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Top 200 Collectors

Debra and Leon Black

Debra and Leon Black

New York

Investment banking

Chinese sculpture; Contemporary art; Impressionism; Modern painting; Old Masters; Works on paper

Overview

Leon and Debra Black have been known to move big money in the art world and beyond. In May 2012, they became the winning bidders for Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel drawing The Scream, which sold at Sotheby’s New York for $119.9 million—at the time the most money ever spent on a work at auction. The couple then lent the iconic work, the only version still in private hands, to the Museum of Modern Art for six months. (Leon has been a trustee of MoMA for years and was named chairman of the board in 2018.)

Another major acquisition for the Blacks came in 2016, when they were declared the rightful owners of Pablo Picasso’s celebrated 1931 plaster sculpture, Bust of a Woman (Marie-Thérèse). That piece had been a star of MoMA’s eye-opening “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition in 2015, wherein the museum turned over its fourth-floor permanent collection to the 140-work show. When the show opened, it was listed as being part of the collection of Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso. Shortly thereafter, Larry Gagosian purchased it from Widmaier-Picasso for about $106 million. In an ensuing lengthy legal battle, a representative for the Qatari royal family said that they had documents to prove that they had been in talks with Widmaier-Picasso to buy the work since November 2014. A settlement was reached that allowed the Blacks to keep the sculpture and that the Qatari family would receive an undisclosed financial compensation in return. 

In 2018, the Blacks gave $40 million to MoMA in support of its museum’s renovation and expansion project. When it reopened in October 2019, the museum named its updated film center after them. In 2012 they gave $48 million to Dartmouth College for a new visual arts center, which included a site-specific work by Ellsworth Kelly. Leon also serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Asia Society. 

On the business side, Leon specializes in private equity and is known to scope up major print-related enterprises. In 2012, he bought the art-book publisher Phaidon. In August 2019, his firm, Apollo Global Management, agreed to provide $1.8 billion in debt financing for the New Media Investment Group’s acquisition of Gannett—a move that merges more than 260 daily news operations, among them USA Today, into a nationwide media conglomerate.

In 2020, Leon began facing controversy for his connections to Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted in 2008 as a sex offender. The U.S. Virgin Islands subpoenaed Leon as part of the ongoing case, and a New York Times report in 2020 revealed that his art collecting company, Narrow Holdings, had given millions of dollars to Epstein. Black’s relationship with Epstein ended in 2018, according to the article. (A spokesperson for Apollo said that Narrow Holdings had “never done any business with Mr. Epstein at any point in time.”)

Newswire