(Bloomberg) -- Two under-the-radar power brokers from the art world are building out an investment fund with “an activist approach” to diversity, focusing on undervalued female and minority artists.
The Arte Collectum I fund is fronted by Tate Modern’s founding director Lars Nittve and Deborah Gunn, who previously managed the vast collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
The Swedish fund, which is capped at 500 million kronor ($45.4 million) and has a final closing schedule for next month, is buying into artists that until recently were ignored by the establishment.
“We’ve been buying art over a couple of months,” Nittve said in an interview from his home in Stockholm. “We look at artists who have previously been excluded from the history books or from the contemporary context for reasons they had no control over, due to gender, skin color or where they were born.”
Nittve is already a well-known name in the industry from his previous roles running the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Louisiana in Denmark, as well as being the founding director of Tate Modern in London and M+ in Hong Kong. He also has a track record in the equality space.
“In Stockholm we ran a campaign to try to change the gender balance in the collections,” Nittve said. “When we bought female artists who had stood next to their male colleagues, in the same studio and done equally groundbreaking things, the price difference was about one to 20. The male artist cost basically 20 times more.”
A year ago Nittve was approached by Johan Dettel, a former partner at private equity group EQT AB, and gallery owner Niklas Belenius, with an offer to join as chair of the investment committee of Arte Collectum. Combined, the committee members have previously bought art for 2 billion euros ($1.97 billion). The new fund began trading on the Swedish Nordic Growth Market in June.
Nittve says the plan for value creation is not only to pick the right pieces from galleries “at a good discount,” but also to let the fund’s team for “curatorial affairs” foster price increases by promoting them to important exhibitions.
He points to the American artist Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) to illustrate his point about an “ongoing shift” in the art market when it comes to black and female artists, especially in the US.
“She’s not at Jackson Pollock levels yet, but it is starting to get expensive,” he said, citing a painting by Mitchell that can now demand a $10 million-plus price tag. “We haven’t bought any of her works yet, but she’s an artist we really would like to have in our collection, but sooner or later, when we find the right piece at the right price.”
The fund has already sourced works by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian from Iran, African-American artist Stanley Whitney and Wook-kyung Choi from South Korea. It has also bought pieces by what Nittve calls “still rising stars,” such as Kerstin Bratsch from Germany and Toyin Ojih Odutola from Nigeria.
Despite recent price increases, Nittve thinks valuations in the segment still have a long way to go. “Because it is extremely undervalued artistry,” he said. “In many cases it’s insanely udervalued.”
While other asset classes have seen their value slump amid the market turmoil this year, Nittve says the upper segment of the broader art market has so far been “unmoved by the war and inflation.” But even though he has seen a clear shift in interest toward young female artists, “in some cases it has been almost to the point of a potential overheating.”
“Female artists that were sold on the primary market just eight months earlier for say $300,000 suddenly went for $1.2 million,” he said.
As an example he mentions British young painter Flora Yukhnovich (born in 1990), who makes pieces that he describes as “very intelligent” and having “a historical anchoring and at the same time feel completely contemporary.”
“But a quadrupling in prices from a not so low primary market within the same year, how sustainable is that?”
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