These 25 Top Art Collectors Are Also Big Republican Donors
Jorge Pérez has been nicknamed “the Trump of the Tropics.”
Have the feeling that the art world is moving ever rightward in the era of $100,000 Richard Prince Instagram “paintings” and $170 million Modiglianis? If you do, you may be onto something.
According to information readily found on the web, most billionaires these days own art (the average art holdings for billionaires is $31 million) and art world billionaires are increasingly identifying with GOP values. Whether this is due to President Obama’s attempts to curtail the tax breaks of the richest 1 percent or results from art having become a hedge for Wall Street types, a number of important collectors have turned right toward the Republican Party.
The following is a list of 25 top collectors (in no particular order) who are registered Republicans or have recently made significant contributions to Republican candidates. Some of these names may surprise you—especially after learning how they use their money to buy political influence. One thing’s certain: You don’t need to be Hans Haacke to observe the contradictions inherent in the political activity of these players and the art world’s nominally liberal values.
1. Norman Braman
The 82 year-old benefactor of the ICA Miami made his nearly $2 billion in car dealerships. Over several decades, he turned some $900 million of that into art, making him the world’s 7th richest art collector. But Braman is also Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s main sugar daddy. Insiders say he plans to spend up to $25 million on Rubio’s behalf—partly to support Rubio’s anti-tax and small government policies, but also to oppose Jeb Bush’s candidacy. Braman holds a longstanding grudge against Bush dating to when the then governor vetoed $2 million in state funds for one of Braman’s pet projects.
2. Ken Griffin
The founder of the investment firm Citadel, Illinois’ wealthiest person, and a member of multiple museum boards (the Whitney, The Art Institute, MCA Chicago), Griffin is a self-described Reagan Republican who recently told the Chicago Tribune that he believes the ultra-wealthy have “insufficient influence” in government. In 2012, Griffin and his wife, Anne, gave $150,000 to Restore Our Future, Mitt Romney’s super PAC, and $300,000 to American Crossroads, founded by Republican strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove. Last week, Griffin, who is worth a whopping $6.0 billion, pledged “several million dollars” to Rubio’s super PAC, which can accept unlimited contributions.
3. Ronald Lauder
Number 182 in Forbes’s “real time” richest list, Lauder is the founder of Manhattan’s Neue Galerie and a massive art collector—his 4,000 works are worth $1 billion plus. The Reagan administration’s ambassador to Austria and failed candidate for mayor of New York, Lauder has also worked hard to fight Warren Buffet and Bill Gates’ effort to reduce tax shelters and preferences for the rich. The New York Times says that the tax strategies he regularly avails himself off “typify advantages for the wealthy.”
4. Michael Bloomberg
Formerly America’s richest politician as New York City’s Republican mayor, Bloomberg has long wielded great influence as an art collector and patron. Retired from public life since 2013, S. News and World Report recently referred to him as the one potential presidential candidate who, if drafted, could “save the Republicans from themselves.”
5. Larry Ellison
The ex-CEO of Oracle and the third wealthiest person in America, Ellison collects Japanese art and European modernism, but is also a big fan of anti-regulatory politicians, among them Marco Rubio. In August, the wealthy environmentalist wrote the Florida Senator a $3 million check, despite Rubio being a climate-change denier. Like other Republican collectors profiled here, the Silicon Valley billionaire ultimately votes with his checkbook to protect his checkbook.
6. Steve Cohen
A leader in the shift of political allegiances in the world of high finance, Cohen’s much publicized insider trading troubles with the SEC have led the owner of Alberto Giacometti’s $141.3 million “Man Pointing” to reportedly tell Senator Charles Schumer: “There’s no way I can support what [Democrats] are doing.” The billionaire then put his money where his mouth is—to the tune of a $1 million donation to Chris Christie’s America Leads super PAC.
