Art was the top performing asset in the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index during 2017, rising by 21% to overtake recent front-runners wine and classic cars. To mark its resurgence, Sophia King explores the evolution of the long-established links between art and property
Throughout history, prosperous individuals have built majestic homes for their prized collections. The Medici family supercharged the Italian Renaissance with their patronage, while British art and architecture were transformed during the 17th and 18th centuries when the upper echelons of society returned from their Grand Tours of Europe.
An array of stately homes were constructed as inspired owners strived to incorporate European influences, both through the buildings’ design and the newly acquired collections within. Today, a new generation of UHNWIs has taken over the mantle, creating new spaces designed to place their much-loved collections at the centre of the home.
“I call them the modern-day Medicis,” says Charu Gandhi, director of Elicyon, a Chelsea-based interior design studio. Mrs Gandhi has worked with an impressive list of clients, including numerous famous faces and one of the world's wealthiest art collectors – who, incidentally, has just acquired the penthouse in a development on London’s increasingly fashionable Chiltern Street.
“Luxury collections are all about private enjoyment,” Mrs Gandhi says. “My clients want to be able to enjoy their favourite pieces with their loved ones every day in the comfort of their home.” This focus on displaying beloved collections often exceeds all else. Mrs Gandhi frequently designs homes around her clients’ collections – even if the collections in question do not yet exist.
“One of my favourite recent projects was a four-bed apartment in London’s One Hyde Park development. The client had a clear design vision centred on art,” explains Mrs Gandhi. “But he didn’t yet have a collection – so creating that became a key part of my role too.” Mrs Gandhi went on to consult experts in New York and the Middle East, attend art fairs and auctions, and commission artists whose aesthetic she felt would fit in well with the apartment’s design and the owner’s vision.
“For me, it was very important that my home at One Hyde Park reflected my passion for art,” says the apartment’s owner, a European entrepreneur. “It now has the perfect mix of well-established artists and rising stars, with stunning pieces from Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Joan Miró, Anthony Gormley and Helaine Blumenfeld.”
“It’s almost a prerequisite that super-prime buyers seek a home with a main room ceiling height of three metres or more,” says Rupert des Forges, Knight Frank’s Head of Prime Central London Developments. “That’s the minimum height you need to display serious artwork, and that’s what many of our clients factor into their decisions.”
James Carter-Brown, Head of Knight Frank Residential Building Consultancy, agrees. “I’m finding clients are increasingly interested in contemporary art, particularly because of its investment potential. However, it can be challenging to display from a structural point of view. As part of a recent major property refurbishment, one of my clients wanted help with the installation of a spectacular Dale Chihuly glass sculpture in their Grade I listed home. The piece measured seven feet by six and weighed almost 900kg – I had to arrange for the ceiling to be reinforced to support it.”
The quest for a home filled with impressive art is a global phenomenon. In the US, Knight Frank’s residential real estate partner Douglas Elliman frequently sees an overlap between its clients and those who attend high-end auctions and art shows such as Art Basel Miami.
One example of this fusion of property and art is 75 Kenmare in New York’s NoLita neighbourhood. With exterior design by renowned New York architect Andre Kikoski and interiors by Kravitz Design – the design firm founded by American rock star Lenny Kravitz – the new development merges art, architecture and style with its richly textured façade and artful interiors.
In Switzerland, luxury interior design firm Accouter Design worked on a £200 million property on Lake Geneva centred on a particularly remarkable art collection. “The client owned priceless pieces, including sketchbooks by Picasso and Van Gogh,” says Mia Kitsinis, a senior interior designer at Accouter. “We referenced the unique style of these artists to create a scheme that conveyed opulence, dedicating particular attention to lighting, colours and contrasts to ensure that the interior architecture and decor enhanced – but didn’t overpower – these splendid artworks.”
Of course, art isn’t the only luxury collectible around which UHNWIs are building their homes. Mrs Gandhi has created projects around collections of whisky, antiquarian books, jewellery, Baccarat crystal and even rare ceremonial robes which, following discussions with experts at the V&A, are now presented as museum-quality installations in the main living areas of the client’s house.
“Ultimately, collections are an extension of their owners,” Mrs Gandhi says. “An expression of who they are and what they enjoy.”
Sometimes, even those with the largest of houses run out of room to display all their objects of desire; or, of course, decide that they want to share their passion with the wider world.
Former commodity trader Christian Levett has been collecting ever since he was a child buying old coins and medals with his pocket money. Over the years he has amassed thousands of works of art and antiquities, including the world’s largest privately owned collection of ancient armour. Since 2011, the bulk of his internationally acclaimed collection has been on display at the Musee d’Art Classique, a museum he created from a medieval building in the French Riviera town of Mougins.
Mr Levett says that place and space were key aspects that inspired the project. A number of the artists whose works hang in the museum lived in Mougins, or were inspired by the countryside around it. Picasso, for example, spent the last 12 years of his life there. The town’s pre-Roman origins also form a suitably historic home for the antiquities on show.
“I think the synergy between the collection and its surroundings adds to the experience of the visitor,” explains Mr Levett. The varied history of the 550 sq m building itself, which was started life as a prison and then a flour mill and finally a house in the 1950s, also reflects the diversity of the objects within – classical artefacts are frequently and intriguingly juxtaposed with contemporary works of art.
“The original interior of the building had been entirely stripped out by a previous owner, so it was the perfect blank canvas on which we could create four floors of open galleries and glass vitrines without upsetting the French heritage agencies,” adds Mr Levett.
A similar process, albeit on an industrial scale, was undertaken by London-based design and architecture practice Heatherwick Studio during its transformation of a giant disused concrete grain silo into the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA), which opened in Cape Town in September 2017.
