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Inspirations and aspirations of the world’s top art collectors - II
In the second part of our elaborate feature series, we continue to bring to the fore motivations, inclinations and aspirations of some of the world’s topmost collectors of art presently. The idea is to unravel what really prompts them to collect peculiar kind of artworks in an inimitable manner, sans any specific pattern or theory. They tend to rely more on instinct, but their ability to spot the best talent across the world cannot be denied. Importantly, majority of them are keen to institutionalize their rich collections.

George Economou
The Greek shipping magnate is known to eschew buying spree at Christie's, Sotheby's and top international galleries. He sticks to smaller exhibition spaces and auction houses in Germany and Austria. He has been in the maritime industry for over 30 years and has served as Chairman, President and CEO of Dryships, among the largest U.S.-listed dry bulk companies. Known to be an uncommon collector, he acquires paintings and drawings at a rather feverish pace (between 150 and 200 artworks every year or about two to three a week), sniffed out and gathered with the help of his faithful full-time advisor Dimitris Gravanis.

The maverick collector prefers to collect without a pattern, and indulges in the act of buying act on basis of first impression, though there is a predilection for early 20th-century lesser known Austrian and German artists. Select works by renowned artists like Picasso, Magritte, Kees Van Dongen, and Twombly also dot the Greek billionaire's vast collection. He owns possibly the world's largest ever collection of Otto Dix prints, apart from a sizable chunk of African masks, photographic works and even pinball machines.

Dealers close to him also fail to figure out his collecting acumen and methodology. He generally pays lower prices for upcoming and lesser known artists, buying their works ‘with his eye first before carrying out a second evaluation. Economou, who has never resold any of his works, is keen to build a museum of his own. According to him, at some point, there will be enough stuff to fill; for now, at his secluded private viewing space, there are small untitled Gerhard Richter works, screenprint by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg's ‘City Pattern - Roci Berlin’, a selection of fascist-era paintings, and pieces by George Grosz, who criticized fascism.

François Pinault
“There’s certainly a (subtle) form of equilibrium evident between the material life of business and the life of art. The passion for art is, as for believers, very religious. It tends to unite people, and its message is of common humanity,” concedes François Pinault to whom art is religion, as he adds, ‘You don’t possess art; it possesses you.’ The luxury goods magnate is acclaimed for his cutting-edge collection of almost 2,000 artworks, many acquired directly from artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

At his lavish, spacious Paris abode, he has negotiated a careful “arbitrage” between the ancien régime furnishings incidentally picked by his wife Maryvonne and new art. Born into a peasant family in a village in western Brittany, he was constantly mocked at school for his shabby clothes and rural accent. He saw a little bit of art only in churches, but seldom entered a museum until 30 when he introduced to art by a painter- friend. He did not look back ever after…

The French business tycoon is a majority shareholder of PPR, whose brands include Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, and Puma. A proud owner of a large portfolio of contemporary art, by over 80 top artists including Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, he showcases part of it at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and the Punta della Dogana. A good collector, François Pinault avers should have an eye, emotion and the capacity to feel something (different) in a work. It’s all about emotion in art.

Thea and Ethan Wagner
Thea and Ethan Wagner, the art loving couple, peruses fairs, bids at auctions and checks into gallery openings and attends museum previews. Apart from offering advice to aspiring collectors, the two are busy enhancing their own collection of contemporary pieces by renowned American and European artists. It collection encompasses works from the 1950s to the present.

It’s also time for them perhaps to decide where it would ultimately go. Ms. Westreich Wagner mentions: “We have been together for 22 years and we have been collecting (art) for 22 years.” After several years of deliberation, they have promised to give over 800 works to two institutions - the New York-based Whitney Museum of American Art, and Paris-based Pompidou Center. Curators at both institutions are now planning a major showcase of works drawn from the collection.

Bernardo Paz
About thousand employees swarm around Bernardo Paz’s contemporary-art complex Inhotim nestled in the picturesque hills of southeast Brazil, away from Brazil’s mainstream collecting scenes in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Globetrotting art aficionados soak into the beauty of almost 500 stunning works like ‘Sonic Pavilion’ by Doug Aitken that employs high-sensitivity microphones put in a 633-foot hole to spread the bass murmur of Earth’s deft inner depths. His botanical garden has over 1,400 species of palm trees, apart from other rare plants such as the titun arum from Sumatra. Sprawling over nearly 5,000 acres, it has room for 2,000 more artworks, at least.

The 61-year-old lanky, mining magnate whispers are barely audible. A high school dropout, his first work experience was at a gas filling station run by his father. Later he worked at stock exchange before taking up mining and erecting a business empire that finances operations of Inhotim (pronounced in-yo-TCHEEM) to the tune of about $60- $70 million each year. Certain masterpieces from Brazil’s boom time still survive, testifying past extravagance.

There are some private collections of contemporary-art elsewhere in Latin America accessible to the public, but none really has Inhotim’s exuberance. Curators and art historians marvel at the chaotic vision and sheer scale of Mr. Paz’s collection that devotes elaborate space to major artist projects. No surprise, Inhotim receives millions of visitors every year. In order to make it self-sustaining, the visionary collector intends to build hotels for visitors, a grand amphitheater, and even a ‘lofts’ complex for those keen to ‘live amid the collection’.

For now, he is more concerned with drawing the masses to works such as ‘Restore Now’ by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, in which texts by philosophers like Deleuze and Jacques Derrida are interspersed with eerie images of mutilated bodies. He quips, “There are works here that I haven’t entered yet, which everyone said were spectacular, but then why should I go in there? I don’t really consider myself that passionate for art. But gardens, that’s more what I like.”