7. Daniel Loeb
Head of the activist hedge fund Third Point, principal shareholder of Sotheby’s, and the owner of art trophies by artists like Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, and Andy Warhol, Loeb is incensed that the Obama administration has taken notice that investment managers have a better tax rate than firefighters. That anger has led him to shift allegiances, along with other big names in the world of hedge funds, to Republican candidates, to whom he donated $468,000 in 2011.
8. Leon Black
The head of Apollo Global Management, Black gave Jeb Bush’s super PAC $100,000 in May and his hedge fund recently paid the Republican presidential candidate $42,500 for a single speech. According to The Business Insider, the mogul also met recently with John Kasich to consider backing his candidacy. Black’s art world pull, of course, is immense. The owner of Edvard Munch’s $119.9 million The Scream, Phaidon, and the internet startup artspace, he also serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Asia Society and the Museum of Modern Art.
9. Harlan Crow
The Texas-based real estate developer and conservative philanthropist owns works by Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Winston Churchill and several paintings by that other great artist-statesman, Adolf Hitler. Crow’s peculiar collecting choices got Marco Rubio into hot water when he held a fundraiser at the developer’s home in September. In 2004 Crow donated more than $100,000 to the Swift Boat campaign that smeared John Kerry and shelled out $500,000 to help confirm George W. Bush-era Supreme Court nominees.
10. John Arnold
The former Enron trader made artnet’s top 200 collectors list, despite making very little information about his collection available (according to The New York Times he bought Gerhard Richter’s 1966 “Sailors” in 2010 for $13.2 million). What is well known about Arnold is that he has spent millions lobbying for public pension austerity, a position he would appear singularly unfit to propound. The ex-trader made his fortune at a company that wiped out $2 billion of its own employee pension funds, and cost other employee pension funds an additional $1.5 billion.
11. Peter Thiel
If Thiel can’t be exactly described as an avid art collector, he is certainly an art world player, as made clear by his position as an investor in Artsy and the art rental service Artify.it. The openly gay tech entrepreneur has reportedly funneled millions of dollars over the last five years into the candidacies of both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz—this despite the latter’s record of defending the idea of marriage as “being between one man and one woman.”
12. Paul Allen
Number 26 on the Forbes richest list, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and the Seattle Art Fair has traditionally hedged his political bets by supporting both Republicans and Democrats. However, he gave nearly twice as much to Republicans as Democrats during the 2014 congressional election cycle.
13. Donald Marron
The CEO of the private equity firm Lightyear Capital and President Emeritus of MoMA, Marron served on the Bush-Cheney ‘04 campaign committee, the McCain-Palin Victory committee and on the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In 2015, he gave $43,800 to the Victory Committee for Utah Republican Orrin Hatch.
14. Peter Hort
Contemporary collector, part-time judge, and son of influential collectors Susan and Michael Hort, Peter Hort ran unsuccessfully for US Congress in 2004 on the Republican ticket. Despite his own liberal views on social issues, his victory would have swelled Republican congressional ranks at a time when convicted felons Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay served, respectively, as Speaker of the House and Majority Leader. UPDATE: In response to our article, Peter Hort told artnet News that he hasn’t raised any money for a Republican in ten years, and that he volunteered for and organized fundraisers for Obama in 2008. While he did once run for office as a Republican, one of the main planks of his platform was that teacher salaries should be exempt from federal tax.
15. Henry Kravis
A longtime supporter of the Republican Party, Kravis is such an important collector that he has a wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art named after him (additionally, his wife Marie-Josée is president of the Museum of Modern Art’s board of trustees). A supporter of both Bush presidents, Kravis apparently wants a third Bush in the White House. In keeping with this, the financier held a $100,000-per-ticket fundraiser for Jeb Bush at his home in February that raised a reported $4 million.
16. Jerry Speyer
An attendee at Kravis’ $100,000 fancy chicken dinner, Manhattan real estate baron and MoMA Chairman Speyer has been a longtime Democratic donor locally, and a GOP mega-donor nationally. Besides making a big donation to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, Speyer also wrote checks this year for Republicans Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Charles Grassley (IA).
