Collectors and Collections: Critical Recognition of the World’s Top Art Collectors



This study examines differential recognition of top art collectors. Using the population of 617 international art collectors named by ARTnews, ArtReview, and Art+Auction from 1990 to 2011, I examine factors that affect the extent of a collector’s recognition through naming on ARTnews’s annual list of the world’s top collectors. The research draws on both humanities and sociological perspectives to model two sets of characteristics that may affect the amount of critical recognition conferred on a collector.

First, conceiving that recognition is based on the art object, status characteristics of art collections are considered. Next, characteristics of the art collection’s owner (rather than the art objects themselves) are considered. Findings indicate that the extent of recognition a collector receives is based on both collection and collector attributes, even when holding the other constant.

Notably, collections specializing in art originating from both culturally dominant and peripheral regions are favored with extended critical recognition, though only collectors residing in culturally dominant regions are consistently distinguished. Overall, results suggest that important overarching status characteristics of object and owner affect the extent to which elite taste and expertise are critically recognized, with the expectation that the greater the extent of recognition, the greater the validation.