Art Basel

The Gotham Gal and I just spent four days in Miami at Art Basel, one of the big global art fairs that collectors come to every year.

We have been collecting art as a hobby since we were in our mid 20s. We got a bit more serious about it in our mid 30s and have been collecting emerging artists ever since.

We have never sold any of our art and I doubt we ever will. We don’t approach art as an investment or a business. We approach it as something we enjoy doing together and enjoy having around us. We also enjoy knowing the artists and watching them develop their craft over time. We also have gotten to know and like a number of dealers over the years. 

Our focus on emerging artists is much like the angel investments the Gotham Gal makes or the VC investments my partners and I make at USV. We like to meet artists as they are starting their career and follow them, and collect them, as their careers develop.

We have bought art at shows that art students have done in undergraduate and graduate school. We have bought art at edgy underground galleries and shows where new artists and new styles emerge. I feel like these are like seed investments in some ways. 

We mostly like to buy art from the galleries that specialize in emerging artists and the art fairs that cater to this market. These are like Series A and Series B investments in some ways.

We have not participated in the more established artist sector even when the artists we have collected get there. We maybe should change that. Like USV did with our Opportunity Fund.

Over the past thirty years we have bought some wonderful pieces. We have them around us, in our offices and homes. And we get joy from them every day.

We bought some new work this week at Basel and may buy some more of what we saw in the weeks and months ahead as we think more about it.

Yesterday as we worked our way through one of the most edgy fairs down here, I asked the Gotham Gal about a sculpture we had seen about twenty minutes previously. She said “I have moved on from it”. But both of us were still thinking about another work we had seen around the same time. We ended up purchasing the latter one.

The same is true of seed and early stage investments. Sometimes when you meet a company and you like what you hear but a day or two later you aren’t enthusiastic about it. Other times you can’t stop thinking about the opportunity for days and weeks after the meeting. That’s how you know what early stage investments to make and the same is largely true with art, at least in the way that we collect it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Adam Sher

    Have you noticed a shift in your taste over time? Have you run out of room to display everything and then do you rotate art?

    1. fredwilson

      fortunately we have offices where we can display art so we have not yet run out of room

      1. Adam Sher

        That is fortunate. Another benefit of buying unknown artists is the lower price point! It is fun be able take home beautiful things.

      2. awaldstein

        long run out of room but about to start collecting again.for a long while collected what connected me to NY when I lived elsewhere–Keith Haring, Lichtenstein, Bourke-white. Eisenstaedt and artists who where brokered by Lianna’s grandmother’s gallery when she was growing and images and icons are add texture and gesture to our lives.

        1. fredwilson

          Wow. That’s impressive Arnold

          1. awaldstein

            back in the late 90s all of these were somewhat affordable.thanks for this post fred!

          2. ShanaC

            I wish life was like that too

          3. awaldstein

            i am not pining for the past though pleased i have these pieces.i started collecting Bourke White and Feininger photos cause I was raised on Life Magazine but i see this less as nostalgia and more as a way to capture iconic images that have been important to meto me few represent new york more than Bourke-White or Keith Haring or Lichtenstein.

          4. Twain Twain

            Over a decade ago, I met someone who became a good friend randomly on a plane. The first question he asked me was, “Are you an art student?” because I had a book of sketches I’d made in the Accademia during a long w/e in Venice.I laughed and said, “No, I’m a technologist and a banker” and then it transpired we knew some of the same people.He owns pieces by Eugenio Tomiolo, whose works have been exhibited in the Louvre and critiqued by some of the best art critics. https://uploads.disquscdn.chttps://uploads.disquscdn.chttps://uploads.disquscdn.c…I agree with you that, “art and images and icons add texture and gesture to our lives”. The beef I have with AI is that existing models assume our intelligence is about the mathematical ability to reduce probabilistic risks, “pattern recognize” by logic+probability and optimize according to some objective functions.That model completely ignores the fact that our ability to appreciate art and culture and expression is as important to our intelligence as mathematical functions.Well, … that’s why existing models can’t get the machines to understand us. The existing data and AI has no heART in their design or algorithms.@fredwilson:disqus — Like wine and other cultural experiences, technology hasn’t quite solved the marketplaces for art. They’re about more than functional utility.

