N’gunu Tiny is CEO and President of Emerald Group, an international investment company specializing in financial inclusion in developing countries.
It is often assumed that the most expensive art collections in the world are almost exclusively in the hands of royal families and aristocrats.
But since the time of the Medici in the 15th century, the true story of art collecting has been inextricably linked to commerce, business leaders and merchants.
Art collectors come from business, royalty and very wealthy backgrounds
In the 17th century, art was in the hands of the rising merchant class in the Netherlands. Since they started collecting the likes of van Goyen and Jan Steen, the market has grown steadily.
Today, major art collectors include forward-looking multinational banks, Middle Eastern royal families using their oil money to invest in art, and sometimes a member of European nobility.
For example, the Prince of Liechtenstein is probably one of the few members of European monarchies to play a serious role in artistic investment.
Over the past 200 years, industrialists and HNWIs have ostensibly collected wealth through art galleries and collections. From Rockefeller and Carnegie and other American industrial leaders to diamond speculators in Europe, art has long been in the hands of the wealthiest.
Investing in art is a symbol of wealth and success, and it spreads it around the world.
6 of the biggest art collectors in the world right now
Probably the most famous representative of the Russian oligarchy, Abramovich is a billionaire politician and businessman. He owns the private investment company Millhouse LLC and is best known as the owner of Chelsea Football Club in the UK.
Worth an estimated $14.2 billion, Abramovich’s fortune belies his humble beginnings in Lithuania. A meteoric rise in the business world led him to become co-owner of the oil company Sibneft at the age of 30.
A close friend of Putin, Abramovich is also a major investor on the international art scene. With his partner Dasha Zhukova, Abramovich focuses on Russian artists, such as Ilya Kabakov. It also has many major artists in its collection, such as Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon.
Zhukova herself is the head of the Garage Contemporary Culture Center and more than likely had a significant influence on the art Abramovich chose to collect.
French billionaire businessman Pinault is best known as the founder of luxury brand group Kering. He owns (or has owned) everything from Alexander McQueen to Chateau Latour and Converse to Gucci. And he’s worth $49.6 billion.
Pinault also owns Christie’s, which is probably the most famous auction house in the world. A major and hugely influential art collector, Pinault created one of the most impressive and valuable art collections in the world. These include works by Damian Hirst and many other contemporary and classical artists.
Arnault is the richest man in France with a fortune of $195.3 billion. He is a businessman, an investor and, of course, an art collector.
In addition to being the richest person in France, Arnault is the third richest person in the world (as of September 19, 2021). He is Chairman and CEO of luxury goods LVMH (Moet Hennessey – Louis Vuitton) and in 1999 acquired the art auction house Phillips de Pury. It is a direct competitor of Christie’s.
Arnault’s art collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso, and he also made LVMH one of the world’s greatest patrons of the arts.
Although his wealth is far from those listed above, Hirt’s fortune is estimated at $384 million in the Sunday Times Rich List 2020. This makes him the richest living artist in the world.
One of the biggest names to emerge from the Young British Artists (YBA) movement, Hirst is immediately recognizable. If his art tends to divide opinions, it is undeniable that he has the power to shock.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Hirst is his handling of the industry itself. It has transformed the value and meaning of contemporary British art and has its own major collection.
The first corporate entity on this list, Microsoft has a collection of over 5,000 works of art on display in 180 separate locations. Once again, the collection is focused on contemporary art from around the world. According to the company, it is displayed for: “the enjoyment of Microsoft employees, their guests and Microsoft customers”.
Microsoft has an annual revenue of around $86 billion, and while it only spends a small percentage of that on art each year, it still represents a significant collection.
As with many corporate forays into art, Microsoft employs a curator who focuses on acquiring works by primarily emerging and mid-level contemporary artists.
The Al Nahyan family
The Al Nahyan family has ruled Abu Dhabi since 1793. Currently, the family is worth around $150 billion, largely thanks to the natural resources held in Abu Dhabi. For example, while the city has only 921,000 inhabitants, it holds 9% of the world’s oil reserves and just under 5% of natural gas reserves.
The family was also the driving force behind the 2007 agreement with Abu Dhabi and the French government to launch a Louvre Abu Dhabi museum. The agreement allows the museum to use the Louvre name until 2037. It has 86,000 square feet of gallery space and is the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula.
The museum’s permanent collections include works of art from several French museums, including Versailles, the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre in Paris.
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