Skip to main content

Top 200 Collectors

Black-and-white portrait of an older bald white man
Christopher Lane/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

David Geffen

Los Angeles

Film and record executive; investments

Contemporary art; Modern art; Postwar art, especially Abstract Expressionism


It’s well known that entertainment tycoon David Geffen’s art collection includes works by such postwar master artists like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Paul Schimmel, the former longtime chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (Geffen’s home city) from 1990 until 2012, told the Los Angeles Times in 2006, “Piece for piece, work for work, there’s no collection that has a better representation of postwar American art than David Geffen’s. Period. It is to postwar American art what the Frick Collection is to Old Master painting.” 

It’s also common knowledge the tycoon—whose net worth was last estimated by Forbes to be $10.1 billion as of October 2021—loves making big deals on major artworks. In 2016 he sold a de Kooning and a Pollock he owned to fellow Top 200 collector Kenneth C. Griffin for half a billion dollars, and back in 2006 he unloaded two Johns and a de Kooning for $80 million and $63.5 million, respectively. Only a month later, the New York Times reported that Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s painting No. 5, 1948 (1948) for $140 million to Mexican financier David Martinez, also a Top 200 collector. At the time, No. 5, 1948 broke records as the most expensive painting ever sold, overtaking the previous record holder, Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, purchased for $134 million earlier that year by cosmetics heir and fellow Top 200 collector Ronald Lauder. 

And Geffen’s dealing with fellow Top 200 Collectors extends beyond just the trading of art. In March 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill, he sold his Beverly Hills home to none other than Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, who joins the Top 200 in 2020. (A few weeks later, Geffen came under fire for an Instagram post, which he soon deleted, about isolating on his $590 million super yacht, Rising Sun.) The price tag for that pricey piece of real estate: $165 million, making it the most expensive home ever sold in California. Like the artworks that Geffen has sold in the past, the property, which he had owned since the 1990s, has its own stellar provenance: it was built for movie industry titan Jack Warner in the 1920s.

Geffen also loves cutting big checks to arts institutions as well, donating $100 million to Lincoln Center in 2015 and another $100 million to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2016. In 2017 he pledged $150 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which remains the largest gift in the museum’s history; as part of that donation, the galleries at LACMA’s forthcoming Peter Zumthor–designed building will be named after the collector. In 2021, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened in Los Angeles with a theater named after Geffen following a donation of $25 million.

Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director, told the New York Times in 2016 of the MoMA gift, “These are the kind of gifts you only dream about.”