Back in January, Oxfam released a report charting the world’s extreme wealth inequality and the ways in which it’s gotten worse over the past five years. In particular, one notable figure stood out: “80 people now have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, down from 388 in 2010.” Eighty people — the number just felt so small and tangible. It was the same number of people my partner and I invited to our last house party.
In the wake of the Oxfam report, FiveThirtyEight compiled a handy list of the world’s 80 richest people, including each person’s wealth, the country where they live, whether or not their money is self-made, and the sector in which they deal or work. Then a Facebook post by the Natural History Museum got me thinking: what if there were another column, one for the arts?
That the world’s wealthiest people are tied not just to the art market but also to arts institutions is something we all know. But it’s knowledge we possess mostly in a general way, with bits and pieces of tangible detail bubbling to the surface here and there — like when a storied performing arts hall changes names to the tune of $100 million. So, I thought it might be helpful to research these connections to the best of my (and our interns’) abilities and lay them out for people to see. Whether you work for a major museum or want to tear them all down, it’s good to know the specifics of the system with which you’re dealing.
There’s a lot of information accumulated here, and I’ve had a hard time processing it all and picking out much in the way of threads beyond an obvious but important one: the wealthiest people in the world are inextricable from the arts ecosystem, including many of the world’s leading (and not so leading) cultural institutions, particularly in the United States. Even if it’s not one of them directly, their siblings or children are off opening new organizations or donating to prestigious older museums, often in the vein of the US patronage model. Money is the grease that makes the gears run. This creates a particularly acute quandary if you believe that cultural institutions also have, or should have, an obligation to the public. It means the tension is built into the system, and it means there’s a likely limit to how far any of those institutions will go in terms of pursuing a social mission. It’s a frustratingly tidy capitalist paradox — which, again, is not news to many of us, but is perhaps cast in sharper relief by looking at the list below.
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1. Bill Gates (USA)
- Collects American art, including works by Winslow Homer and George Bellows.
- Paid $30.8 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester.
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored the Art of Saving a Life campaign, which recruited 30 artists of various disciplines to make work supporting vaccination awareness.
- Said donating to museums is morally reprehensible.
2. Carlos Slim Helú (Mexico)
- Owns largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial coins in the world, second-largest Auguste Rodin collection in the world, and big collection of letters and historical documents.
- Built museum to house his collection: Museo Soumaya (named after his late wife, Soumaya Domit) in Mexico City, which opened in 2011.
3. Amancio Ortega (Spain) – No known arts connections
4. Warren Buffett (USA)
- Disowned his adopted granddaughter, Nicole Buffett, an abstract painter (presumably not because she’s an abstract painter).
5. Larry Ellison (USA)
- Collects Japanese art.
- Pieces from his collection exhibited in 2013 exhibition at Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
- Collection managed by Emily Sano, former director of the Asian Art Museum.
6. Charles Koch (USA)
- His wife, Elizabeth B. Koch, founded Koch Cultural Trust in 1986, which supports artists in Kansas.
7. David Koch (USA)
- Pledged $100 million toward renovation of New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, home of the NYC Ballet, since renamed the David H. Koch Theater.
- Board member of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, American Museum of Natural History, American Ballet Theater, and others
- Funded $65 million renovation of plaza and fountains in front of Metropolitan Museum of Art, since renamed David H. Koch Plaza.
- Trustee emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, founded Chairman’s Council and contributed significantly to several initiatives: The Textile Conservation Laboratory, Costume Institute, Visiting Committee for the Department of Scientific Research.
- Gave $15 million for construction of David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History, plus $20 million to establish David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.
8. Sheldon Adelson (USA)
- Has made multiple donations to Yad Vashem in Israel and sponsored new Museum of Holocaust Art there.
- Board member of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
9. Christy Walton (USA)
- Former trustee at the San Diego Natural History Museum
- “Connoisseur” at the Mingei International Museum, a folk art museum in San Diego
- Has sponsored exhibitions at and donated pieces to the Mingei Museum.
10. Jim Walton (USA)
- His family foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, largely funded Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (see entry 13).
11. Liliane Bettencourt (France)
- Her family foundation, the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, funded the new Claude Monet wing at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
12. Stefan Persson (Sweden)
- His company, H&M, collaborated with artist Jeff Koons to produce a special bag.
13. Alice Walton (USA)
- Conceived of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
- Due to a donation by Walmart, her family’s company, admission to museum is free.
- The Walton Family Foundation financed the museum, with a $1.2 billion donation.
