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Where Do the World’s Top Art Collectors Live?

ARTnews is out this week with its list of the top 200 art collectors of 2013, identified through interviews with major players in the art world — and the United States emerges as the dominant player, with half the collectors citing it as their primary residence. After that, the numbers drop off steeply. Rounding out ...

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ARTnews is out this week with its list of the top 200 art collectors of 2013, identified through interviews with major players in the art world — and the United States emerges as the dominant player, with half the collectors citing it as their primary residence. After that, the numbers drop off steeply. Rounding out the top five are Germany (19 collectors), Switzerland (12 collectors), Britain (10 collectors), and France (8 collectors). The magazine’s separate list of the top ten collectors isn’t much more diverse, with five from the United States, two from France, and one each from Switzerland, Taiwan, and Qatar.

The top five countries shook out roughly the same in 2012, but Western dominance of the art market doesn’t entirely align with the new geography of billionaires. According to Forbes, there are 1,426 billionaires in the world, and the United States hosts 442 of the 1,426. But China (122) and Russia (110) come in second and third, even though they only have seven and four collectors, respectively, on the ARTnews list.

What explains the discrepancy? Back in May, the Art Newspaper reported that most art collection in China occurs domestically, with calligraphy and painting in particularly high demand. But the newspaper also noted that museums and commercial galleries displaying international art are becoming more and more common on the mainland and Hong Kong — suggesting that the Chinese art market could be poised for a transformation.

It’s also worth noting that it takes a special kind of billionaire to rub elbows with the world’s top 200 collectors. ARTnews’ research shows that around 200 billionaires worldwide are prepared to spend $20 million on a single piece of art, and about 100 are willing to spend over $50 million (according to Wealth-X research, the average billionaire has $31 million — or 0.5 percent of his or her net worth — invested in art). In 2012, for example, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, known as the most powerful woman in the art world, purchased a Cezanne painting for $250 million.

While most of these collectors are interested in modern and contemporary art, some art buyers have more specific tastes. Brussels-based Philippe Decelle, for example, is interested in plastic design (more specifically "Pop furniture made between 1960 and 1973"). "I’ve run out of space," Decelle complained, in reference to his museum of plastic furniture, in 2004. "There’s a whole plastic universe here silently expanding. Who knows where it will all end!" Maybe China?

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