Could Silicon Valley's Wealth Translate into a Boom for the Art Market?

BY Lynn Bruno | June 6, 2019 | Feature Culture

Throughout history, art collecting has risen along with economic prosperity. Will today’s Silicon Valley take its place alongside Renaissance Florence, Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age, and Paris in the early 20th century as one of the all-time great art markets? That was the opening question posed by Modern Luxury Editor-in-Chief Carolyne Zinko at The Arts & Silicon Valley: A Panel Discussion on Art Procurement for Profit and Pleasure, which took place recently at the Palo Alto home of Asher Waldfogel and Helyn MacLean.

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Elizabeth Sullivan, president of Pace Palo Alto and architect Takashi Yanai

Panelists included Komal Shah, a trustee of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Americas who sits on the Stanford Arts Advisory Council and is ranked among the top 200 global collectors by ArtNews magazine; Evan Beard, the New York City-based national art services executive with Bank of America Private Bank; Eche Martinez, founder of San Francisco design firm ECHE; Elizabeth Sullivan, president of Pace Palo Alto;, and Takashi Yanai of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects. Yanai did double duty giving tours of the California Modernist home, which his firm designed in 2006 with special features to accommodate Waldfogel and MacLean’s collection of ceramics and modern art.

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Art collector Komal Shah

The answer to that question remains to be seen, since young tech billionaires in hoodies are not often seen at arts galas or art fairs. But there are already some significant collections here, and many up-and-coming buyers. Just don’t expect to hear these modern-day Medici humble-brag about their auction victories. Collectors here are much quieter, and prices rarely cross into seven-figure territory. Pace’s Sullivan says the vibe here is informed by 1960s counterculture. A Picasso on the wall here does not necessarily have the same cachet it might elsewhere.

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From left: Interior designer Eche Martinez, Bank of America's Evan Beard, art collector Komal Shah, art gallery president Elizabeth Sullivan, editor-in-chief Carolyne Zinko and architect Takashi Yanai

According to Shah, Valley collectors want to engage in a dialog—they want to understand the artwork, and they won’t buy on hype. “They want something that moves and inspires them,” she says, “not just a decoration on the wall.” “It’s a highly educated audience,” notes Sullivan. “Variety is key—introducing them to things.” Panelists note Silicon Valley collectors are a diverse audience, with diverse tastes. Shah for example collects the work of underrepresented artists—mid-career female artists, and artists of color.

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Carolyne Zinko, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Luxury Silicon Valley

Is art a reliable investment? Beard notes that data from years of sales and resales shows an average return on investment of 4 %—better than treasuries, but not as good as equities. Nonetheless, he’s optimistic about the market here. “Tech is looking to recruit more people with backgrounds in the arts and humanities, and those people will collect,” he believes. “Part of the return is pleasure.”

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Architect Takashi Yanai (far right) leads a mini-tour of the modern Palo Alto home he and his firm, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney, designed for clients Asher Waldfogel and Helyn MacLean.

Photography Courtesy Of: Photos by Arthur Kobin for Drew Altizer Photography