- Hired Moshe Safdie to design museum and personally acquired many works for it, including Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” for more than $35 million.
14. S. Robson Walton (USA)
- His family foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, largely funded Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas (see entry 13).
15. Bernard Arnault (France)
- His company, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, formerly held a stake in Phillips auction house.
- Commissioned architect Frank Gehry to design Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, showcasing LVMH’s corporate art collection.
- Louis Vuitton has partnered with artists such as Takashi Murakami, James Turrell, and Yayoi Kusama.
- ARTnews named him and his wife, Hélène, in the top 10 art collectors of 2012.
16. Michael Bloomberg (USA)
- Projects during his tenure as New York City mayor included the BAM Cultural District, National September 11 Memorial Museum, Culture Shed, and others.
- Widely assumed to have anonymously donated $200 million to the Carnegie Corporation; his gifts “helped support some 600 theaters, dance troupes, museums, and other groups.”
- Bloomberg Family Foundation invited NYC arts and cultural groups to apply for $32 million in grants.
- Bloomberg Philanthropies issued a “Public Art Challenge” that will “grant at least three cities up to $1 million each over two years to support temporary public art projects” to stimulate economic development.
- Chairman of the Serpentine Gallery in London
17. Larry Page (USA)
- His company, Google, launched the Google Art Project in 2011, collaborating with more than 100 international museums to create virtual tours and walkthroughs of their collections and institutions.
18. Jeff Bezos (USA)
- Bezos Family Foundation gave $10 million to the Museum of History & Industry to establish the Bezos Center for Innovation.
- His company, Amazon, launched Amazon Art, an online art store in 2013.
19. Sergey Brin (USA)
- Was linked to real estate firm that sponsored community outreach arts efforts, including temporary parks and a pop-up San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibition.
20. Li Ka-shing (Hong Kong)
- His Li Ka-shing (Canada) Foundation announced a $200,000 commission for a public artwork on the campus of the University of Alberta.
- Foundation donated to refurbishment of University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, resulting in a gallery named after him.
21. Mark Zuckerberg (USA)
- His company, Facebook, has commissioned art for its offices and hosts an artist-in-residence program.
22. Michele Ferrero (Italy)
- His Piera, Pietro, and Giovanni Ferrero Foundation has a cultural arm that focuses on projects that “further knowledge of the most relevant figures of the cultural history of Alba and Piedmont,” Italy, including a recent exhibition of painter Felice Casorati.
23. Aliko Dangote (Nigeria) – No known arts connections
24. Karl Albrecht (Germany) – No known arts connections
25. Carl Icahn (USA)
- Collects Old Masters and Impressionist art.
- New York Sun named him one of New York’s top art collectors in 2005.
26. George Soros (USA)
- His Open Society Foundations ran an Arts and Culture Program from 1999 through 2013.
- Foundations’ Documentary Photography Project supports documentary photography through grants and other initiatives.
- Foundations awarded $11 million in grants to support New York City arts organizations and educational arts initiatives hard hit by the financial crisis.
27. David Thomson (Canada)
- Patron of the Art Gallery of Ontario. His father, Kenneth Thomson, donated the majority of his art collection to the museum, comprising the Thomson Collection, and was a benefactor of the museum’s renovation.
- Started photographic archive, the Archive of Modern Conflict, which includes four million photographs, some of which have been featured in shows at the Tate.
- ARTNews named him one of top 200 art collectors of 2013.
- Owns leading collection of works by John Constable.
28. Lui Che Woo (Hong Kong)
- His daughter, Paddy Lui, helped found Opera Hong Kong and is its former chair.
- His company, K. Wah International Holdings Limited, donated HK$10 million (~US$1.3 million) to Opera Hong Kong, becoming an honorary patron.
- Claims to have had the idea for the creation of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District.
29. Dieter Schwarz (Germany) – No known arts connections
30. Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud (Saudi Arabia)
- Donated $23 million to the Louvre to fund the creation of a new wing dedicated to Islamic art.
31. Forrest Mars, Jr. (USA)
- Gave $23 million to build education center at Fort Ticonderoga and nearly $15 million to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
- His family foundation, the Mars Foundation, has given grants to arts organizations and programs including the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts.
- His family company, Mars Inc., donated $5 million to the Smithsonian.
- Forrest E. Mars Building at Brinton Museum set to open in 2015; unclear if Mars donated to the museum or funded construction of the building (or both).
32. Jacqueline Mars (USA)
- Chairman of board of trustees of Washington National Opera, and was “critical in helping the opera company pay off its debts.”
