Jeff Bezos is officially richer than he—and any other human to have ever lived—has ever been before. In August 2020, Forbes reported that Bezos’s net worth was greater than $200 billion—a barrier that no one before him had ever crossed. (Bill Gates, the world’s second-richest man, has a net worth that is tens of billions of dollars behind Bezos’s, for comparison’s sake.) Much of that fortune comes from Amazon, the digital marketplace juggernaut that sells just about everything that he founded in 1994 in Bellevue, Washington. In a year where Amazon was widely criticized for not doing enough to ensure worker safety during a pandemic, Bezos’s wealth only grew. Just a month before hitting the $200-billion mark, Bloomberg reported that he added $13 billion to his fortune in a single day.
The same year Bezos became the first person worth more than $200 billion, he was also revealed to have been an art collector with at least two key works in his holdings already. In November 2019, at a Christie’s auction, an Ed Ruscha painting titled Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964), featuring the word “RADIO” being squeezed by two clamps, sold for $52.5 million to an anonymous phone bidder, setting a record for the artist. The buyer, it turned out, was none other than Bezos himself, according to the Baer Faxt newsletter, which also reported that the billionaire had made another significant purchase: Kerry James Marshall’s Vignette 19 (2014), which was bought at a Sotheby’s auction for $18.5 million, making it the second-most expensive work by the artist ever sold. While it is still not widely known how and when Bezos began buying art, some have claimed that his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez spurred his collecting bug.
In February 2021, Bezos announced that he would step down from his role as CEO of Amazon during the summer. He is expected to transition into the role of executive chairman. Later that year, he gave $200 million to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2022, he gave $10 million to the Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry, which named its Center for Innovation after Bezos.