  2. Guesty McGuesterson

    You say you don’t approach art as an investment, but it sounds like you’re still very much wired to think about it in those terms!

    1. fredwilson

      you are right. we do think about it as an investment. but not a financial one.

  3. LIAD

    Watched a documentary last week on the 250th anniversary of the auction house Christies.Advent of China as huge art buyers. How they deliberately perpetuate market opaqueness. How they’ve sold the same pieces dozens of times over the past 2 centuries.The most insightful thing was a dealer saying how most creative forms cannot be owned. You can’t buy a Mozart Symphony. You can’t own a Shakespeare play. But art you can. And thus it’s emotive and financial appeal.

  4. William Mougayar

    Just barely following Art Basel remotely, and my head was spinning at the sheer volume of artists and choices.The difference between collecting art and investing in startups is that art is so expressive from the second you encounter it, whereas startups reveal their expressiveness over time. But in both cases, you start thinking whether you can feel a connection between you and them, and whether that connection can grow over time.

  5. Eric Dahler

    I Share your sentiments about emerging artists. I met one such emerging artist fromAmsterdam, Max Zorn, 4 years ago at an event we did on Fisher Island. I have been taken ever since by his sheer talent, humble spirit and enthusiasm to share the magic of his work with others. His medium is brown packing tape ! Perhaps you saw him at this show. He’s the most immersive artist I’ve seen as he is usually creating one of his phenomenal pieces at his display. Amazing stuff.

    1. Adam Sher

      Cool! I like that early-mid 20th century vibe.

    2. Paul Harlyn

      I met Max at Aqua during Art Basil last night. His take on modern art with a vitage look using led,s behind the tape is interesting.

      1. fredwilson

        Aqua was fun. So was Satellite

        1. J wright

          I didn’t see you come through CONTEXT – My fiancé and I run Mugello Contemporary where we nurture artists like early stage angels or board advisors… Turns out this is a very entrepreneurial space… lots we can all learn from artists beyond the social/cultural impactsSee you next year James

  6. Shalabh

    There is something about discovering emerging artists. I have not got into buying art yet. But few years ago I started to follow upcoming musicians and singers. I really enjoy getting to know them, going to their cozy and personal performances. And yes see them grow.

  7. Salt Shaker

    My gf started her art career at Sotheby’s and for many years was a Managing Director at high end and start-up galleries in New York. She now works w/ emerging artists in Seattle. We also have friends who own a small gallery in Chelsea. Unless you’re Larry Gagosian, or aligned with someone of a similar elk, the art world is a tough, tough slog, both on the creative and exhibitor sides. Most engage for the love of craft, but they still need to pay the bills. I can’t imagine a more challenging or difficult field to work in, whether on the buy or sell side.

    1. fredwilson

      Truth. I am hopeful that over time technology and connectivity starts to change that. Things like Kickstarter and Patreon are harbingers

      1. panterosa,

        @SaltShaker1:disqus it’s brutal making a living at it. I had a gallery and more people like @fredwilson:disqus and Joanne would have made a huge difference, but there would need to have been many of them, even when we were doing emerging artists. I’m sure Fred that Kickstarter and so on definitely help artists and galleries, but the amount of time and marketing they take make the art job into selling the work, the night job making the work, and you still have to account for your day job…

    2. ShanaC

      Names? I like going to galleries

    3. daryn

      Does she have a gallery in Seattle? If so, which one?

      1. Salt Shaker

        My gf is currently consulting with an artist w/ plans to open a small gallery downtown. She’s still feeling her way in the market. To be honest, many galleries, if not most, really struggle here. IMO, pricing and exhibits need to cater to a younger and newly affluent consumer, though art likely isn’t a priority for millennials. Changing city demographics could influence behavior, though. Hope the Seattle Art Fair continues to grow and prosper. It’s great for the city, and last year’s exhibition was truly fab.

