Big Financial Deals, Private Museums, and a Potential Run for Mayor: What the Top 200 Collectors Did This Year

Selecting and purchasing artworks that sell for top dollar can be a time-consuming endeavor, but it’s hardly the only thing collectors do with their time. Over the past year, those who appear on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list found themselves undertaking an array of initiatives, opening private museums, closing big financial deals, and even, in one case, pondering entrées into the political arena. Below, a look at what just a few of them did in 2020.

[See the 2020 edition of the Top 200 Collectors list.]

Want to live like a Top 200 Collector? Now you can. Laurence Graff recently curated selections from his art holdings into the aptly named Owner’s Villa at the Delaire Graff Estate, a luxury destination that he owns in Stellenbosch, South Africa, replete with lodges, a spa, and other amenities for travelers. The private four-room dwelling was designed by London-based firm David Collins Studio and plays home to artworks from throughout the continent, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s an eclectic mix, though, and includes artists from Julian Schnabel and Kenny Scharf to Alexis Peskine, Ben Enwonwu, Kudzanai Chiurai, A N Lewis, Owusu-Ankomah, Helen Sebidi, Maurice Van Essche, and Zanele Muholi.

In August, Deirdre and James Dyson made headlines with the announcement that they were seeking approval from the local government in South Gloucestershire, England, to open an art gallery. On the grounds of their family home, Dodington Park, an historic country estate built in the 18th century, they plan to exhibit masterpieces by David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Yves Klein, and other major artists. Designed by the architecture firm WilkinsonEyre, the exhibition space is slated to be completed in 2021.

In June, Reinhold Würth opened an annex to his Museum Würth in the German city of Künzelsau. Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, the new extension adds 59,000 square feet, and cost around €39 million ($46 million). The space’s inaugural exhibition, “The Long View: Reinhold Würth and His Art Collection,” featured some 150 works from his extensive modern and contemporary art holdings. And Würth keeps adding to the collection, which now numbers more than 18,300 objects; he recently scooped up Max Beckmann’s 1942 Water Tower in Holland and Roy Lichtenstein’s 1994 Metallic Brushstroke Head.

He Art Museum rendering

An architectural rendering of the forthcoming He Art Museum in Shunde, Foshan, China.

Earlier this year, He Jianfeng, a newcomer to the Top 200 list, announced that he would open the He Art Museum in the Shunde district of Foshan, a city in China’s Guangdong province. The 172,000-square-foot private museum, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Tadao Ando, will highlight the local art scene, placing the Lingnan School, a style of painting that arose in the late 19th century, in conversation with international contemporary art. The museum’s original March opening date was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic to October 1. Collecting, He told ARTnews by email in August, hasn’t been the first thing on his mind during the pandemic. “We have commissioned some artists for the museum, but some of these conversations changed in nature and scale due to the new world we live in.”

Six years ago, Bernard Arnault opened a spectacular museum for his Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Now, the megacollector is incorporating art into his business ventures. When Louis Vuitton opened an outpost in Seoul last October, it came complete with an art gallery, the Espace Louis Vuitton Seoul, and an inaugural show devoted to Alberto Giacometti. Just before the coronavirus pandemic prompted a shutdown of most businesses in South Korea, the store opened with an exhibition overseen by Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director for menswear and an artist in his own right, who last year had a major solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Abloh’s show at Espace Louis Vuitton Seoul included works by 18 of today’s most sought-after photographers, among them Ari Marcopoulos, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Deanna Templeton.

A JR project resembling a long photograph of eyes against an arid landscape intersected by a fence.

JR, one of the artists with whom Superblue will collaborate, staged a project called Migrants, Mayra, Picnic across the Border, Tecate, Mexico – USA in 2017.

Laurene Powell Jobs’s outsize influence extends far beyond the tech and philanthropic worlds. Earlier this year, it was revealed that she was one of the leading figures behind Superblue, a new initiative spearheaded by Pace Gallery president and CEO Marc Glimcher and former Pace London director Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst that has a focus on “experimental art centers” and high-tech installations. Powell Jobs, who has billions of dollars in Apple stock, is funding Superblue through her philanthropic organization, the Emerson Collective. She also happens to be responsible for Superblue’s name—it was originally going to be called PaceX, an appellation she vetoed.

In June, a prized Francis Bacon triptych from the 1,500-strong collection of the Astrup Fearnley Museet, a private museum in Oslo founded by billionaire entrepreneur Hans Rasmus Astrup, hit the block at Sotheby’s first-ever livestreamed auction. A New York–based telephone bidder eventually beat out an online competitor in China to claim Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) for $84.6 million, the third-highest price ever attained by Bacon at auction. The price far exceeded its presale estimate of $60 million, although Astrup had previously tried to sell the triptych, one of 28 the artist executed, in a private deal for more than $100 million. (Bacon’s all-time auction record was set in 2013, when Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) sold for a stunning $142.4 million to another Top 200 Collector, Elaine Wynn.)

An Ed Ruscha painting that Jeff Bezos reportedly bought. The word "RADIO" appears against a light blue background with its letters torqued by clamps.

Jeff Bezos reportedly bought Ed Ruscha’s Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964) for $52.5 million.

