Career & Success

The Art of Collecting and the Business of Art

How three enthusiasts built their world-class collections.

February 21, 2014

| by Deborah Petersen Kerry A. Dolan

Whether it was desire to promote the art of their homeland, or to go back to a time in history, these art collectors started with an inspiration that led them to purchase or commission their first piece of artwork. Now, these three art aficionados have amassed highly-regarded collections which have adorned the walls of museums throughout the world. Here’s how they did it:

Guy Ullens: “Go for the Best Quality.”


121030 by Wang Guangle

121030 by Wang Guangle, 2012 (Courtesy of Guy and Myriam Ullens Foundation)

For Guy Ullens, it all started as a hobby and a desire to support the work of the artists he saw when his business took him to China in the 1980s. Some 20 years later, in 2004, he and his wife, Myriam — worried there would be no major event to support the exploding Chinese art community during the 2008 Beijing Olympics — decided to build a Chinese contemporary art museum. “We went way beyond our budget, but we had our first major show in November 2007, “says Ullens, who lives in Switzerland and graduated from Stanford GSB in 1960. One of the pieces in his collection, The Last Supper by Zeng Fanzhi, sold for a record $23.3 million last year.

Ullens still collects the works of young Chinese and California artists. Today the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing’s 798 Arts District is run by an American “superqualified head curator” and plans an exhibit of young Los Angeles artists next fall. “When I meet an artist or a piece of art I love, I cannot sleep for a few days,” Ullens says. His best advice for other collectors? “When you start, go for the best honest advisers, and go for the best quality.”

Terence Garnett: “Trust Your Instincts.”



“The Answer” by Ludwig Deutsch (1883) is among the works in Terence Garnett’s (MBA ‘88) collection of 19th Century Orientalist paintings. (Courtesy of Terence Garnett)

Were it not for a photograph taken with a Brownie camera of his father as a young man, Terence Garnett might have never gathered an art collection, and especially one that has reached some of the world’s most significant museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The image of his father in Cairo while serving in the British Army in the Middle East helped inspire the younger Garnett’s intrigue with that part of the world, and, eventually, with the artists in the 1800s who captured its sublime desert landscapes, as well as the bold, ornate dress, weapons, and mosques of that era.

Garnett, cofounder of a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, is not drawn to the 19th-Century Orientalist depictions of harems. Instead, he collects the more masculine, historical pieces of the genre. He has done extensive research to bring his collection to what it is today, but choosing art is more than an intellectual or financial pursuit. “What I’ve gone after is what I love,” says Garnett, who earned his MBA at Stanford GSB in 1988. “At the end of the day, you have to go with your gut instinct and go with what you like. That kind of trumps everything,” he says. “If you are going to make a significant investment, whether it is in a company or in a piece of art, you’ve got to have the conviction and trust your instincts.”

Sergio Autrey: “Art Can Change Many Things.”



“Movil-Tzompantli” by Roberto Turnbull, 2009, was commissioned by Sergio Autrey for the bicentennial of Mexico in 2010. (Courtesy of Sergio Autrey)

Sergio Autrey grew up in Mexico City, tagging along with his mother when she bought antiques for the family’s home. Those outings marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for art that has led him to become a kind of modern-day Mexican Medici. After he graduated from Stanford GSB, Autrey returned to Mexico City and began collecting and commissioning art.

“I decided to sponsor my generation of painters,” he says, adding that these artists have become his friends. In turn, those artists have created more than 1,000 paintings for his collection, some of which Autrey lends to exhibitions and museums.

For Mexico’s bicentennial in 2010, he commissioned 26 artists to produce large paintings that reflected his country’s 200 years of independence and the Mexican Revolution.

“I think art can change many things,” says Autrey. “It can change people’s views. Some of the art is not what it first appears to be. There’s a lot of violence behind many of the paintings. You look and say, what a beautiful thing! But underneath there is darkness.”

For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom.

Explore More