- Benefactor and vice chairman of the board of directors of National Sporting Library and Museum
- “Supports” the National Museum of American History.
- Received first Heritage Award from Foundation for the National Archives, “honored for her support of the National Archives as well as other arts and cultural institutions in Washington, DC.”
33. John Mars (USA)
- Has “given big” to the Smithsonian, including the National Zoo.
- Mars family has given “nearly a half dozen $1 million gifts” to Kennedy Center.
- Mars family “has supported” the Air and Space Museum, Mount Vernon, the National Zoo, and the American Prairie Foundation.
34. Jorge Paulo Lemann (Brazil) – No known arts connections
35. Lee Shau Kee (Hong Kong)
- Donated more than HK$20 million (~US$2.6 million) to and is a main sponsor of HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, a high school for the arts in Hong Kong.
36. Steve Ballmer (USA) – No known art connections
37. Theo Albrecht, Jr. (Germany) – No known arts connections
38. Leonardo Del Vecchio (Italy) – No known arts connections, unless you count the eyewear museum founded by his company Luxottica.
39. Len Blavatnik (USA)
- He and his foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, have been “generous supporters” of the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, and others.
- Founded the Blavatnik Archive, “a private collection of documents, personal letters and diaries, photographs, postcards, periodicals, and oral testimonies pertaining to 19th and 20th century Jewish history.”
- His Blavatnik Family Foundation is supporting the creation of the Warner Music Prize, a $100,000 award to a classical musician aged 18 to 35.
- Board member of 92nd Street Y, the White Nights Foundation of America, and the Center for Jewish History
- Corporate sponsor of State Hermitage Museum in Russia
40. Alisher Usmanov (Russia)
- His Art, Science, and Sport Foundation has supported a range of cultural projects, including exhibitions devoted to J.M.W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites in cooperation with Tate and 100th-anniversary events at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
- Paid more than $20 million for entire art collection of late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and donated it to state-owned Konstantinovsky Palace.
- Spent $5–10 million on collection of Soviet-era cartoons and donated it to a Russian children’s television network.
41. Mukesh Ambani (India)
- His Reliance Foundation has undertaken a number of arts, culture, and heritage initiatives, including an exhibition about mummies.
- Commissioned artwork for Antilla, his family’s $1 billion home skyscraper.
42. Masayoshi Son (Japan) – No known arts connections
43. Michael Otto (Germany)
- Donated €500,000 (~$546,000) to fund renovation of Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts.
- Is a “major collector of avant-garde art.”
- Lobbied for 17 years for German lawmakers to allow Christo and Jeanne-Claude to wrap the Reichstag.
- Initiator and chairman of the Group of Friends of the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg
44. Phil Knight (USA) – No known arts connections
45. Tadashi Yanai (Japan)
- Uniqlo, the clothing retailer he founded, sponsors free Friday nights at the Museum of Modern Art.
- Uniqlo also launched SPRZ NY last year, an art-themed clothing line that includes a collaboration with MoMA.
- Collects art, including Utagawa Hiroshige, Edward Hopper, and Norman Rockwell.
46. Gina Rinehart (Australia) – No known arts connections
47. Mikhail Fridman (Russia)
- His company Alfa-Bank sponsors the annual Alfa Jazz Fest in his hometown of Lviv, Ukraine, and has sponsored the English National Ballet.
- Collects art, “display[ing] a penchant for extremely expensive art, such as pieces by Picasso.”
48. Michael Dell (USA)
- His family’s private investment firm, MSD Capital, bought $100 million worth of vintage prints from Magnum Photos and lent them to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin (Dell’s alma mater) for study and display.
49. Susanne Klatten (Germany)
- Founded ALTANA Cultural Foundation, which focuses on contemporary art about or related to nature, has a collection of over 600 such works, and organizes exhibitions at the Museum Sinclair-Haus.
- Also founded the Nantesbuch Foundation for the Arts and Nature, which has a similar focus.
50. Abigail Johnson (USA)
- Her family’s foundation, the Edward C. Johnson Fund, has given money regularly to the Peabody Essex Museum and the Brookfield Arts Foundation, which was founded by her father to buy art and lend it to museums.
- Has a degree in art history.
51. Viktor Vekselberg (Russia)
- Spent over $100 million on the largest private collection of Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs from Forbes family, in order to return them to Russia.
- Renovated the Schouvalovsky Palace in St. Petersburg and turned it into the Fabergé Museum, which houses the eggs along with his 4,000-piece art collection of 19th- and early-20th-century Russian decorative and fine art.
