Meet Amar Singh, the Activist Art Gallerist Who Went From Dealing in Abstract Expressionism to $300 Million Worth of NFTs
A member of the erstwhile Kapurthala Royal Family, the London-based dealer and collector supports underrepresented artists through his gallery and philanthropic efforts.
Watching Amar Singh in action—endlessly pacing and talking on the phone—one could easily imagine him trading stocks on the Nasdaq rather than buying and selling NFTs. However, it soon becomes clear that, despite sharing the ruthlessness of top traders, the art dealer is an unusual hybrid of activist and businessman, putting much of his profits into championing historically excluded female artists, artists of color, and LGBTQ+ artists.
While skeptics may question Singh’s motivations, he comes from a long line of social activists. Most notably, his grandmother Veena Singh famously campaigned for women’s education alongside India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. As a member of the erstwhile Kapurthala Royal Family, Amar recently leveraged his privileged position to join other campaigners publicly pushing the Indian government to decriminalize homosexuality, which it finally did in 2018.
This activist perspective is also a major component of his art business. When he opened his eponymous London gallery in 2016, Singh spent the early stages of his career dealing and acquiring works by women artists involved in Abstract Expressionism, particularly Grace Hartigan and Elaine de Kooning. This gave him a unique niche in a city flooded with galleries, and showed off strong instincts in identifying untapped markets. Earlier this week, a painting by Hartigan fetched a near-record $462,000, more than three times its high estimate, at Christie’s.
While he says he largely avoids the “bloodbath of contemporary art,” Singh’s more forays into the market for the new have also focused on women artists, including virtual exhibitions featuring feminist groups like the Guerrilla Girls and Rewind Collective.
The commitment paid off. When Christie’s executives were seeking to capitalize on their $69 million sale of Beeple’s NFT Everydays—The First 5,000 Days, they quickly partnered with Singh to organize the auction house’s second major NFT sale in April, pairing physical works by female Abstract Expressionist painters with custom NFTs by Rewind Collective.
The five paintings on sale were from Singh’s personal collection, which earned him more than $1 million on top of his role in crafting the format of the auction itself. Singh donated part of the proceeds to Hillary Clinton’s charity Vital Voices, which is dedicated to female empowerment.
Emboldened by this success, he soon brokered a deal between the digital collectables app VeVe, luxury brand Givenchy Beauty, and Rewind Collective. The collaboration was the first NFT produced for the fashion label and parent company LVMH, with all proceeds going to Le MAG Jeunes (or Mouvement d’Affirmation des Jeunes Gais, Lesbiennes, Bi et Trans), which supports LGBTQ+ youth. When the NFT editions officially dropped on June 21, each listed for $100, they sold out in just two seconds—raising $128,000 for LGBTQ+ rights in the blink of an eye.
That sale also taught Singh something important about the field of NFTs. “Everyone got carried away with the $69 million Beeple sale. That price didn’t and still doesn’t constitute the bulk of the market,” he said. “Gen Z and younger millennials buying affordable NFTs are driving the market through the roof—digital editions and accessible NFTs saw an 800 percent increase this quarter. So that’s what I’ve decided to focus on.”
Singh has since been building out his distribution channels for digital art; he recently brokered multi-year deals to produce NFTs with his roster of artists for VeVe, MakersPlace and ConsenSys. The total value of his mammoth NFT deals with these and several other companies is more than $300 million.
Singh’s choice of partners is telling: VeVe is one of the leading apps offering one-of-a-kind digital collectables, making the top 10 list of the highest grossing entertainment apps in the U.S. last month. And both MakersPlace and ConsenSys—the latter started by Joseph Lubin, co-founder of Ethereum, the second most valuable cryptocurrency—are rapidly becoming industry hubs for NFT buying.
“Our deal with Amar will be one of the most important collaborations for VeVe, especially with its crossover into social issues, like elevating women and minority groups,” VeVe founder and tech investor David Yu told Artnet News. “We want people in every corner of the world to be able to access art, but beyond that we want to celebrate the history of these groups in what we call a ‘celebration drop.’ Especially now that we’re one of the top-grossing apps, this collaboration will have a massive impact.”
Beyond his quest of conquering the world of NFTs, Singh has also pledged to donate $5 million worth of art made by historically underrepresented artists to leading institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, London’s National Portrait Gallery, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Just nine months after making the promise, Singh has already delivered on it.
“Amar represents a new generation who are supporting museums to make their dreams of diversifying their collections a reality,” said Karen Archey, curator of contemporary art at the Stedelijk. “His principled approach to philanthropy is simply refreshing and inspiring, and I hope that other aspiring collectors take note.”
While Singh has yet to become a household name, he’s situated himself to be one of the largest benefactors to come out of the NFT boom and is harnessing the market to further his philanthropy and activism.
“Every deal I’ve put together incorporates a charitable element and all of them are about celebrating women, LBGTQ+ or minority communities,” Singh said. “Show me another arts company dealing in NFTs, operating at my scale, who can say the same.”
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