Jeff Bezos kicked off the new decade with a $1.8 billion windfall from the sale of Amazon.com shares. There’s growing excitement in the art world that some of that — or another chunk of his 12-figure fortune — may be used to build an art collection.
Bezos, 56, bought two significant works during New York’s November auctions, according to art dealer Josh Baer, writing in his newsletter the Baer Faxt this week.
One piece, “Hurting the Word Radio #2” by Ed Ruscha, fetched $52.5 million at Christie’s, setting a record for the Los Angeles artist. The second, “Vignette 19” by Kerry James Marshall, sold for $18.5 million at Sotheby’s, more than doubling its high estimate.
“Every season it seems someone new or some new region” comes in and starts buying art and props up the market — “but when it is the world’s richest man it has the chance to move the needle,” Baer wrote in his newsletter without detailing how he obtained the information. “I stand by what I wrote,” he said by email.
Representatives for Sotheby’s and Christie’s declined to comment. Amazon’s press office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Bezos was seen walking through the previews at Sotheby’s in November. During the evening sale of contemporary art, “Vignette 19” was bought by Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s vice president and senior specialist in the books and manuscripts department, on behalf of an anonymous client.
Art dealers and auction specialists said that Bezos — if he did purchase the works — would be a major new player in the market. It’s unclear what else he’s acquired.
Entry into the art world would be the latest pivot from the formerly low profile Bezos once cultivated. In the past few years, he’s had a style makeover and rarely been out of the headlines since he and MacKenzie Bezos divorced in 2019. That includes hitting the red carpet with girlfriend Lauren Sanchez and hosting a bash at his Washington mansion for the political and financial elite. He’s also house hunting in Los Angeles, according to the New York Post.
The Amazon founder has unmatched firepower to support these interests. He’s the richest person on the planet with a $125.6 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His interest in art could have a significant impact on a market where new art buyers are often responsible for driving prices higher.
Japan’s Yusaku Maezawa burst onto the scene in 2016, scooping up $98 million of art in two days; a year later, he paid $110 million for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a record for an American artist at auction. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bought Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” for a record $450 million in 2017. The masterpiece was being kept on the superyacht Serene, according to Artnet.com.
After a slowdown in 2019, the top end of the art market is poised for a boost with two significant collections, potentially worth $1 billion, in play. Some of it may land on the auction block in May during the next big round of New York sales.
“Whatever his motivation,” said Wendy Cromwell, a New York-based art adviser, “Bezos is buying art at the right time.”