  8. Mac

    [I’m turning my comment over to my wife, Jan, this morning. Another topic where I’m out of my league.]Hi Joanne and Fred. I want to commend you both for supporting art and new artist. Art Basel is an excellent place to do just that. Years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to study and work for Sotheby’s London for nearly two years. It was an incredible experience that exposed me to so much of the world’s art.What I learned there, and from the art experts I’ve known, that what is most important is that you surround yourself with what you love. It can be a $2 print, or a $20,000 painting, but buy and collect the art you love and it will always work with what you have. So, keep the things you treasure most.I wish you and your family a special holiday. Jan

    1. fredwilson

      For sure. We agree 100%

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Love this advice. I wish we had more of an art budget. Meanwhile, I can’t put something on the wall that I don’t love, or love the person creating it. So art by our kids (from when they were little) and friends who are professional artists or serious hobbyists. That works for now.https://uploads.disquscdn.c

      1. Mac

        [Donna, my wife loves this]Hi Donna, Mac just showed this to me. I do love your kid’s art. It looks a lot like our refrigerator. We have three sons and have saved everything. I have the pleasure of teaching K-3 and K-4 Art to fifty-two kids and love seeing their joy when they’ve finished a project to take home. The hand prints are wonderful. Gives me an idea for a project. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. These are the real treasures. Send more! Jan.

  9. leigh

    I just posted this to FB this morning. My 8 yr old son who wants to be an artist, created this in photoshop this morning. Apparently there is Deadpool’s arm somewhere in there. Amazing what will be happening in art with this digital only generation! https://uploads.disquscdn.c

    1. William Mougayar

      Cool. Is he going to intern at your company next?

      1. leigh

        lol he did have a CD friend of ours show him how to use photoshop 🙂

    2. Jess Bachman

      My kids don’t use photoshop, but my 6 year old will “creative direct” myself to get what she wants. Here is logo for her youtoube channel.The parent in me beams, as the designer in me dies. https://uploads.disquscdn.c

      1. panterosa,

        “The parent in me beams, as the designer in me dies.” >>> I taught HS girls game and app design in the spring, and their design was shit. Depressing since their ideas were great and I beamed until I saw them render them out…

        1. leigh

          Just proves, an idea is just well, an idea. It’s all in the execution (even as teenagers)

      2. leigh

        that’s awesome #ParentingWins

  10. Evrim Beren

    just a quick note: miami art basel is not where you find emerging artists, its a diar where you find more established artists. Think of it as series A investment, less risky. Up for challange, then check out the 10+ satellite fairs around miami art basel which heavily promote emerging artists

    1. fredwilson

      Exactly. Satellite was great. Loved the way those galleries and artists turned the rooms into installations

  11. Joe Lazarus

    What are your favorite emerging artist galleries in NY?

    1. fredwilson

      I have lists on Foursquare for Chelsea and Lower East Side. Will see if I can find them and leave them in the comments

      1. ShanaC

        No brooklyn galleries or the super underground in the Bronx?

    2. awaldstein

      A friend of mine has a art community in Brooklyn that does shows and brokers a small group of artisans.Some great stuff. Good people doing a passion project.http://www.fiercelycurious….

  12. youcef benchouk

    We may see reconciliation and bickering but not change location and basements do not change the reality of work only what interested

  13. Dan Blechner

    Hi Fred and all, interested what/if tools do you use to follow the work of these artists

    1. tnic99 is the standard. They also do the guides for many of the major art events including Art Basel.

  14. PhilipSugar

    I love just buying things I love. https://uploads.disquscdn.c…I bought this while I was stuck in traffic because of bridge work by my house.Called out of the window of my pickup truck and she said she was doing for charity.Bought it on the spot.

    1. awaldstein

      As do I.The art I have on my walls is important to me.While our eyes are different it appears our sensibilities in this respect are very much the same.Like that piece btw.

      1. PhilipSugar

        As you know I like everything

    2. panterosa,

      Such a cool story Phil.

