businesses.

One such tactic is to buy works by emerging artists with potential for growth in value. For example, billionaire hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen invested in emerging artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons, whose works have seen significant appreciation over time. Cohen was revealed to be the mystery buyer of Koons Rabbit selling for over half a billion dollars.

Another strategy used by billionaires is to leverage their influence in the art world to create demand for certain artists or artworks. Let’s take a look at billionaire media mogul David Geffen and how he has been known to lend his name and financial support to institutions and artists. In 2016, Geffen awarded $100 million to The Museum of Modern Art as part of its expansion. Support for institutions of this size result in additional exhibition spaces that will house the works of blue-chip and emerging artists alike.

Some billionaires even invest in art-related businesses, like art galleries or auction houses, to gain a foothold in the industry and benefit from the market's growth. French businessman François Pinault purchased the Christie's auction house in 1998 as well as the contemporary art museum Palazzo Grassi, and collections on exhibition across Europe, giving him control over significant parts of the art market.

“The number of billionaires worldwide has more than quadrupled since 2000, and many devote part of their wealth to ... a passion for art.”
Mark H. Haefele, UBS

The Rise of Billionaires Buying Artworks

Historically, the art market has shown impressive growth, with top-tier artworks regularly fetching millions of dollars at auction. This presents an opportunity for investors to realise significant profits by buying and selling art at the right time. Billionaires are attracted to the potential for high returns and the fact that art is a tangible asset that is not directly linked to financial markets, which can help to reduce portfolio volatility.

“My art collection is almost all at the Art Institute of Chicago, it’s been there for years. For me, the fact that 700,000 or a million people a year will have a chance to see some of the greatest works of art of our culture, that I’m fortunate enough to own? I have great satisfaction in that.”
Kenneth C. Griffin

In 2015, hedge fund savant Kenneth C. Griffin became the first person to spend $500 million in just one sale. The deal brokered by David Geffen included Willem de Kooning’s Interchange and Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A.

Billionaires buying artworks has become a major trend in recent years, and its implications for the art market are significant. As more billionaires enter the market, demand for top-tier artworks has increased, driving up prices and making it more challenging for regular collectors to acquire works by renowned artists. This can be seen in the ongoing pattern of record-breaking prices at auction for artists like Jean-Michele Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring.

Why Contemporary Art is a Popular Investment for Billionaires

When it comes to the types of art that billionaire collectors invest in, blue chip and Contemporary Art tend to be the most popular choices. Blue chip art refers to works by well-established artists with a proven track record of high demand and strong market performance, regardless of general economic performance. These pieces are often considered safer investments due to their consistent market value and appreciation potential.

Contemporary pieces allow collectors to participate in the ongoing cultural conversation, shaping the narrative of the art world in real time. contemporary art is highly collectible and rare, with many works being one-of-a-kind or limited editions. This exclusivity creates a sense of luxury and prestige, appealing to the wealthy's desire for uniqueness and status. It’s high-risk, high-reward status makes it an attractive choice for investors looking to diversify their portfolio.

How To Begin Investing in Art

For high net worth individuals, art provides an opportunity for high returns and portfolio diversification, while also serving as a store of value and a hedge against inflation. Art also allows them to create a lasting legacy and make an impact on the world. Art collecting also has cultural and social benefits, such as enhancing their reputation and status, and promoting arts education. As an added bonus, investing in art provides tax benefits, such as capital gains tax reduction and the opportunity to donate artworks to public institutions. The potential for high returns in the art market has encouraged billionaires to view art as a viable investment option that can deliver significant returns and diversify their portfolios.

New collectors interested in employing these strategies can get started in art investing with the help of MyPortfolio. MyPortfolio empowers collectors to create and manage their complete collection of prints and editions, enabling them to monitor the appreciation of individual pieces and the overall value of their collection.

Our pioneering technology has revolutionised art portfolio management, making it more accessible than ever and equipping users with the data-driven insights and expertise necessary to make informed decisions. MyArtBroker leverages two key assets to deliver an exceptional experience: cutting-edge technology that's driven by data, and a team of industry experts. Our skilled professionals work closely with you, and with the aid of a MyPortfolio dashboard, to provide personalised guidance that helps you create a profitable art collection.

By combining our technology and resources, we're committed to delivering an unparalleled level of curation and customer service. Learn more about building your art collection with MyArtBroker here.

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