Cohen is not alone. Back in 1985, when the UK’s best-known and most voracious collector, Charles Saatchi, opened his first gallery in north London, he was an anomaly. Today collectors on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly opening their own spaces, handpicking curators and dusting off beloved works that have been sitting in storage crates for years. They say they want to enjoy their collections, share them with the public and promote emerging artists. In the U.S., rabid collectors Don and Mera Rubell have led the way with a museum- quality showplace in Miami, and others, like billionaire Mitchell Rales, have followed suit. In August, Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher announced their plans to build a contemporary art museum in the Presidio of San Francisco instead of giving their substantial trove to the city’s Museum of Modern Art, where Don has been a longtime trustee. In mid-September the Maramotti family, founders of the MaxMara fashion label and owners of one of Italy’s biggest contemporary art collections, opened a private museum in their hometown of Reggio Emilia. Unlike the patrons of days past, today’s collectors are not holding on to their stashes until they die, nor are they satisfied with loaning or donating select works to art institutions. “Loaning is great for the artists—and for the provenance of the piece—but the collector can’t enjoy it,” says Anita Zabludowicz, one of London’s biggest collectors, who opened the private 176 gallery in north London with her husband at the end of September.
For years, collectors had little direct control of the art market: Galleries were largely calling the shots and managing the flow of work between the artists and the collectors. Auction houses weren’t even selling new art. But over the past decade the boom in the contemporary art market has changed all that. Suddenly there was serious money to be made, and collectors began leapfrogging over the galleries to flog their de Koonings and Hirsts for increasingly high prices at auction. “The shifting balance of power in the art world means that collectors are more empowered than ever before,” says Kenny Schachter, the London-based dealer and entrepreneur. “Of course there’s a certain amount of ego in opening your own gallery, but what’s the alternative? Fill the coffers of a museum with $100 million to have a room named after you? Why not open a private gallery to show your vision and boost your standing as a collector?”