- Founded the nonprofit Link of Times to manage the collection and museum; its goal is “to repatriate cultural and historical values taken out from Russia in the 20th century.”
- Through Link of Times, paid $10 million to return “one of only a few intact sets of pre-Revolutionary Russian bells in existence” from Harvard University to the Danilov Monastery and have replacements made.
- Helped fund the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.
- Paid £1.7 million (~$2.5 million) at Christie’s for a painting by Russian artist Boris Kustodiev that turned out to be a fake. Sued the auction house in court and won.
- Has an off-shore company called the “Aurora Fine Arts Investment project.”
52. Lakshmi Mittal (India)
- His company, ArcelorMittal, provided the steel for Anish Kapoor’s “ArcelorMittal Orbit,” the tallest sculpture in the UK and a centerpiece of London’s Olympic park.
- He and his wife bought the 2012 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei.
- Rumored to have a collection of “vases, tapestries, and Western art.”
53. Vladimir Lisin (Russia)
- Has a collection of “rare 19th-century cast-iron equine sculptures from Kasli, a town in the middle Urals,” Russia.
54. Cheng Yu-tung (Hong Kong)
- Benefactor of the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library at the University of Toronto.
- His grandson Adrian Cheng founded the K11 Art Mall and K11 Art Foundation, through which he’s brought major Western exhibitions to China, built art villages, and created artist residencies. Cheng also sponsored the 2013 Armory Show’s China symposium and the Metropolitan Museum’s Ink Art show.
55. Joseph Safra (Brazil)
- Paid £726 million (~$1.08 billion) for the Gherkin skyscraper in London.
- Donated Rodin sculptures to a public art gallery in São Paulo.
- His father’s Jacob Safra Foundation bought and then donated Albert Einstein’s original manuscript of the Theory of Relativity to the Israel Museum.
- His brother founded the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which has given to the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the National Gallery of Art in Washington (establishing the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts), and others.
56. Paul Allen (USA)
- Has been listed several times in ARTnews‘ top 200 collectors over the past decade.
- His collection — which includes pieces by Turner, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Alberto Giacometti, Monet, Rodin, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ed Ruscha, and others — is said to be worth $750 million.
- Regularly lends out work from his collection; an exhibition drawn entirely from it, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, will open at the Portland Art Museum later this year, before traveling to the Phillips Collection, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and other institutions. (See some of his pieces that will be in the show here.)
- Founded the EMP Museum in Seattle in 2000.
- His company, Vulcan Investments, teamed up with Art Market Productions to launch the Seattle Art Fair this summer.
- Received the Eli & Edythe Broad Award for Philanthropy in the Arts from Americans for the Arts in 2012.
57. Leonid Mikhelson (Russia)
- His foundation, V-A-C (Victoria, the Art of being Contemporary), has sponsored exhibitions including the 2013 Venice Biennale and Ostalgia at the New Museum in 2011. It also helps Russian artists produce and show new work.
- His company, Novatek, sponsors institutions, exhibitions, and artist projects as well, including a large installation at the Grand Palais in Paris by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov.
- Collects contemporary art, including works by Gerhard Richter, Andreas Gursky, Rudolph Stingel, and Francis Bacon.
58. Anne Cox Chambers (USA)
- Helped the High Museum of Art in Atlanta establish a fundraising group, the Forward Arts Foundation, in 1965. The High named one of its wings after her in 2005 “in honor of her lifetime of support.” In 2006, she facilitated a three-year partnership between the High and the Louvre, known as Louvre Atlanta.
- Board member of Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Atlanta Historical Society, Woodruff Arts Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, and others
- Provided “major support” for the 2014 Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum.
- A petition to dissolve a trust for Chambers could provide proceeds benefiting the Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Museum, and Museum of Modern Art.
59. Francois Pinault (France)
- Owns a majority share of Christie’s auction house.
- Acquired the Palazzo Grassi to house his art collection, which includes pieces by Piet Mondrian, Picasso, Koons, Damien Hirst, Willem de Kooning, and Richard Serra, among many others.
- Was “selected by the City of Venice to undertake the transformation of Punta della Dogana into a new center for contemporary art, where a selection of works from the Pinault Collection are exhibited.”
- In 2013 the Wall Street Journal called him “possibly the single most powerful art collector in the world.”
- Art Review named him one of the most influential people in contemporary art in 2006 and 2007.
60. Iris Fontbona (Chile) – No known arts connections
61. Azim Premji (India) – No known arts connections
62. Mohammed Al Amoudi (Saudi Arabia)
- Pledged over 25 million birr (~$1.2 million) — half the cost — for construction of Harari Cultural Center in Ethiopia.