In 2011, the owners of the city’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront approached Heatherwick to develop ideas for the run-down site – home to a grading tower and 42 cellular silos – as a place of contemporary culture. In a stroke of serendipity, the German philanthropist and former Puma chief executive Jochen Zeitz was at the same time looking for a permanent home in which to share his private art collection.
“The technical challenge was to find a way to create spaces and galleries within the 10-storey high tubular honeycomb without completely destroying the authenticity of the original building,” says designer and studio founder Thomas Heatherwick.
The original concrete silos were partially carved out to create an awe-inspiring atrium at the heart of the museum. The tower, inspired by the design of a Venetian lamp, now comprises convex glass shells that reflect the surrounding views of Table Mountain, City Bowl, and the harbour and city beyond.
The Zeitz MOCAA is Africa’s largest contemporary art gallery, but it is also a masterpiece in its own right. “This is a public museum with a private collection,” says Mr Zeitz. “It’s not my museum or the Waterfront’s – it’s for Africa.”
Luxury collections offer a great deal of enjoyment, but their incredible value as an investment asset can also rub off on to their surroundings. In some cases, the mere presence of a well-placed piece of art can boost property prices. One project in particular – a property at One Hyde Park – achieved a very successful sale price following the introduction of stunning pieces by British sculptor Barbara Hepworth.
“There’s undoubtedly a close relationship between luxury homes and art,” say Knight Frank’s Rupert des Forges. “Buyers at the top end of the new homes market tend to be relatively young and focus on contemporary art in their collections. The careful placement of artwork by the likes of Hirst or Warhol can be the finishing touch that prompts a prospective buyer to make an offer.”
In fact, thoughtfully displayed artwork can be so enticing that UHNWIs regularly ask to purchase pieces along with the property that houses them. “Purchasers typically pick pieces of art on display that particularly complement the overall aesthetic of a property,” explains Mr des Forges. “We’ve had some buyers request to purchase every piece of art on display; it’s rare, but it happens.”
Such a request is no small investment. Artwork displayed in show homes is borrowed from local galleries and tends to be of a value proportionate to the property itself. A prime new show home, for example, could be expected to display art worth in the region of £500,000.
And show homes aren’t the only properties using art to enhance the overall visitor experience. In Christian Levett’s three luxury ski chalets in the French resort of Courchevel 1850, a good number of Old Masters and more contemporary works can be founding earning their keep on the walls.
“It definitely adds value to the chalets as a business,” says Mr Levett. “At this kind of level (rents hit up to €400,000 per week for Edelweiss, the biggest chalet in the Alps) people expect to have the perfect experience in every sense, which includes being surrounded by great works of art.”
In Madrid, developer Italinmuebles has worked in collaboration with Carlos Cruz-Diez – hailed by some as one of the greatest artistic innovators of our time – to create Montalbán 11, an ultra-luxury development that integrates art and architecture to a level never before seen in the city. Kinetic art pieces by Mr Cruz-Diez feature in the foyer and elevator, and a unique piece of art is included in the sale price of each apartment.
“It’s standard for quality luxury developments to be in a great location with high-end finishes,” says Maximilian Pizzorni, managing partner at Italinmuebles. “But UHWNIs are sophisticated people looking for more than that. We made sure that Montalbán 11 provides extra parking space for cars, extensive wall space for art, and spacious cellars for storing wine – all centred around the incredibly unique project of Mr Cruz- Diez.”
Art isn’t only being hung on walls to add value to residential real estate. In cities around the world, art is increasingly being combined in an even more symbiotic way with property. Global brands including Louis Vuitton, Unicef and Coca-Cola are working in collaboration with talented artists to harness the power of what many would call graffiti, but is now known as street or wall art.
Gucci executed a particularly successful wall art project last year – #GucciGeeks – with British illustrator Angelica Hicks. Featured on the sides of buildings in the fashion capitals of New York and Milan, the campaign saw huge engagement across social media and rocketing sales of its accompanying merchandise.
Viola Raikhel-Bolot, managing director of independent art advisory firm 1858 Limited, works with agencies and brands to select the right artist for their campaigns and has seen first-hand the impact graffiti advertising can achieve.
“Passers-by typically can’t engage with a billboard in the same way that they can with an urban wall and social media,” says Mrs Raikhel-Bolot. “By taking traditional advertising and transposing it to mural-size artwork, we’ve seen companies make significant increases in both their brand awareness and profit.
“It’s a three-way agreement between the brand, the artist and the owner of the wall space. Often, the artist will help transpose their artwork into a large-scale mural, which can be the closest many people will ever come to seeing an artist create an original work of art, so it generates a lot of excitement.”
It’s not just the audience that’s likely to be excited, either. Such campaigns frequently see relatively unknown artists thrust into the limelight; Retna, the artist behind Louis Vuitton’s Miami-based graffiti campaign, went on to design the artwork for Justin Bieber’s multi-million-selling Purpose album cover.
For building owners, what was previously just an external wall can now generate its own revenue stream. “Clearly it depends on the location, but the ‘rents’ could be significant,” says Mrs Raikhel-Bolot.
At the moment, graffiti art advertising is most prevalent in the US and Europe, but with cities such as Hong Kong now also getting involved, it’s likely that Asia isn’t far behind embracing the trend. Regardless, the very nature of the project means that the wall art can be appreciated irrespective of location, via the platform currently shared by more than 800 million people worldwide: Instagram.
A great deal has changed since previous generations built spectacular homes around beloved collections inspired by their exotic travels, but the symbiotic relationship between art and property continues to evolve. And with art coming in so many different shapes, sizes and forms – whether a privately curated collection, a bespoke graffiti advertisement or a building’s unique architecture – its influence seems set to flourish in ever more modern and intriguing ways.
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