According to a survey conducted by UBS and Arts Economics, millennials spent more on art in 2020 than any other age group of high-net-worth investors. Thirty percent of millennials — the oldest of whom turn 40 this year — spent more than $1 million on artwork, versus 17% of Boomers, it reports.
As the art market shifts to serve a millennial audience, new trends are taking shape locally and across the world.
A large portion of millennial collectors are women, and they are looking for work they connect with as a woman, says local art advisor Elizabeth Ruffner, who helps people find the best value and pieces to build their collections through her business, Ruffner Art Advisory. Therefore, works by women have become more popular globally, along with works by Asian and Near Eastern artists, she says.
Raquel Mullins, owner of Wavelength Space, a new artist-run gallery in Chattanooga, agrees that art for millennials is more "of a lifestyle statement." Through platforms like Patreon, millennials will even support artists in creating work they feel connected with in the same way they might support an entrepreneur on Kickstarter, without expecting a return on their investment.
Here are a few of this new demographic's other habits that are having an impact on the art scene.
They are not as interested in the Old Masters.
Rachel Reese has worked in contemporary art for the past 12 years, first in commercial galleries in New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta and now as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"Maybe older generations were collecting art more for investment reasons and thinking about building a portfolio, or they were purchasing it for personal pleasure," she says. "But I think younger collectors, younger patrons of the arts are less interested in thinking about it as an investment and more just something that they can connect to in terms of an experience or something that they want to live with in their home," Reese says.
In fact, says Ruffner, millennials who inherit such pieces tend to auction them off.
They don't always spend much on a single piece.
"I think a lot of people balk when they see the cost of fine art, because they don't always understand the labor and the time that goes into that," Mullins says.
So, to make art accessible, artists are making it more affordable, "like anywhere from $50-$300," she says.
Still, though, Reese, who's a millennial herself, says young art-lovers want something original.
"The attitude toward consumerism is a little different with younger generations, and maybe a little more thoughtful," she says. "I collect art myself, and I'm much more interested in collecting an original work of art than I am in purchasing something mass-produced."
They're discovering and buying art on Instagram and other online platforms, and galleries are doing more online business to capture those audiences.
According to "UBS and Art Basel Global Art Market Report 2021," roughly one-third of collectors purchased art using Instagram in 2020. Mullins says most of the artists showing at Wavelength are also selling work on Instagram.
"Over the past decade or so, there's definitely been a big explosion of different platforms online that have popped up that are providing that sort of transaction model to purchase authentic works of art," agrees Reese. "I think maybe even just a decade or more ago there was more hesitancy to buy work online because it's such a physical experience — being able to see it, make a decision in person and purchase something in person."
The pandemic has accelerated this trend.
"I think galleries are definitely more reliant on online audiences than they were in the past in order to be viable today, particularly in the past year when you can't travel as much," she says. "In order for galleries to stay afloat, they've got to find audiences — virtual audiences and virtual collectors."
However, the popularity of digital platforms won't mean the end of art fairs and physical gallery spaces, which still drive the market, says Ruffner.
"There's a reason the art industry was pretty much the last industry to move online, and humanization is still important for millennial buyers," she says.
They're interested in different mediums and materials.
Ruffner says fabric is a big part of newer artworks, but the variety of popular mediums doesn't end there.
"Just in the same way that the contemporary art field and the many different ways that artists are making work now has exploded, the type of collecting has also just grown rapidly," Reese says. "You can collect video art, and you can do that responsibly and authentically with galleries or with an artist. You can purchase an NFT."
NFT stands for nonfungible token, an asset that's typically digital with authenticity verified through blockchain technology. It's basically a digital record of transactions that's difficult to change since it's sent out across so many networks.
"Thinking about how our world is so digitally connected and driven by digital content how do you create an original work of art that exists only in the digital realm? How do you say that this one image is the original image that everything else is memed or shared from? That's sort of my understanding of what the NFT is doing, that this is the unique, original source image that you can purchase," Reese explains.
"What I think is different about that than purchasing a painting, for example, is that you have an understanding as the collector that you cannot control its distribution or its reproduction online, but you own the original," she adds. "With a painting, once you own the painting in your home, you know it's not being distributed anywhere else. The image of it may be, but the work of art exists in the physical realm."