This fall, the 34-year-old hedge-fund manager Andrew B. Cohen, who started collecting art just three years ago, bought the showstopper at Jeffrey Deitch’s Art Basel Miami Beach booth: a new nine-foot-high painting by Kehinde Wiley, Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, depicting a young African-American man as Napoleon on horseback, for $45,000. That may be small change by ABMB standards, but it’s high for a painting by an emerging artist, and the deal was particularly notable because Cohen pledged to lend the painting to the Brooklyn Museum for at least five years.
It’s easy to paint Masters of the Universe turned “collectors” as dilettantes or just plain conspicuous consumers. But modern-day Medicis like Cohen benefit just about everyone: Artists get support, museums and galleries flourish, and we all get more art. “This was a very important thing that he did,” says Deitch. “Andy’s a very sincere person, very serious at going around and looking.”
Unlike many hedge-fund guys who do their shopping through art consultants, Cohen does his own research and will often visit studios; recently, he dropped in on the “superb” young painter Barnaby Furnas. “Typically, I either do a studio visit before I buy the work or I follow up with the artist after, to really talk about it,” says Cohen, who also owns work by Ernesto Caivano, Robin Rhode, and Simone Shubuck. “I don’t buy at auction. I’m into buying artists of my generation—younger, more emerging artists.” Though some of his peers have become known for applying their business acumen to the art market, Cohen is quick to distinguish pastime from profession. “I don’t want to be a poster child for hedge-fund guys buying lots of art. This is a lifelong hobby, and not some extension of being involved in finance.”