September 14, 2007; Page W1
Recently, a respected art collector in Portland, Ore., walked into a local gallery. The owners greeted her warmly, and ushered her to the back room to show off their latest acquisitions. After politely declining several works, the collector chose a $5,500 porcelain sculpture shaped like a basket and covered in tiny, platinum elephants. "She has such a great eye for art," gushed the gallery's co-owner, MaryAnn Deffenbaugh.
|Dakota King, 9, has a collection of 40 pieces of high-end art, including a painting by Andy Warhol.|
The collector, Dakota King, is 9. In a collision of the art boom, the wealth boom and the Baby Einstein approach to parenting, galleries and auction houses around the country report that children who aren't old enough to drive are building collections that include works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Camille Pissarro and Rembrandt. At Sotheby's in New York, an 11-year-old boy with blond ringlets waved a paddle last fall and successfully bid $352,000 for a Jeff Koons sculpture of a silver gnome. Some teenagers are flipping art for quick profits. A few grade-schoolers are even loaning works to major museums, including Houston's Museum of Fine Arts, a coup for a collector of any age.
The $6 billion-plus global art market has more than doubled in four years, thanks to the growing number of wealthy patrons and an influx of new collectors from Russia and Asia. Now, children are emerging as one more niche. Collectors such as Bil Ehrlich, a New York real-estate developer, and Peter Brant, a Los Angeles-based film producer and magazine publisher, pay for their kids to collect works from name-brand artists. (All but the youngest of Mr. Brant's nine children collect art.) Other kids receive art allowances -- a $5,000 cap per piece is typical -- or buy art with their birthday, bar mitzvah or even tooth-fairy money.
Dakota King started amassing contemporary art in 2002 -- at age 4. Her great-grandfather collected Old Masters and her father, Internet and software entrepreneur Ray King, and mother, Deneen, collect Minimalists. So far, Dakota says she has focused her 40-piece collection on works featuring animals and "happy colors" such as pink and yellow. An early buy, hanging above her tea-party table, is an Andy Warhol panda from his 1983 series on endangered species. Her dealer spotted it at a gallery in Los Angeles. "Panda is darling and chubby and cute, and at night he protects me," Dakota says.
|The Journal's Kelly Crow reports from the home of 14-year-old Taylor Houghton, who collects candy-themed modern art.|
Some dealers worry about entrusting masterworks to occasionally grubby hands. New York dealer Sara Tecchia says she won't sell to minors. "A work of art is a projection of the artist's soul," Ms. Tecchia says, and she doesn't "want a 13-year-old buying it as if it were a videogame." Neither does New York dealer Rachel Lehmann, who says she would feel "uncomfortable" selling a piece to a child unless his or her parents supplied art-history lessons on the side. "Part of collecting is experience," Ms. Lehmann says, "but how much do you really have at 7?"
There's also the risk of damage, though dealers admit adults can be clumsy, too. (Last year, casino developer Steve Wynn accidentally shoved his elbow through a Picasso he owned, halting his plan to sell it privately for as much as $139 million.)
But there are upsides to mixing kids and fine art. Families can reap potential tax benefits by putting art in a trust set up for their children. The move can sidestep a federal estate tax of up to 45% of the art's value if children had instead inherited it after their parents die. There are several disadvantages to trusts: If a piece of art is valued at $1 million or more, parents may be taxed when they move the work into the trust. The strategy also could hinder parents from selling or loaning a work.
Still, such art trusts are finding fans. Mr. Ehrlich, the New York developer, says he met with a lawyer just this week to set up one for his children. "It stops them from precipitously selling everything upon your death," he says. And by turning children into art lovers, parents hope their own collections will remain intact as their legacy.
Mr. Ehrlich, whose 13-year-old son, Ace, is a collector, says having his children buy art is a way to encourage them to spend money in lasting ways. "We want our kids to feel the same way we do about art, but we also want to keep them grounded, and that's tricky," he says.
Parents also admit there's a cocktail-party cachet to raising a child who can advise guests on buying a Basquiat. "Vanity does come into it," says New York real-estate developer Aby Rosen, whose sons are collectors. "People never used to show off their boats and cars and houses and art, but now we can, and that's great. It's nice to show off that my son likes art."
In Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts is exhibiting Asian art collected by 12-year-old Holland Chaney and her parents, Robert and Jereann Chaney. Director Peter Marzio says Holland brought friends and classmates along during the exhibit's planning, and he hopes her involvement appeals to children attending the show. "The art is heavy -- it's not child's play -- but because Holland's parents let her talk about it, she has a confidence that's really impressive," Mr. Marzio says. "She doesn't look at the floor and shuffle her feet."
All this is a departure from a generation ago. When Hugh Hildesley, Sotheby's executive vice president, joined the firm in 1961, "children were unheard of at sales, and we would've discouraged their presence," he recalls. So far this year, Mr. Hildesley says as many as a dozen children at a time have been seen, and heard, as spectators or bidders at auction previews and sales. But children under 16 can't bid without a parent present. And no disruptions such as crying are allowed, "even if outbid," he adds. The same rules apply at Christie's, says general counsel Jo Laird.
Charlie Rosen, 11, is an auction regular. By 3, he was accustomed to tagging along when his father, Aby, visited art fairs, galleries and the studios of artists Richard Prince and Jeff Koons. Charlie and his 13-year-old brother, Gabriel, started collecting by asking their parents to buy them graffiti art and anime. Charlie next decorated his bedroom with airplane drawings by Warhol. But he wanted more. So last November, he took a coveted seat beside his father at Sotheby's glittery evening sale of contemporary art. When the Koons gnome came up, his father let him bid.
"After he got the Koons, he was so excited he wanted to bid on everything, sometimes just to bid the price up," says Mr. Rosen. "I had to calm him down."
Four years ago at age 13, Brahm Wachter took his nearly $5,000 in bar mitzvah money with him to the European Fine Art Fair in the Netherlands. He told his father, George Wachter, who is director of the Old Masters department at Sotheby's in New York, that he hoped to buy a Warhol. But after the first day of shopping, Brahm concluded all the art on offer was "out of my range." So his dad doubled his money and told him to scour the booths again, and that's how Brahm bought an "awesome" Rembrandt etching of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
|Ace Ehrlich, now 13, in front of one of his paintings, Richard Phillips's 'After the New,' which shows artist Jeff Koons, left, and Ace, both at age 5.|
Now 17, his collection includes a Pissarro sketch of a nude and a Picasso lithograph of a matador, but Brahm says his artistic tastes are still evolving. He got a David Hockney print of a parrot three years ago, but he's decided to sell it at auction this fall for up to $3,000: "I just hate it now."
Shammiel Fleischer-Amoros, a 10-year-old New Yorker, has been collecting art since she was 4, and her mint-green bedroom brims with sculptures of miniature trees and playing-card-sized paintings of dogs, birds, and rabbits, mostly bought from Brooklyn, N.Y., galleries. Shammiel says she knows from attending major art fairs with her mother, artist Grimanesa Amoros, that VIP collectors show up early and buy big. But she prefers to buy on the fair's final day and stick to petite pieces "so I don't have to lug it around."
She also leverages her kid appeal when negotiating deals. At last year's Scope art fair in the Hamptons, she spent three days haggling with dealer Don Carroll before he agreed to knock about $200 off a $3,200 plastic sculpture by Nao Matsumoto of a block of cheese topped by two toy soldiers. Mr. Carroll says that bargaining with Shammiel, then 9, was "pretty awkward at first -- I mean, she's just a little girl," but eventually he relented. "On the last day, she came up and said, 'I'm really scared, but Daddy told me I have to negotiate,'" Mr. Carroll says. "I told her she was already doing a good job."
|Nao Matsumoto's 'Cheese Camo' (1999)|
Deal done, Shammiel paid for a portion of the work with money saved from allowances and tooth-fairy visits. "I wanted that cheese so badly," she says. "The soldiers on top made me think, 'Don't give up and also don't mess with little people.'"
Children tend to focus on art that mirrors their interests, which is why animals are a popular theme, as are flowers, cars, graffiti and the cartoon-like characters found in works by Takashi Murakami and Yoshimoto Nara. For the most part, young children sidestep art containing nudity, extreme violence or irony, dealers say. A few kids say their parents had censored art choices because they showed "bad words."
