The Best Private Art Collections and Tips for Starting your Own 

Accessible Art Fair (ACAF). Courtesy of Accessible Art Fair.
Angelo Madrigale, Doyle New York

Angelo Madrigale, Director of Contemporary Art at Doyle New York

Some of the world’s best art collections aren’t hanging on the walls of museums. Instead, many of the most impressive, admired, and expensive works of art form part of unbelievable private collections that are unattainable for most, however curating your own private collection isn’t as out of reach as you might expect, according to auction house specialist, Angelo Madrigale.

From Van Goghs, to Renoirs, Gauguins, Cézannes, Monets, and more, a wealth of art all over the world maintains a life of mystery away from the pubic gaze. Occasionally exhibited, but usually rarely seen, some of the world’s greatest masterpieces remain behind closed doors.

Curating a collection of this sort of pedigree is out of reach for even the most optimistic among us, however, Director of Contemporary Art at Doyle, Angelo Madrigale, believes that building a collection can be mutually beneficial to both appreciator and artist, and he even has some top tips for someone looking to start a contemporary art collection.

KAWS, Holiday, Taipei (black), 2019. Sold for €300 via Tajan (November 2022)

KAWS, Holiday, Taipei (black), 2019. Sold for €300 via Tajan (November 2022).

Madrigale was Doyle’s specialist at the first auction devoted to Street Art in the United States, which set world auction records for Margaret Kilgallen, Revok, and How & Nosm, making him ideally placed to assess the ever emerging street art market – and he has his eye on one particular artists. 

The Art of Collecting

“I’m always excited to see what KAWS posts on his Instagram about his personal collection,” revealed Madrigale, who opened Metropolis Gallery in Pennsylvania in 2005 with his wife Lisa, which showcases emerging Contemporary Artists together with Modern and Contemporary Design. “Something I particularly like [about KAWS’ collection] is that he’s included the work of several prominent Outsider Artists as well as some of the original Underground Comix artists.”

Inspired by the Pop Art and Street Art movements, KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly) is one of the most collectible artists on the market today. He has also established an enviable collection of his own, thanks to sales of the popular, limited-edition toys based on Companion, a somber Mickey Mouse-like sculpture. “I’m like a cat lady, but with drawings and paintings,” explains Donnelly, whose collection is befitting of a formally trained painter who emerged from graffiti and skate culture.

Lee Quinones - My heart at 19 (1983).

Lee Quinones – My heart at 19. Sold for €23,400 via Artcurial (May 2019).

“Just hanging select works salon style in his living room, we get to see a through-line from Peter Saul, Lee Quinones, Ray Pettibon and some of the Hairy Who artists like Karl Wirsum and Jim Nutt, to R. Crumb and Joe Coleman, to Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Martin Ramirez,” added Madrigale. 

“One of the effects this has had is making so many people aware of artists and even entire art movements that they might not have found elsewhere. KAWS has used his massive following to bring more attention to art and artists, and that’s something truly admirable.”

Showcasing the progressive path of buying and selling to amass an enviable private art collection, KAWS is both an inspirational artist and collector. This isn’t true of all collections though, and the history of enjoying fine art is demonstrated best by famous Italian collecting families like the Medici, Borghese, and the Barberini.

Jason Revok - D3.B (2015).

Jason Revok – D3.B (2015). Sold for €13,000 via Artcurial (November 2021).

Today, the irresistible urge to collect fine paintings continues with some of world’s wealthiest people, perhaps most notably Ezra and David Nahmad, whose collection is said to be worth $3 billion and include an astonishing $900 million worth of Picassos, alongside 5,000 other works in their warehouse. Similarly, music mogul and founder of Dreamworks Animation, David Geffen has amassed a collection thought to be worth $2.3 billion, even after the sale of Pollock’s No. 5 and DeKooning’s Woman III.

But not all billionaires amass a collection for their own private enjoyment. Eli and Edyth Broad’s $2.2 billion-worth art collection can be seen at their Broad Museum in Los Angeles, which includes famous pieces such as Two Marilyns by Andy Warhol, Untitled by Robert Rauschenberg, and I…I’m Sorry by Roy Lichtenstein. However, those hoping to see Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, and Yo Picasso by Pablo Picasso are in for a disappointment as they form part of Philip Niarchos’s $2.2 billion private collection.

It’s controversial American investor and hedge fund manager, Steve Cohen who can boast one of the most notable and prestigious private art collections, though. Cohen has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on art, from post-impressionist paintings to modern art, with pieces in his collection including Bathers by Paul Gauguin, Young Peasant Woman by Van Gogh, Madonna by Edvard Munch, and Woman III by William DeKooning.

Amassing a collection of this caliber is far beyond the majority of us. After all, spending hundreds of millions on art in the style of Steve Cohen does sound appealing, but perhaps (just a little) beyond the spending power of the average art enthusiast. However, following the model of KAWS, Doyle’s specialist Angelo Madrigale believes a personal art collection is attainable – with patience and a well-researched knowledge base.

Top Tips

Margaret Kilgallen, Untitled (Sure) (1999).

Margaret Kilgallen, Untitled (Sure) (1999). Sold for $100,000 via Doyle New York (October 2021).

“I would always tell anyone beginning a collection to take things slowly,” advises Madrigale. “There’s always the urge to just go on a shopping spree, but I’d strongly recommend looking at as much art as you can first – in person at galleries and museums and auction houses, in books and magazines, and online – until you know what you like and can essentially explain what you like about it.

“Think about wherever you’re hanging your collection as your personal museum – how would you curate it? What would make your cut and why? I’d also recommend working with art dealers and advisors you have come to know and trust. Find someone in the industry who shares your sensibilities and ask for their thoughts.”

Madrigale’s sage advice comes at a strong time for the art market despite a slowdown in the global economy, as spending more than doubled in 2022 according to an Arts Economics survey of more than 2,700 collectors worldwide. Compiled by Clare McAndrew for Art Basel and UBS, the findings also revealed collector concerns over their carbon footprint following the return of in-person events. 

The global report also reveals that global imports of art and antiques rose 41 per cent to $26.6bn in 2021 and in 2022 that figure rose by a further 19 per cent, while the value of art exports increased by 47 per cent in the same six-month period following a slump in the pandemic year of 2020. So, with this in mind, Madrigale remains optimistic for the future of art, and he’s keeping a specialist eye on one particular show.

“I am hopeful that the future of art collection continues to expand, provide accessibility and be inclusive,” said Madrigale. “The Spring/Break Art Show has been, for years now, the best example for all of those things. We can all be intimidated by art that is new and difficult for us to understand, and what Spring/Break does is foster a platform that encourages open discussion between artists, advisors, gallery directors and collectors. 

“This communal setting has removed a lot of that intimidation factor, and I think that a lot of people have had the opportunity to better understand, or even fall in love, with art that is new to them largely from the conversations Spring/Break fosters through the communal nature of their show.”