Top CEOs collecting art works to boost commerce

Sunday, 17 August 2014 - 6:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The art market offers some favourable financial opportunities and it turns out that a select group of CEOs have cracked the code and unlocked it's potential.

When Francais Bacons triptych 'Three studies of Lucian Freud' fetched a staggering $142 million dollars at auction earlier this year it stunned much of the world.But if you take a peak into the homes of a majority of founders and CEOs internatioanlly, you will definitely be shocked at the art they've invested in. From old maters like Titian and Caravaggio to Chardin, Courbet; impressionists like Monet and Renoir and modern masters like Picasso and Warhol. Entrepreneurs seem to love their art, although most high-profile collectors tend to keep their personal art collections private.

For CEOs collecting art can be anything from an aesthetic pursuit, a form of meditation or a tool for building an investment portfolio. While it may be obvious that entrepreneurs use business strategies for collecting art, in some cases collecting strategies can be used in business. A quick search into the worlds top collectors is made up mostly of the names of CEOs of leading companies ranging from the banking and investment sector to real estate. Art never falls out of favour. The contemporary art market is thriving like never before, with the help of globalisation and technological advancements. The fine art market has changed to a great extent in these past few decades, offering collectors unique new opportunities for investment.

One CEO explains, "artwork helps set a creative tone and soothe nerves when entrepreneurs come to pitch their businesses. Having art around does make the scene less intimidating."

Its reported that, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, owns a huge collection of Japanese art, Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer collects quirky pop art like Jeff Koons' balloon dogs. Apart from his private collection, Microsoft founder Bill Gates's corporate art collection is out on view in more than 180 corporate buildings around the world. Lately, some art insiders have been buzzing that the wife of Google co-founder Larry Page, Lucinda Southworth, is starting to buy art.

These executives all have their own unique sensibilities, some collectors prefer more traditional old master and modern works while others are a little more experimental, opting for contemporary works, conceptual pieces and new media pieces like video and digital art.

Mumbai based art consultant Farah Siddiqui works with several private collectors including the heads of a multinational companies, 'They know what it is to take a risk and realizes the risk inherent in acquiring art and building a collection. In these past few years I've seen a lot of individuals become extremely serious about their collection, think of Lekha and Anupam Poddar for instance. Their collection and work at the Devi Art Foundation is an inspiration to aspiring collectors.'

The collecting trend is quickly catching on in India as well. Indian collectors have become regulars at international art fairs, often being shown around by gallerists, specialists from auction houses and art advisors.

'Most of our clients are CEO's and entrepreneurs,' says Aparajita Jain, director of Nature Morte, ' most entrepreneurs that collect tend to be extremely savvy and usually know exactly what they want. While a large number of collectors tend to prefer modern works, there's always collectors that are willing to take a risk, take Vijay and Sunita Choraria for instance. Their eye and determination to push the envelope in the arts is really commendable and the work they've done at their Chennai mall is nothing if not impressive.'

Corporate collections have grown tremendously, with some like HCL's Shiv Nadar foundation funding private museums like the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Founder and director of Project 88, Sree Goswami explains, 'KNMA is the first private museum in India focussing on modern and contemporary Indian art. What initially started as a private collection has now become a dynamic museum in the heart of Delhi housing a impressive permanent collection. The recent Nasreen Mohamedi exhibition was one of the best exhibitions I have seen in a while. Coming from the corporate world, I feel, Mrs. Nadar has a long term vision and high standards of professionalism which the museum embodies.'

Avid collector and wife of Anil Ambani, Tina Ambani personally chooses art for the Reliance offices. 'Her involvement has been deep and long term and broad based. While there is something to be said for in depth collection, supporting a wide range of art makers benefits a larger group and that is something Tina is interested in, ' explains Mumbai based gallerist Usha Mirchandani.

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