Parents have devised strategies to get their kids interested in art. Stephanie French, a wealth adviser for an investment firm in Manhattan, initially took her son, Taylor Houghton, to galleries that served him sodas or let him play on their computers until he began to enjoy the art instead. Taylor, now 14, decided at age 7 that he wanted to collect art revolving around his favorite food: candy. With a flexible budget of under $5,000 per piece, the pair first bought a trio of "ring pop" photographs by Matt Gray, followed by an Al Souza collage of overlapping puzzle pieces depicting jellybeans and candy wrappers.
|Andrew Reed, 12, with 'Smurf' by Michael Vasquez.|
A year later, Taylor learned how to "trade up" his Souza for a similar piece nearly twice its size. By 10, word had spread around the art world that candy art had a new patron, and his mother started fielding tips from dealers. Their latest acquisition -- and the one he says makes him the hungriest -- is a $10,000 image of a Spanish cathedral painted by Vik Muniz with chocolate syrup. All told, Taylor and his mom have spent about $30,000 on his art.trade up/down
John Fornengo, president of a commodities firm in Chicago, teaches his three youngsters about collecting decorative art by taking them to antiques shops. A secret weapon: He dresses the children in blazers and skirts so shopkeepers treat them with more respect. "My kids know their marquetry from their parquetry," he says.
Hicham Aboutaam, an antiquities dealer in New York, started buying his sons Greek and Roman coins because the boys like the "monsters" such as griffins and chimeras found on the ancient currency. Soliman Aboutaam, now 7, and his 5-year-old brother, Alexander, have since learned a thing or two about caring for their collection. They know to hold their 2,000-year-old coins along the rim "so the front doesn't erase," Soliman says.
Dakota King, meantime, monitors pillow fights during her slumber parties and keeps a shade drawn "so Panda Warhol won't fade away." And Taylor Houghton says his friends are often tempted to break into his Jan Albers wall art, which consists of real candy bars lined up behind a piece of plexiglass. "I have to remind them the candy was made, like, eight years ago," he says. "Nobody likes old candy."
Kid-specific insurance claims for art are rare. But insurers swap stories about a child who once practiced karate on an antique chest and another who chipped a painting at auction by running a finger across its surface, says LeConte Moore, a managing director and fine-arts specialist at New York insurer DeWitt Stern Group. There's another risk: Dealers may need to be wary of selling big-ticket pieces to kids because minors can legally void contracts when they come of age, typically at 18, placing economic risk on sellers, says New York art lawyer Thomas Danziger. Parents usually alleviate such concerns by signing the sales agreement themselves.
|Taylor Houghton, 14, with 'Untitled Chocolate #8' by Jan Albers.|
Twelve-year-old Andrew Reed says he never felt any pressure from his parents to collect art. But as his mother, Stefanie, who works for an art fair, and father, Evan, a wealth adviser, filled their Miami home with photographs of nudes by Thomas Ruff and other edgy artists, Andrew grew up wishing he could live with a painting he personally liked. Then almost two years ago, he saw it in the back of Fredric Snitzer's Miami gallery: a $3,000 Michael Vasquez portrait of a "thug" named Smurf who has gold teeth and a red bandana and was portrayed flashing a gang sign and a wad of $100 bills. "Wow, I really like this painting," he thought. "The brushstrokes have a bunch of colors in them and the light is flashing on him." He carried the price list over to his parents and asked if they would make a present of the painting. They agreed.
Almost immediately, the larger art world zoomed in on the painting as well. That same night at the gallery, Don Rubell, Miami's reigning collector, tried to buy the work but was told the painting had just been sold. A few months later, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami wrote "Mr. Andrew Reed" asking to exhibit the work, unaware its owner was a child. At first, Andrew didn't want to give up his painting, but his parents explained how the museum could help the artist's career, and Andrew was pleased when he toured the museum and found a "little sign" beside his Vasquez crediting it to his collection.
Mr. Vasquez, 24, says he sometimes wonders how the child is able to relate to the work, which is part of a series he painted to honor neighborhood gang members he once looked up to as father figures. "It's kind of weird, but he's a great kid and maybe this is a way to access a lifestyle that's so far away from him," Mr. Vasquez says.
But kid collectors say most of their friends couldn't care less about the art they are bringing home. Brahm Wachter hasn't told his buddies about his Rembrandt because they're "more into skateboarding." And Andrew Reed says his playmates don't say much about his prized Vasquez: "They really like my baseball cards."
Write to Kelly Crow at email@example.com