63. Gennady Timchenko (Russia)
- Founded the Geneva-based Neva Foundation along with his wife, Elena, to facilitate cultural exchanges between Switzerland and Russia, including film festivals, theater performances, and exhibitions.
- Helped facilitate an agreement under which the Louvre Museum promotes Russian art and is expanding its holdings of Russian paintings.
- Board member of Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow
64. Wang Jianlin (China)
- Collects art, including works by Chinese modern artist Wu Guanzhong and Picasso’s “Claude et Paloma,” for which he paid $28 million at auction.
- Wanda Group, Wang’s Chinese media and real estate group, donated $20 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to support its museum, to be built next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
65. Charles Ergen (USA) – No known arts connections
66. Stefan Quandt (Germany)
- Is a “main partner” of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt and helped fund its expansion.
- His half-sister Silvia is an artist (and one of Germany’s richest women).
67. Germán Larrea Mota Velasco (Mexico) – No known arts connections
68. Harold Hamm (USA) – No known arts connections
69. Ray Dalio (USA)
- His wife, Barbara, previously served on the board of the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, and Ray has been honored by the museum.
- His Dalio Foundation has donated to the Bruce Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Whitney Museum (which received $175,000), and others.
70. Donald Bren (USA)
- Has served on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 1986 and is now a life trustee. His wife, Brigitte, is also a LACMA board member.
- Formerly a trustee of the Orange County Museum of Art
- Has “given millions” to the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine.
- Collects art, particularly postwar and contemporary painting, including the work of Richard Diebenkorn.
71. Georg Schaeffler (Germany) – No known arts connections
72. Luis Carlos Sarmiento (Colombia) – No known arts connections
73. Ronald Perelman (USA)
- Board member of the Museum of Modern Art, the Tribeca Film Institute, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, among others
- Former chairperson of the Guggenheim Museum, to which he donated $20 million, where the rotunda is named after him, and where his company at the time, Marvel Entertainment Group, sponsored the 1993–94 Lichtenstein retrospective.
- Chairman of Carnegie Hall, where he helped establish the country’s first National Youth Orchestra and where the main auditorium, Ronald O. Perelman Stage, was named after him because of contributions that have exceeded $30 million.
- Trustee of Ford’s Theatre, where he has given over $2.5 million, including a $25,000 emergency contribution that enabled the theater to operate through the 2013 US government shutdown.
- Vice chairman of the Apollo Theatre, where he’s hosted benefits and helped raise more than $2.5 million.
- Donated $5 million to the World Trade Center Memorial.
- Collects postwar and contemporary art, including works by Cy Twombly, Koons, Serra, Andy Warhol, and Lichtenstein (see above). His collection is estimated to be worth over $1 billion.
- Sued former friend and dealer Larry Gagosian — and Gagosian sued him back —for price inflation, hidden information, and deception. Claimed the beauty of art has been sullied by an “ugly business.” The feud started with the delayed delivery of a Koons sculpture; prior to their falling out, Perelman and Gagosian worked together for more than 20 years: Perelman bought over 200 artworks through Gagosian, and Gagosian became one of the most powerful art dealers.
74. Laurene Powell Jobs (USA) – No known arts connections
75. Serge Dassault (France)
- His Dassault Group owns French auction house Artcurial.
- His son Laurent was made “an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters for his promotion of the arts in France.” Laurent’s roles include manager of Artcurial, co-manager of Artcurial Investment, manager of the Society of Friends of the Centre Pompidou and of the Society of Friends of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, president of the Friends of FRAC Aquitaine, member of the Association for the International Circulation of French Art, and co-developer of two art galleries in Beijing and Hangzhou. Laurent also collects art, including works by French painters and a more recent focus on contemporary art.
76. John Fredriksen (Cyprus)
77. Vagit Alekperov (Russia) – No known arts connections
78. John Paulson (USA)
- Gave $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy, “the largest monetary donation in the history of New York City’s park system — and possibly the nation’s.”
- Member of Chairman’s Circle of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Owns Steinway, the legendary maker of pianos and “the epitome of high culture and art.”
79. Rupert Murdoch (USA)
- Tweeted in support of Artsy, in which his ex-wife Wendi Murdoch was an early investor.
- Has an “extensive art collection,” but its contents remain mostly a mystery, except for works by Australian artists Tom Roberts, George Lambert, Arthur Boyd, and Fred Williams.
80. Ma Huateng (China) – No known arts connections
With additional research by Kemy Lin and Vic Vaiana