The Southampton Salon

Oh dear, was our first thought. But maybe not. Loweth began collecting art eight years ago, educating himself with trips to ArtBasel, and now has a collection of some 80 works. He compares the premium priced artworks of, say, Pablo Picasso or Gerhard Richter with the Nifty Fifty, a reference to 50 hot large-cap stocks in the 1960s that investors were encouraged to buy regardless of price. They may be liquid investments, he explains, but they are also over­valued. Similar to how the Nifty Fifty fell out of favor in the 1970s and 1980s, Loweth predicts a crash in such high-priced artworks. That's not an entirely novel idea, of course. Concerns that an asset bubble exists at the high end of the art market have been discussed repeatedly in the pages of Penta. Check out, for example, our art wrap “Beware the Bubble” (Dec. 3, 2012).

So Loweth, perhaps not unwisely, is instead buying art in the “mid-cap space,” which he defines as the $30,000-to-$75,000 price range. Loweth figures there are 50,000 artists in New York City, with only 500 or so selling pieces above $30,000. If you diversify across 25 artists, he says, and buy what you love, “one of those artists will likely be a star, and you will at least be able to get your money back.”

If his Wall Street career is any indication, Loweth may know something about good entry and exit points. In 2010, he left Diamondback Capital Partners, a hedge fund he co-founded. A few months later, ­Diamondback was investigated in an insider-trading probe. Neither Loweth nor his two partners were ever implicated in any wrongdoing, but the hedge fund shuttered in January, unable to stay in business after it was fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading.

Loweth has since launched his new passion with flare. A couple of weeks ago, he hosted a glamorous art party at his Southampton, N.Y., home. There, amid thumping house music and cocktails, Loweth showcased three emerging artists: Spanish painter Domingo Zapata, with his reinvented cave paintings; plate-glass sculptor Henry Richardson, from Massachusetts; and Richard Dupont, from New York City, a producer of what is called in the biz “post-digital” art, works that have been influenced by modern technology.

Penta and other media were invited to attend the soiree, which was said to draw inspiration from the French art salons of the 18th century. Those served as platforms for judging art and exposing works to the general public. That night, Loweth told us he was trying to reinvent the ­salons for the 21st century. “If I could throw a party where my friends would get together, see great art, and meet the artists, it would be a great opportunity for them to learn,” he said. Of course, it was also an opportunity for Loweth to increase the value of his own collection. Loweth’s Southampton estate was filled with a continuous stream of Mercedes and BMWs lining his vast lawn, before being scattered throughout the grass by valets. Beneath a tented roof, glasses brimming with wine, the varied works of Zapata, Richardson, and Dupont were showcased.

Loweth not only owns works by the artists he showcased, but he also set an example by purchasing additional pieces at the party. With a portfolio of these “mid-caps” bought early and cheaply, he is talking up his artists and making a market for their works—partly through such buzz-creating lawn parties. Front and center on the grass was, for example, Richardson’s enormous glass orb, colored a gentle turquoise, light gleaming through the glass. Its edges were textured and ridged by a chisel; the tiers of glass cascaded like steps.

Zapata’s The Writing on the Wall—displayed across the tent’s canvas interior—was a series of recreated cave paintings from over 35,000 years ago, made modern by overlaid collages, graffiti, and poetry, the works attempting to capture timeless emotions like love. We know this is so because Zapata held forth on how “life continues on with the same feelings, even as humans themselves change.”

Meanwhile, Dupont’s sculpted polyurethane heads and spotted paintings seemed rather wan and wanting of emotion next to the pieces by Richardson and Zapata, but he clearly has a feel for contrasting mediums and textures, such as casting and painting. If any of these works become large-caps, count on Loweth to keep throwing such parties. That’s because today’s collectors are increasingly coming to the conclusion that promotion is an integral part of building a valuable collection.

To Learn About Art, Party With the Artists

This weekend, Chad Loweth, a real-estate investor who had previously worked in the finance and hedge-fund industries, hosted what he called an art salon on the farm field at his Water Mill home. Mr. Loweth said he was at Art Basel in Miami Beach last year with several couples. "If you go to those events, there's so much in one place, it can be pretty mind-numbing," he said. Among several of his friends, who he described as "well-off but workaholic type people," the subject of understanding contemporary art and navigating the art market came up.

As an art patron with eclectic tastes, Mr. Loweth said he keeps up with what's going on at art shows and at auction houses. "Your taste changes the more educated you become," he said. Typically he tells friends, "Don't rush out and buy a lot. Do it slowly.""People would say, 'I saw so many beautiful things, but can you help me understand why something's $12 million, $2 million, $550,000 or $50,000?'" recalled Mr. Loweth. "The more people I talk to, the more I get the same response. Spending money on art scares them."

Mr. Loweth said he also tries to convince friends to buy what they like, "something that will make you happy when you see it every day." And it helps to get to know the artist whose work you might be interested in. "That way, when someone comes to your house and asks you to tell them about the work, you can," Mr. Loweth said. So over the weekend, he invited three artists whose work he collects and who he knows personally—Domingo Zapata, Richard Dupont and Henry Richardson—to bring some of their art and mingle with invited guests under a tent.

"I'd never heard of anything like this," said Mr. Richardson. "It wasn't a gallery show and it wasn't an art show. It wasn't really with an intent to sell, but just to get people to see the work and do it in a way that was actually fun. It was really a blowout party." Mr. Richardson, however, brought along four large-scale sculptures, including a 4½-foot orb and a 7-foot twisted column, and wound up selling three out of four of them.

Mr. Loweth invited several art-world professionals to help make the evening educational, including Scott Howe, the deputy director of the Parrish Art Museum. He wanted to make sure his guests understood that they should be going to museums to see what work is there. "For free you can go over and see a long-term vision of this Switzerland, as Scott from the Parrish called it," Mr. Loweth said. "They're not a gallery, they're not trying to sell you anything. But they do have a tremendous expertise." Mr. Howe said his friends don't typically use museum visits to do that kind of thing.

He added that he didn't participate in the sale of any of the work at his house, but being a collector of the work of Messrs. Dupont, Zapata and Richardson, "I economically benefit on my art." The evening wasn't just expensive for him on the hosting side, but he also wound up buying a piece of each of the artist's work. "I don't know if my wife will let me do it again," he joked.

"To me, it wasn't the typical kind of Hamptons party where a billionaire shows off his extensive art collection with a performance by a famous singer for supermodels and his executive friends," said Mr. Loweth. "I'm not a billionaire and Billy Joel didn't come to sing. That's not what I was trying to achieve. This is about my friends coming and learning something, having fun and meeting an eclectic group of interesting people." Wall Street Journal.