This year was not short on headlines related to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. He set a record in July by adding $13 billion to his net worth in the course of a single day and, in August, became the first person ever worth over $200 billion. With that wealth, he has reportedly been buying art. The Baer Faxt newsletter reported in February that Bezos had made two huge purchases at auction during the November 2019 sales in New York: an Ed Ruscha painting that set a record for the artist when it sold for $52.5 million at Christie’s, and an $18.5 million Kerry James Marshall work that hit the block at Sotheby’s.

In the spring, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen joined the board of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where she will serve a 10-year term. Helmed by Mitchell Rales, the museum’s board has nine members, another recent addition being Ford Foundation president Darren Walker. Based in Palo Alto, California, Arrillaga-Andreessen is an educator and philanthropist whose work has involved advocating for women to become leaders who “intentionally create opportunities for individuals who traditionally have lacked equal access to paths into formal leadership positions.” She is the founder of an eponymous foundation, which functions as an educational content platform.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss's 'Snowman' (1987), a work from Kelly and Scott Mueller's holdings, was installed at the Cleveland Museum of Art earlier this year.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s Snowman (1987), a work from Kelly and Scott Mueller’s holdings, was installed at the Cleveland Museum of Art earlier this year.

Shortly after he was elected board chairman of the Cleveland Museum of Art in September 2019, Dealer Tire CEO Scott Mueller declared it his goal to add $1 billion worth of art to the museum’s collection by 2027. That involves in part his putting his money—and his art—where his mouth is. He and his wife, Kelly, are among the most generous patrons in the museum’s history, having personally donated funds for the acquisition of works by artists including Jenny Holzer, Simone Leigh, and Jack Whitten. He’s also promised to donate “at least eight” works from his renowned contemporary art collection to the museum. In January, a piece from the Mueller holdings was installed in the museum’s central atrium: Snowman, a 1987 piece by Swiss artist duo Fischli & Weiss. For a limited time, visitors will be greeted by an actual snowman that has formed around a copper skeleton, safely encased in a temperature-controlled, glass-fronted box.

While the world’s top collectors are no strangers to high-value transactions, one deal earlier this year got Spanish businessman Jaime Botín into serious legal trouble. This past January, a Madrid court sentenced Botín, whose family has appeared on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list since 2017, to 18 months in jail for smuggling a Rose Period Picasso painting out of Spain. The work in question, Head of a Young Woman (1906), is worth an estimated $27.4 million and was recovered from Botín’s yacht in Corsica in 2015 before it was seized by the state. In addition to the prison sentence, Botín has been ordered to pay a fine of €52.4 million (about $61.5 million). Botín, who has been involved in running the family’s bank, Grupo Santander, has said he never intended to sell the painting and that he was going to put it in storage in Geneva, violating a Spanish law that prohibits the movement of artworks designated national treasures outside the country.

Australian art collector Danny Goldberg (and his collaborator Tony Berg) was dealt a major blow over the summer when an independent review recommended against a proposal to transform Cockatoo Island, located in Sydney harbor, into an art island, something akin to the High Line in New York. (Cockatoo Island has previously served as a venue for editions of the Sydney Biennial.) Goldberg and Berg, who had proposed the plan in 2017 to the Sydney Harbour Foundation Trust, promised to invest $100 million in the endeavor, on the condition that the government provide nearly $200 million to finish the island’s rehabilitation. Their plan was met with opposition, as it called for management of the island to be transferred into private hands.

Chicago hedge fund executive Kenneth C. Griffin made one of the year’s most attention-grabbing acquisitions this past summer—and quickly put it on public display. In June, he paid more than $100 million for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 14-foot-wide 1982 canvas Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump in a private deal with fellow Top 200 Collector Peter M. Brant. Griffin is a trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago, and when the museum reopened in July after its coronavirus-related closure, he put the painting on view there. It’s a big deal considering that the Art Institute does not own any work by Basquiat.

Berlin's Berghain nightclub, where Karen and Christian Boros put works on display from their collection.

Berlin’s Berghain nightclub, where Karen and Christian Boros put works on display from their collection.

Berghain has long been known as the most exclusive nightclub in Berlin—if not the entire world—but as the German capital began its coronavirus-related reopening, the venue suddenly became more welcoming. The general public was invited in to see an art exhibition that went on view there, courtesy of Karen and Christian Boros, two of the top collectors in Germany who have long put their collection on display in a private museum that was once a Nazi bunker. The new show at Berghain included works by Monica Bonvicini, Elmgreen & Dragset, Simon Fujiwara, Yngve Holen, Alicja Kwade, Wolfgang Tillmans, and other top artists based in Berlin. “This is something so surreal, as it was unthinkable half a year ago,” Boros said. “Art … is entering the hardest door that Berlin knows.”

With his wife, Crystal McCrary, Raymond J. McGuire has conquered the art world, having led the board of the Studio Museum in Harlem for several years and amassing a collection that includes prized works by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and many others that any top museum would be lucky to own. Now, the collector, who serves as Citigroup’s global head of corporate and investment banking, reportedly has his sights set on the political arena. Early in 2020, several outlets, including the New York Post, reported that McGuire was considering a run for mayor of New York City. Then, CNBC reported in June that McGuire had brought in officials who had worked on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s previous campaigns to discuss strategy. With the approval rating for Bill de Blasio, the city’s current mayor, at an all-time low, McGuire could pose a threat.

Andy Battaglia, Claire Selvin, Tessa Solomon, and Angelica Villa contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in the Fall 2020 issue of ARTnews.

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