Information about the fortunes of living artists is seldom published. Finding these numbers is a complex and sometimes dubious task, because most are not willing to reveal their total income. Despite the difficulties, there are some clues to track important data that reveal how many zeros are in their bank accounts.
Although there is no official information related to these confidential numbers, some details of the price of their works at auctions, art galleries and exhibitions open the door for conscientious speculation. Another factor to consider is that being the wealthiest doesn’t necessarily imply their works are be the most expensive on today’s market.
All indications seem to point to Damien Hirst as the best quoted and most acclaimed contemporary artists of our time. The British artist is also an extraordinary entrepreneur, according to the London Telegraph. Some say that, like King Midas, what his hands touch turns to gold. In 2011, The Sunday Times reported that his wealth amounted to $388 million, and today, it is estimated at $1 billion.
However, not all sources agree on these facts. According to Wealth-X, a U.S. firm that studies the fortunes of the rich, known as ultra high net worth (UHNW), his net worth is $350 million. If the net figures can be misleading, data about the sales of his creations are not.
In 2008, Hirst sold 223 works from the exhibition Beautiful Inside My Head Forever for $198 million through Sotheby’s, which reached a record of the most expensive auction of works by a single artist.
Other high-priced works by Hirst are Golden Calf, sold for $16 million, and For the Love of God, which sold for $77.9 million. In a Google search, his name appears as the richest living artist in the world.
Another art millionaire is Jeff Koons, with a fortune estimated at $500 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. His series Hanging Heart made him famous, and one of the pieces from that series was purchased by renowned gallery owner and collector, Larry Gagosian for $23.6 million.
Jasper Johns has a fortune of $300 million dollars, according to Bloomberg-Businessweek, a staggering figure when you consider he is the only living artist that sells only paintings, but according to Wealth-X, Johns has a net worth of $210 million. His work White Flag was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for $20 million, an amount far exceeded by his work False Start, sold in 2006 for $80 million to collectors Anne and Kenneth Griffin.
At just 35 years of age, David Choe is also considered one of the richest artists. The interesting fact about this case is the origin of his revenues: nothing less than the social network Facebook, from which he has managed to earn $200 million, according to an interview with Barbara Walters for ABC’s Nightline. In 2011, Choe created the murals at company’s headquarters, a job for which he had the option to collect in cash or in shares. He chose to be paid in shares, and his fortune probably will multiply in the coming years. According to Wealth-X, his net assets total $100 million.
Just like Koons, Takashi Murakami was an unknown artist in Tokyo until he became an art celebrity that today employs 100 people. His fortune is valued at $100 million, according to Bloomberg-Businessweek. There is no doubt that he owes his meteoric rise to his work, but his collaborations with hip-hop stars Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, have certainly increased his bank account.
And what is the general data on the wealthiest art creators? According to Artprice, which analyzes in detail the results of auction sales by contemporary artists, the wealth trend is changing.
This source claims contemporary art, meaning the production by artists born after 1945, is moving from Europe and the U.S. to Asia, with China leading the money trail, followed distantly by Japan. According to their data, of the 500 artists listed, 199 are Chinese, 86 Americans, 31 British, 27 Germans, 14 Japanese, 9 French and 7 Koreans, among other nationalities.
These figures invite reflection. Is the most expensive art always the best? Are prices and quality at odds? Would we pay the same amount for a work of similar characteristics from a stranger? Think and answer yourself. Each response is unique, personal and nontransferable and above all, free. ■