9 Billionaire Patrons of the Arts Backing Presidential Candidates

July 30, 2015

Things are heating up in the United States as the 2016 presidential election campaigns are in full swing. Among five names coming from the Democratic party and sixteen from the Republican, including a man who appears to be an inspiration to many artists nowadays, Donald Trump, the American people will elect one as the 45th president of their country. We’re talking about this because presidential campaigns cost quite a bit of money, and it’s the billionaire art patrons, the people you usually see on Forbes lists, people who have a couple of billion dollars to spare, that support these campaigns and their favorite candidates. Here, we will talk about nine such moguls, founders and co-founders of the world’s biggest corporations and business companies, who also happen to be art lovers and collectors of masterpieces - because money spent on art is money well spent.

   Editors’ Tip: Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque

Fusing the social and economic history with the cultural and artistic achievements of seventeenth and eighteenth century Italy, this book presents a perspective on the period. Patrons have always been a part of art and culture, in form of rich individuals who used their influence and wealth to support the artists and nurture the development of the cultural life of a given community. Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of Baroque features some of these cases during one of the most exciting periods in world’s history.

Alice Walton

Alice Walton is the Walmart heiress, a Hillary Clinton supporter, and the founder of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, featuring works of Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, based in Bentonville, Arkansas. Counting among America’s richest art collectors, the 65 year old billionaire business woman started collecting art at the age of 11, when she discovered the 25-cent reproduction of Picasso’s 1902 Blue Nude. Since then, she has built an impressive collection of artworks, worth more than $500 million, focusing primarily on the 19th and 20th century American art and Contemporary art. Alice Walton owns artworks by Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tom Wesselman, and many others.

Larry Ellison

The founder of computer technology corporation Oracle, Larry Ellison appears to be a Marco Rubio supporter, from the Republican party. Mr. Ellison is a dedicated collector of Japanese art, from ancient to the early 20th century artworks, and in 2013, the visitors of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco hosted an exhibition titled In The Moment: Japanese Art From the Ellison Collection. The show featured over 60 works from his private art collection, some dating more than 1000 years and including works from the 13th and 14th century, as well as the Edo period (between the 17th and 19th century). But not just - as one of the billionaire art patrons, Mr. Ellison is also a fan of the late 19th and early 20th century European art, with particular attention to French Impressionism.

Paul Allen

Supporting both the Democrats and the Republicans, Paul Allen really seems to be one of the most versatile billionaire art patrons. He is the co-founder of Microsoft, a music museum founder (designed by Frank Gehry), and the backer of Seattle Art Fair. From October 2015 till January 2016, the Portland Museum will host an exhibition featuring some 40 paintings from Paul Allen’s rich art collection, spanning five centuries and belonging to European and American landscape painting. The show will include artworks by Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Canaletto, Ed Ruscha, J.M.W. Turner, Gustav Klimt, David Hockney, Gerhard Richter and many others. Paul Allen’s favorite periods include Impressionism, Modern and Contemporary art and Old Masters.

Peter Thiel

When he is not giving a couple million $ to Republican candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel can’t be described as an actual art collector, it seems. He is connected to the art world, however - he is an investor in the business of Artsy and art rental service Artify.it, which did not have much success. He is a fan or art startups, that’s for sure. Artsy is a website which aimed to change the way people buy fine art and connect prospective art collectors with galleries. Through the use of the internet, the company wants to engage the art world and its high-end industry with a broader class of consumers. Among other investors, there is also the Russian-born businesswoman, art collector and magazine editor Dasha Zhukova, while Larry Gagosian and Marc Glimcher of Pace Gallery serve as advisors.

Sheldon Adelson

Although it’s not confirmed that he is a Republican backer, business mogul Sheldon Adelson sure seems fond of them. But what’s more interesting is that one of the richest billionaire art patrons is collecting art by none other than - George W. Bush. Here’s a friendly reminder: the former US president is known for his paintings of world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, but he also paints animals, primarily dogs, landscapes, still life and more. But let’s go back to Sheldon Adelson. He is a casino tycoon, who once tried to turn one of his casinos into an art museum, so it didn’t come as a surprise when his Guggenheim Vegas project failed. Many justify this missed business venture as just that - an attempt to do anything but what museums should do - promote art. Instead, this project only aimed to be just a grand opening of a pop culture event.

Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn comes from the business of luxury casino and hotel industry and is believed to be a Republican supporter. His art collection is impressive: let’s start describing it as one holding a $30 million Johannes Vermeer, whose only other copy is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. An impressive line-up of artists collected by Steve Wynn include Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Edgar Degas, and even Jeff Koons - back in 2012, he acquired his Tulips for $33,6 million and in 2014, his PopeyeP for $28 million. The latter can be seen on display at his hotel Wynn Las Vegas. Steve Wynn is also known in the art world for accidentally making a puncture in a $40 million Picasso painting, making a two-inch tear.

The Koch Brothers

Charles and David Koch are billionaire art patrons and the inheritors of Koch Industries, an American multinational corporation involved in manufacturing, trading and investments. They have invested almost $890 million for the 2016 Republican campaign, so it’s pretty clear which wing they prefer. Their names grace the Lincoln Center theater and the plaza outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which David Koch has pledged $100 million and $10 million respectively for renovations. However, their brother William Koch, is a known collector of Western ephemera, including the last known surviving picture of Billie the Kid, which he purchased at an auction for $2,3 million.

Eli Broad

Have you heard of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and Museum? Its founder is Eli Broad, together with his wife Edythe Lawson. A supporter of Hillary Clinton, he is a collector of Contemporary art. However, his contribution to the arts in general, especially when it comes to the cultural life of Los Angeles, is immense. Around since 1973, Eli Broad was the founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art there, and his foundation is a life trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Dedicated billionaire art patrons, Eli Broad and his wife Edythe have two collections - one belonging to their Art Foundation, with around 1,500 works of Modern and Contemporary art, and a personal one, with nearly 600 works. Some of the names in them include Robert Rauschenberg, Damien Hirst, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman and many, many others.

Norman Braman

The former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Florida auto dealer and a supporter of Republican candidates Marco Rubio, on whom he spent between $10 million and $25 million already. That’s how you could describe Norman Braman. Oh, and he is also the chairman of Art Basel. Speaking of his immense art collection, including names like Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, is worth around $900 million, and is a joint project of him and his wife, Irma. As the head of such an important art fair, he gets incredible opportunities to meet collectors, artists and gallery owners, so it’s kind of an understandable affair. The Bramans began collecting back in 1979, and one of their advisers is Jeffrey Deitch, for example. Quite an endeavor!

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