17. Steve Wynn
The casino mogul best known for putting his elbow through Picasso’s $138 million Le Reve is a dyed in the wool supporter of the GOP and their causes, despite having hosted October’s Democratic presidential debate at his Wynn Las Vegas Resort Casino. This election cycle he has chosen to bless Chris Christie and his super PAC with $30,000 of his largesse.
18. Jorge Pérez
After donating $40 million (with half coming from his personal art collection) and his name to the rechristened Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), longtime Hillary Clinton-ally Pérez switched teams to donate $245,000 to Jeb Bush’s Super PAC Right to Rise. Pérez’s longstanding friendship with Donald Trump—they are partners in several South Florida properties and the Miami real estate mogul has even been nicknamed “the Trump of the Tropics”—is also surprising, given his the condo-king’s immigrant beginnings.
19. John Paulson
Hedge-fund billionaire Paulson became a major art collector almost overnight in 2011 when he put up $10 million to save New York’s troubled Berry-Hill Galleries. Like his rapacious business instincts, Paulson’s Republican bona fides go deep: In 2012, he gave $1 million to the Republican National Convention and claimed a slot on the list of top individual contributors that election cycle, giving a total of $1 million to Mitt Romney’s super PAC. In the 2014 midterm cycle, Paulson’s contributions were smaller though he gave significantly to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
20. Charles Schwab
Though known as a major collector of modern and contemporary art in San Francisco, Schwab’s name has also become, thanks to his namesake company, synonymous with personal investing nationally. A longtime GOP stalwart, he has become personally involved in electoral politics since the 2012 presidential elections, when he declared: “I’m not rich, and this class warfare has been very disturbing.” A lavish giver to Republican causes, Schwab’s wife, Helen, recently made a $1.5 million donation to Jeb Bush’s super PAC.
21. Trevor Traina
The owner of a 300-piece photography collection, which includes works by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman, tech-entrepreneur Traina recently hosted a major Bay Area fundraiser for Jeb Bush—this despite having donated to the Obama campaign in 2008. The De Young Museum board member (his mother, Dede Wilsey, is board president) also gave $103,000 to Republican causes in 2014.
22. Wilbur Ross
Private equity billionaire Wilbur Ross is reported to have an art collection worth in the range of $150 million. Additionally, he owns 25 Magritte paintings that are alone valued at $100 million. A longtime Republican donor and opponent of tax reform, Ross has become a regular commentator on the Republican presidential debates for FOX News, while continuing to give generously to GOP causes.
23. Alice Walton
Wal-Mart heiress and founder of Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum, Walton has given nearly $500,000 in federal election contributions since the beginning of the 2008 election cycle, the majority of it to Republicans. She has made repeated headlines for her largest contributions, which include a $200,000 donation to Mitt Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future in 2012. A third of her contributions from 2007-2012 went to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. To make things interesting, Walton donated $25,000 in 2014 to Hillary Clinton’s super PAC.
24. Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz
Rosa and her husband Carlos, the chairman of $1 billion-per-year bottling empire that includes Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch products have amassed one of Miami’s largest collections of contemporary art. They also contributed $10,000 each to the Elect Republicans Now PAC in 2014.
25. David Koch
Number 6 on Forbes Magazine’s list of wealthiest billionaires, Koch was the only billionaire on this list to draw art world protest for his rabidly conservative political views. That happened at the 2014 inauguration of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s David H. Koch Plaza, to which the infamous libertarian donated $65 million. That sum is a pittance compared to the hundreds of millions David Koch and his brother Charles have poured into tea party causes over the years (they gave Republicans $400 million during the 2012 election, and $290 million in 2014). Together the Koch brothers have been called politically and environmentally “toxic” and “the poster boys of the 1 percent.”
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