      1. PhilipSugar

        The best part is she said she would pain another, so she could auction it off the next day. She was finishing painting and put her stuff away. I assumed she owned an art gallery in town (we have several in our quaint village of 300 people) She said no she was lived up north in PA and was going auction off. I could not come (we sponsor Lego League) I took all the money out of my wallet (I travel a ton so I carry Benjamin’s) She said, I’ll take it, and paint another.Another cool fact is that is an old orphanage that was run by the Sisters of Saint Basil of the Ukraine. They actually had the boys work the farm. They literally brought these Sisters over from the Ukraine before WW1. They still maintain a Ukraine Orthodox Church in our town.…I belong to St Rose of Lima, but we go there occasionally and we have a society that unites all churches in our small town for Charity, so this time of year we visit churches from Anglican to AME

  15. JJ Donovan

    A very fitting post given the tragedy in Oakland. Please keep all artists in mind during this time.

    1. pointsnfigures


  16. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:We enjoy art without humans or animals.Geometric shapes, patterns, etc is what we collect.A question to art collectors who have an extensive collection similar to what Fred has outlined. How do you protect your collection from being sold in an estate sale after your passing. Most children and heirs don’t share your passion and love for art and will not want to spend time curating your collection.(Most interested in Fred and Gotham Woman view)

  17. Pete Griffiths

    Totally agree.We had exactly the same approach for many years.I hope you will try the St Martins end of year show in London – outstanding school.The only problem is when you start downsizing your life…but that’s another story.

  18. daryn

    With 30 years of collecting and never selling, no wonder you need to keep building homes and offices. Wall space! 🙂

  19. JamesHRH

    My wife and I began collecting art, at her suggestion, soon after we married. It is a ‘thing we do’.We focus on emerging artists (primarily landscapes, most CDN but we have strayed when we find an artist who paints an area where we spend time…like SoCal) and Inuit carvers. It is fun to have favourites and a touch of specialized knowledge. This is sadly effective with Intuit carvings, as the target market is wildly uninformed tourists at price points from $200 to $20,00. It takes very little knowledge drop to change attitude in the worst Inuit carving places.I love the entire test of picking an emerging artist… gauging someone’s talent, then hearing their story and deciding if you think their future will hold widespread success.My all time favourite find so far is Nathan Birch –… . A central Alberta triptych of his hangs in our dining room and always will. We bought it just after he graduated, at a gallery that no longer exists (how common is that?). It resonated deeply with me (reminds me of a specific place even though its not a picture of that place) and its probably a 10 bagger (not that we are selling).More interesting, to me, was his ability to find a landscape muse (mist) that sets him apart and creates a unique market position for his work. We bought a second piece (mountains on the Icefields Parkway, in mist) that was at the front of this major phase of his career. We averaged up, but have been right about him twice. Double the fun.My two favourite artists that we collect both managed this estimable market positioning feat. FWIW, the other is Pudlalik Shaa: http://capedorset-inuitart…. . He developed an art deco style of carving that younger carvers immediately copied. His market uniqueness has been under attack, but I can still pick out one of his pieces in most galleries, from 20′ away.Fun post.

  20. jason wright

    Must be a therapeutic juxtaposition.

  21. Tom Labus

    Are you drawn to subject matter or style or what strikes you?

  22. Tom Critchlow

    I hate to be self promotional but I run Fiercely Curious – an online art collective specifically for Brooklyn based emerging artists:http://www.fiercelycurious….Fred – if you ever have time for a coffee to chat art collecting I’d love to learn more about how we can better serve art collectors. Or, even better, let me know if you want to come for a studio visit with one of our artists!Great to see this discussion around art.

  23. SteiNYSF

    Appears to be a post screaming for another photoblog post

  24. conorop

    I love that thinking! My wife and I are starting to invest in some art too. I minored in photography and own a few photos from my professors, which I treasure. Next up to support my uncle. He’s a world-class engraver and his belt buckles are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

    1. Lawrence Brass

      Beautiful work!I want one… in black. 🙂

  25. Dave Pinsen

    Art Basel featured prominently in Tom Wolfe’s novel, Back To Blood. Maybe something for you to read on the beach while you’re in Miami.

  26. Anne Libby

    You’re exactly the client for an effort by smart Detroit-based founder Tara Reed & co: