Collecting Trends: Christian Schwarm - Art Collector

6 October 2011

Christian Schwarm is a managing director of Independent Collectors, a social networking website for collectors based in Germany. He talks to Australian Art Collector about the collecting trends he is currently seeing in Europe and the United States.

Christian Schwarm (centre) with Independent Collectors' other managing directors Uwe Thomas and Ulrich Grothe.


What collecting trends are you seeing at the moment?

This has also been a very interesting question for us. A few weeks ago we concluded a survey of our members to find out where trends are going, especially with the global financial uncertainty in Europe and in the United states.

The outcome was rather surprising – 61% stated that collecting habits haven’t changed much. The remaining 39% stated that they are more careful and thoughtful with investments.

Generally I do think one can sense a declining tendency towards speculations and a return to the substance, meaning that collectors confront the work itself in more detail and precision. More thought-through decisions seem to be made.



Are there regional differences in collecting? Do German collectors, for example, approach building a collection in a different way to the English, or Australians?

To be honest, our collector base in Australia is still quite small so we are not too familiar with the Australian collectors scene.

At the moment Independent Collectors has around 4,000 collectors from over 80 nations, with the majority coming from Europe and the USA.

Concerning regional collecting habits, we can perceive quite strong differences. For instance, our collectors from the Netherlands have the tendency to collect artists from their own country whereas collectors from the German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and from the USA collect with a strong international focus.

I do think there are different regional markets for collectors that are largely influenced by the focus of the galleries they buy from and are in contact with.



In Australia we’re seeing a growing number of collectors buying work online, for example, through gallery websites or sites like Ocula. How comfortable are European collectors with online collecting?

Also in Europe, a growing number of collectors are buying art online. Online platforms for purchasing contemporary art have become an important channel, but shouldn’t be overestimated. The artwork itself should stand in the centre of every purchase.

To give a personal example, I once bought a piece by Fiona Banner through a gallery, but had only seen the work as a PDF. Nevertheless, I was very familiar with the work and its significance and was absolutely sure that it was the right decision to buy the work, although I had never seen the original.

What I want to say here is that no matter if you buy art online, through a gallery or at an auction, what counts in the end is how well you know and feel familiar with an artwork – and of course to know that you are buying from a reliable source.



What do you think of other artvenues like the VIP Art Fair and the new art recommendation engine Art.sy? Do they work? Are they what collectors want?

We are always excited about every new online initiative such as the VIP Art Fair and Art.sy.

An experience we have had ourselves, and that we seem to share with these initiatives, is that online projects always turn out to be more work than initially expected. Therefore, I guess the VIP Art Fair in its first round had slight start up problems and Art.sy, as far I know, is not fully accessible yet.

In our experience collectors are very different in terms of their responsiveness to such online projects and developments – therefore also our name Independent Collectors, as we cannot really generalise or talk about collectors as a mass.



Why did you decide to found Independent Collectors? Specifically, why did you believe collectors needed their own social network?

The idea of creating a community of art collectors came from my personal passion for collecting contemporary art and my urge to share it with others.

After purchasing my first works, I quickly realised that an important part of collecting is to connect with other contemporary art lovers, and to get inspired by their interests and experiences.

As usual, I started my search for like-minded people online. But surprisingly I found this wasn’t as easy as I expected, making me realise that private art collectors apparently hardly interact in an otherwise extensively connected art world.

This discovery, combined with my strong curiosity about how others go about collecting, brought me to the idea of connecting independent collectors from around the world in an online community. Looking at the website today, I clearly wasn’t the only one in search for such a platform. I am sure that I would have been able to deepen and widen my knowledge much faster with this website.

I think collectors need their own social network to ensure a certain dialogue in a non-commercial space, independent from any sort of business interest. For this reason you will not find any classical advertisements in the form of banners on the site.

We manually verify every new application to make sure that Independent Collectors remains a platform for collectors only.

Of course we also welcome people working in the arts, but in the registration process we request them to agree to our ethical code that asks users not to promote their own business. We in no way intend to be elitist but have to stay exclusive to ensure a certain quality of the site.



Have collectors responded the way you thought they would? Or have there been surprises along the way?

Independent Collectors consists of two main features: the social collectors network; and the presentation of privately owned art in self-curated online exhibitions.

Of course there have been surprises along the way, especially when Independent Collectors ventures into the offline realm.

For example our most active member, Wilhelm Schürmann, has used our exhibition tool to interact with the curator at Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach in Germany to organise a
real life exhibition of his collection.

Also there have been several members meetings at important art events that our members have organised individually. Another one is coming up at Frieze Art Fair in the middle of the month.



Can you describe a typical collector member on Independent Collectors? What kind of work do they collect? And how long have they been collecting?

The typical collector member on Independent Collectors is between 30 and 50 years old. Most of our members come from Europe or from the USA and work in, for example, the finance sector, in the media industry, the medical profession, or are architects or lawyers.

We have collectors registered with us who literally just bought their first artworks, as well as more experienced collectors with very established collections.



Jane O'Sullivan


Christian Schwarm is one of the founding directors of Independent Collectors (
www.independent-collectors.com) alongside Ulrich Grothe and Uwe Thomas. He is also head of the international marketing agency Dorten and has been collecting contemporary art since 1995. The first works he acquired were pieces by Fiona Banner and Peter Piller, two artists he still follows passionately. Today there are about 200 works in his collection. Schwarm is based in Berlin and Stuttgart in Germany.


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