Why Aren’t Tech Moguls Buying More Art?

Is the reluctance to stop collecting snowboards and start buying El Anatsui a simple case of arrested development, or is a deeper cultural divide to blame?

In New York, the tech world and art world share a neighborhood: Google’s offices are only a few blocks away from the main drag of galleries, and employees from both communities are likely to be found lunching along the High Line. So why aren’t more monied tech bigshots buying art, as you might expect newly monied New Yorkers to do?


In The New York Times this week, Alice Gregory wonders about the cultural divide between tech and high art. According to the gallerists and advisors she speaks with, there’s a real anxiety over the lack of software billionaires who’ve become collectors–a progression that every other generation of American entrepreneur has followed. “If these are our next Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fricks, whatever you want to say in terms of our wealthy American elite, then why aren’t they supporting culture?” asks one art advisor.

To answer that question, Gregory points to the inherently hierarchical culture of the art world:

To those used to startup culture, with its utopian transparency and meritocratic ideals, the art world’s barriers to entry are discouraging and confusing. Parties are exclusive. Works are not always sold to those with the most money. Images are often not online. Invoicing can take months. There is, to borrow a term from the lexicon of tech culture, a preponderance of inconvenient “friction.”

But if it’s the elitism that makes tech millionaires squeam, how do you explain why so many of them are foodies–an equally exclusive cultural club? BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti–himself a fledgling collector–points out that even if you’re committed to learning about the art world, there’s no clear way to make inroads with its community:

“It’s not like there’s some instruction manual when you show up at Barbara Gladstone that explains all this to you.” Paraphrasing typical complaints some in tech have with the gallery system, he said: “Why are they making it hard for me to buy art? I want to write a big check to this person, and they’re treating me in this way that I don’t quite understand, like they don’t really want my money.”

The tech ethos of making, hacking, and bootstrapping is deeply at odds with the art world, where the most basic act of making a purchase is shrouded in ambiguous social protocol and tradition. Unsurprisingly, many tech figures have taken their scads of cash elsewhere, focusing on charitable giving and, increasingly, public art projects–content to live with Andy Warhol’s creed that “making money is art, and good business is the best art.”

Read the full story here.

[IMAGE: Easel via Shutterstock]


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.