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Topping The Art-Collection Charts


You know Americans love lists - 100 best films, best barbeque joints, best cheesecakes. Each year, ARTnews magazine compiles a list of the biggest spenders in the art world. Some of the names may be familiar, some are surprising, some maybe a little of both. Milton Esterow is the editor and publisher of ARTnews and joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

MILTON ESTEROW: Nice to be here.

SIMON: Are these folks just big spenders or something more?

ESTEROW: They are of course big spenders, but at the same time there are so many different kinds of collections as there are collections. Some collectors are happy, some are tormented. Some buy very little, while others can't help themselves. Why do people collect? Well, I once interviewed the great art historian Kenneth Clark and he once said that it's like asking why we fall in love. The reasons are quite so different. And it's very true.

SIMON: Forgive a couple of stereotypes but are there a lot of Saudi princes or Russian billionaires on this list?

ESTEROW: I haven't counted them all. One of my favorites is not Saudi and not a Russian prince. Let's call him Mr. D. He collects impressionist paintings and a good friend of mine was at his mansion not too long ago and the collector said before you look at them I just have to switch something on. And when he was exactly about five feet away from the Monet the sound system was activated and the room was abruptly flooded with Debussy.

SIMON: Debussy?

ESTEROW: Debussy, yes. And the historian stepped back a pace or two. The music stopped. Next, he went to the next Monet, beautiful water lilies and this triggered Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Finally, the historian stands in front of the Van Gogh and suddenly he has Frank Sinatra singing "I Did it My Way." And this collector obviously was enjoying himself. And that's the reason why anybody should buy art - because you experience it and you want to live with it.

SIMON: You're not one of those who believes in buying it as an investment.

ESTEROW: Absolutely not. The stock market is safer.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Mr. Esterow why is it, I gather, that art prices are rising? I've even heard the term skyrocketing.

ESTEROW: Well, you have the so-called 1 percent of collectors. We're talking about the billionaires. It's those folks who are wanting to buy the important artists of today and yesterday and the supply keeps diminishing. For example, Monet cannot paint anymore paintings and neither can Van Gogh. And so when an important Van Gogh comes up at auction, a major one, it's going to go through the roof.


SIMON: Milton Esterow is editor and publisher of ARTnews, speaking from New York. I hope your paints stay dry. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Esterow.

ESTEROW: A pleasure to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHAPSODY IN BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.