The Top Ten Billionaire Art Collectors
Tara Loader Wilkinson
For the world’s art aficionados it is an important time of year. Many will have been on the prowl for top art work at last month’s inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong. Some will have flown straight to the Venice Biennale last week to snap up even more key pieces. And there is only a short breather before the art-driven spending spree begins again, this time at Art Basel in Switzerland in mid-June.
Of course for some, these international art fairs are just as much about quaffing Champagne, going to parties and seeing and being seen as they are about buying art. But for the world’s most art-obsessed billionaires, they also have a serious function – as a portfolio diversifier, a safe haven asset and sometimes, a canny investment.
Most billionaires own art. Of the world’s 2,170 billionaires, the average holding of art is worth US$31m, according to Wealth-X research, or 0.5 per cent of their net worth.
But the world’s top ten billionaire art buyers take collecting to a whole new level.
They love art so much that they have an average 18 per cent of their net worth invested in it, a staggeringly high proportion for an illiquid asset class.
“Many wealthy collectors initially start buying art to decorate their houses and fill wall space. They continue to collect and soon run out of walls and a passion has been born,” explained Hannah Blakemore, a Hong Kong-based art adviser.
“Often big collectors will then publicly display their collections and create private museums to showcase their acquired works. Their wealthy friends will come to them for advice on what art to buy, and how to buy it, and soon they are buying works for their friends and helping them get access to significant pieces, and before they know it they are submerged in the art world.”
The billionaire with the heaviest weighting of art in his portfolio is British-Iranian property tycoon Nasser Khalili, the owner of the largest private collection of art in the world. Also known as the ‘Secret Sultan’, Khalili has almost all of his US$1bn fortune invested in his art collection. He has liquid assets of cash and investments of around US$70m – which equates to only 7 per cent of his fortune.
Much of his 25,000-piece collection is exhibited in public museums like the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert museum, but it is reported he will never sell his collections. He specialises in Islamic works, Japanese and Swedish art and ceramics.
Of the top ten biggest art collector billionaires, Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s auction house, is the wealthiest. With a fortune of US$9.9bn, US$1bn of that is tied up in art. He has amassed a personal collection of at least 2,000 pieces including those by Picasso, Mondrian and Jeff Koons. In 2005, Pinault acquired Palazzo Grassi, a museum where he presented a part of his collection in its three exhibitions: Where Are We Going, Post-Pop, and Sequence 1 in Venice. Foundation, an art collection center in Venice, Italy that houses his art collection. His collection is estimated at just over 10 per cent of his assets.
As for the most expensive art collection, that belongs to David Lawrence Geffen, who owns an estimated US$1.1bn worth of art. The DreamWorks Animation founder has a fifth of his US$5.5bn fortune invested in art. 70- year old Geffen is a keen collector of American artists. He reportedly sold four pieces of his contemporary art collection for an estimated $421m in 2006, including a drip painting “Number 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock for $140m, “Woman III” by Willem De Kooning for $137.5m, “False Start, 1959” by Jasper Johns for $80m, and “Police Gazette” for $63.5m.
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